From 1994-2007, Georgia PGA members Danny Elkins and Chris Asbell operated one of the state’s most successful practice facilities – Georgia Golf Center in the north Fulton suburb of Roswell.
The two veteran teaching professionals were poised to sell the land to a developer in 2007, but the combination of an economic downturn and zoning issues scrapped the sale, leaving Elkins and Asbell with a business that had been winding down before the economic tailspin.
Georgia Golf Center has withstood the lagging economy the past few years, and Elkins and Asbell have made the decision to significantly upgrade the facility, adding staff and making additions and improvements to the practice center, both indoors and out.
Among the improvements cited by Elkins:
“We’ve renovated the pro shop and opened up a lot more space,” Elkins says, in part to accommodate an expanded club fitting area.
The facility’s club fitting options now include “a number of different systems,” including Titleist and Callaway, which Elkins says will enable Georgia Golf Center “to be really serious about club fitting.”
Previously, Henry Griffitts and Ping were the only two companies that Elkins says placed a major emphasis on club fitting, but that has changed in recent years. Now, golfers who play with almost any of the top equipment companies’ products can be club fitted, and Georgia Golf Center offers both the experience and expertise to get golfers properly fitted with clubs best suited for their games.
For hardy golfers looking to work on their games in the chill of Winter, Georgia Golf Center is in the process of installing heaters for its 16 covered hitting stations, which will make 50 degree days a lot more tolerable.
In addition to the covered hitting stations, Georgia Golf Center offers 37 grass and mat hitting areas, with plenty of room for its customers to swing away with the driver.
By opening up its indoor space, Georgia Golf Center has created more room for club fitting, while also featuring state-of-the-art swing technology equipment. Those who are taking lessons or are being club fitted at the facility can hit off indoor mats through open sliding glass doors, which allows for the critical component of viewing ball flight, even when the conditions are not suited to working outside.
Elkins says the various improvements to the facility that have been made or are near completion consist of “Phase 1, with a total re-do of the short game area being Phase 2. That has been a weak point at our facility, but is something we are definitely going to do.”
Georgia Golf Center has been around since 1987, with Elkins and Asbell acquiring the facility in 1994. Elkins has been a teaching professional in the Atlanta area for almost 25 years, previously working at Atlanta Golf Center in Norcross and McDivot’s Golf Center in Alpharetta.
After an excellent amateur career in St. Petersburg, Fla., which included reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Public Links Championship, Elkins entered the PGA program. He has been a PGA member since 1986, and is a past President of the Georgia PGA, while also serving on several national PGA committees.
Elkins has won a number of awards for his teaching ability, and during his early years in the Georgia PGA was among its top players, winning two of the Section’s four major championships.
After working for several years as an assistant at Rivermont Country Club in Alpharetta, Asbell has worked with Elkins for the past 20 years, and serves as Georgia Golf Center’s General Manager. He has been a PGA member since 1989, and also has received several teaching honors within the Section.
As a player, Asbell holds the distinction of being part of the winning teams three consecutive years in the three Georgia PGA team events, winning the 2006 Pro-Assistant title with Elkins, as well as the 2007 Pro-Pro Championship and 2008 Pro-Pro Scramble, both with former Georgia Golf Center instructor Jeff Hull.
The most recent additions to the Georgia Golf Center teaching staff are Eric Smith and Clark Spratlin. Smith joined the staff in June of last year, coning to the facility after five years at White Columns as an instructor and head professional. He previously worked in those capacities for more than a decade at Florence (S.C.) CC and the CC of Virginia in Richmond. Smith played on the golf team at Maryland and has been a PGA member since 1987.
Spratlin also came to Georgia Golf Center last June after a long association with Blue Ridge Golf and River Club, which never opened after years of work because of the ailing economy. Prior to that, Spratlin was the head professional for seven years at Atlanta National, one of a number of outstanding private courses just a short drive from Georgia Golf Center.
Like Elkins, Spratlin has won two of the Georgia PGA’s major titles, taking the Match Play Championship three times in a four-year stretch. He’s also a two-time Griffin Classic champion and has a total of 10 wins in Georgia PGA competition. Spratlin played his college golf at Columbus College and has been a PGA member since 1995.
Between the talk about the facility closing and the struggling economy that has hit the golf industry particularly hard, Elkins says his business is down considerably, both in terms of lessons and people coming out to hit balls.
“I think the lesson business will get better when people realize we’re still here. But lesson business across the country is down. Golf lessons are one of the most discretionary spending items there is.”
Elkins says he did “twelve or thirteen hundred lessons last year. I used to do a couple thousand.”
With the renovations of the facility and the addition of two veteran teachers, Elkins expects business to pick up, and the facility will be able to do more clinics and group lessons, while still emphasizing individual instruction and accommodating those using the range.
Among the students taught by Elkins and Asbell are tour professionals and top amateurs. Elkins has worked with Nationwide Tour player Luke List for a number of years, and he and Asbell have had a number of their students qualify for various national USGA events, as well as win the Georgia Open.
Neither Elkins nor Asbell had made any concrete decisions about what they were going to do had they sold Georgia Golf Center, and any hopes of taking a well-deserved break were shelved when the deal fell through, along with having to re-launch the business.
“It takes a little while to build the business back up,” Asbell said. “By the end of last Summer, we could see that things were getting better than they were.”
With the addition of Spratlin and Smith, there are few facilities other than prominent national resort academies that can match the teaching experience and knowledgeability Georgia Golf Center offers.
Spratlin has spent most of his career working at top Atlanta area private clubs as either a head professional of assistant, and has experienced first hand the impact that economic conditions have had on the golf industry.
“People have left clubs because of the monthly dues, but they’re still playing golf and they still like to be around the game,” he says.
Facilities like Georgia Golf Center give individuals who once were private club members a chance to remain connected to the game without the costs associated with club memberships.
“People can consider this their club. They can take lessons, hit balls, get their clubs re-gripped. This is a place they can call home.”
Prior to coming to Georgia Golf Center, Spratlin spent 5 ½ years helping to get a golf club up and running, and learned some new job skills that he was never really able to put to use when construction of the course was halted with it nearing completion.
He is once again in a golf-oriented atmosphere and is enjoying that aspect of the job.
“This place is golf-centric. We’re always talking about golf.”
The Georgia Golf Center pro shop offers the staples of consumer equipment (gloves, hats, bags, clubs), with the staff able to order anything from the major golf vendors. The shop also features a TV for those who want to catch a little tour action before or after hitting balls themselves.
The facility is located just off Arnold Mill Rd. (Georgia 140) at 345 Cox Rd. in Roswell, just down the road from Settindown Creek and around the corner from Brookfield, Capital City Crabapple and Atlanta National.
For information, call 770-992-4233 or visit www.georgiagolfcenter.com.