The Georgia PGA returns to Gainesville’s Chattahoochee Golf Club for the seventh time since 2011 for the second Milton Martin Honda Classic, which will be played May 20-21.
Before landing its own tournament, Chattahoochee GC hosted the Georgia PGA Match Play Championship in 2011, the Yamaha Atlanta Open in 2012 and the Yamaha Georgia Senior Open in 2013, ’16 and ’17. The first Milton Martin Honda Classic was played last year, and like the previous stroke play tournaments at Chattahoochee in recent years, last year’s event was closely contested at the finish.
Former tour pro Paul Claxton won last year’s tournament with a score of 8-under 136 for 36 holes, edging Georgia State golfer Nathan Williams, a Gainesville resident, by one stroke. Claxton went on to capture Georgia PGA Player of the Year honors for 2018.
The previous four Georgia PGA stroke play tournaments at Chattahoochee included two playoffs and two events decided by one or two strokes.
The first time Chattahoochee hosted a significant Georgia PGA event was 2011, when nine-time Section Player of the Year Tim Weinhart captured the second of his three Match Play Championships.
The following year, Chattahoochee also was the host of another of the Georgia PGA’s four majors, with Seth McCain winning the Yamaha Atlanta Open in a three-man playoff over former Champions Tour member James Mason. Stephen Keppler, who has won the other three Georgia PGA majors among his many Section titles but not the Atlanta Open, tied for fourth, missing the playoff by one shot.
Chattahoochee was the site of the Yamaha Georgia Senior Open in 2013, with Craig Stevens scoring one of his three titles in the event in a 4-year span. Stevens won by a shot over Danny Elkins, who closed with a tournament record 62. Stevens shot 66 the final day.
The Georgia PGA returned to Chattahoochee for the Georgia Senior Open in 2016, with amateur Billy Mitchell winning in a playoff. Stevens tied for third, one out of the playoff with Keppler, who placed third in 2013, tying for fourth, two shy of the playoff.
Mason won the 2017 Georgia Senior Open at Chattahoochee, posting a 10-under 134 total to finish two shots ahead of former tour player Sonny Skinner.
After hosting major Georgia PGA events five times in a span of seven years, Chattahoochee GC became the site of its own tournament last year, with a Gainesville auto dealer assuming the role of title sponsor. The first Milton Martin Honda Classic was played in the spring as the first points event on the Georgia PGA schedule, and will again be the first points event in 2019.
Claxton, who spent 16 seasons on what is now the Web.com Tour and also played four years on the PGA Tour, won the inaugural event, but due to a schedule conflict, may not be able to defend his title. Both Claxton and Mason, who spent more than a decade on the Champions Tour, are playing in the PGA Senior Championship later that week in Rochester, N.Y., which will likely prevent the two most recent tournament champions at Chattahoochee GC from competing.
Among the players who had signed up for the tournament with less than a week remaining before the entry deadline were Peter Jones, Kyle Owen and J.P. Griffin, who finished 3-4-5 in the 2018 Player of the Year standings. Jones, the Director of Instruction at Cherokee Town & CC, tied for fourth in last year’s Milton Martin Honda Classic, just three shots behind Claxton.
Owen, the head pro at Dunwoody CC and the 2017 Georgia PGA Player of the Year, was third last year at Chattahoochee with a 138 total. Griffin, an assistant at Capital City Club, tied for eighth in 140. Stevens and Weinhart, both Atlanta area instructors at Woodmont and Heritage Golf Links, have won tournaments previously at Chattahoochee GC and were both in the top 10 in the Player of the Year standings in 2018. Weinhart tied for eighth in the inaugural Milton Martin Honda Classic.
Brian Dixon, an instructor at Fox Creek, is a frequent contender in Georgia PGA events and is also in the field along with former Georgia PGA winners David Potts and Shawn Koch, both instructors at Country Club of the South, and Elkins, an instructor at Georgia Golf Center.
Luke James, a pro at nearby Royal Lakes, is also in the field as is Cartersville CC head pro Bill Hassell, a competitor in the recent national club pro championship in Bluffton, S.C. Potts, Elkins, Hassell and West Pines head pro Chris Cartwright, who is also competing, all placed among the top 20 in the 2018 Player of the Year standings.
Chattahoochee GC is a classic Robert Trent Jones, Sr., design that opened in 1960 and was renovated in 2006. The course will play close to the 6834 yards listed for the Players tees. Chattahoochee GC is rated at 72.7/129 from the Players and 73.9/131 from the tips, which are listed at 7115 yards.
While Chattahoochee GC borders on Lake Lanier, the lake is not in play and is in clear view only from the 14th tee, which is in close proximity to the lake and provides one of the most appealing views on the course.
The course was built on rolling farmland, with a number of holes featuring significant elevation changes. Three of the par 3s play sharply downhill, with several of the par 4s featuring uphill approaches. Almost all the holes are tree-lined, but Chattahoochee is mostly generous off the tee, although there are some holes where errant tee shots can encounter hazard or OB stakes.
The greens at Chattahoochee GC tend to be on the large side with relatively gentle amounts of undulation and are surrounded by a decent number of bunkers and some drop-offs to trouble along the edges.
Water hazards are virtually non-existent despite the proximity to the lake, with the layout neither penal not punishing. Winning scores tend to be on the low side, with Chattahoochee offering a number of scoring chances, and not just on the par 5s.
Only two of the par 4s are listed at more than 420 yards in length from the back tees, with both the seventh and ninth holes playing considerably shorter from the next set. Six of the par 4s are in the 400-yard range or shorter, offering the opportunity to hit some short iron approaches.
Three of the par 3s can play 200 yards or longer, although both “short” holes on the back nine feature elevated tees and ample targets. The short, downhill third presents one of many scoring opportunities along the way.
The quartet of par 5s are divided evenly between long and reasonably short. Holes 6 and 15 both play slightly downhill, but their yardages make them three-shot holes, while 8 and 13 play uphill to the green but because of their modest distances are reachable in two.
The dogleg left 13th, which features a blind second with trouble around the green, is the most interesting of the group, with the mostly likely hope of an eagle among the par 5s, but also the most obvious chance to produce an ugly number on the scorecard.
Both nines begin with short, dogleg left par 4s with uphill approaches, and both afford the opportunity to get your round started in promising fashion. The front nine closes with a strong pair of par 4s (7 and 9), with the back nine finishing in similar fashion with two of its tougher holes a pair of par 4s late in the round (16 and 18).
Players looking to make a move down the stretch have a three-hole stretch to do so, with the short-ish par-4 14th sandwiched in between a pair of par 5s.
Chattahoochee GC is municipally owned and is one of the state’s top public courses. It is typically in excellent condition, with the greens providing smooth putting surfaces of moderate speed.