During its early years in the 1970s and ‘80s, Horseshoe Bend Country Club was considered among the top handful of private clubs in the Atlanta area.
The club hosted national level events in golf and tennis, was the site of the original home of the American Junior Golf Association, and was recognized throughout the metro area for the quality of its ALTA and junior swim teams.
But the AJGA outgrew its home in a small building near the Horseshoe Bend CC clubhouse and moved to more spacious surroundings at Chateau Elan, a Senior (now Champions) Tour event left after three mostly weather-plagued years and the pro tennis tournament, which featured many of the game’s greatest players of the time, also switched sites to a nearby club.
For a decade from the early 1980s to the early ‘90s, Horseshoe Bend CC hosted the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions, won three consecutive years (1986-88) by Phil Mickelson, with Tiger Woods making an appearance several years later. The club also hosted the then Senior Tour the three years that Mickelson won its junior event, with the highlight a victory in 1987 by then Atlanta resident Larry Mowry over Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
In 1984, Horseshoe Bend CC was the site of a U.S. Open qualifier that ended in a 14-hole playoff for the final spot, with former Georgia Bulldog David Canipe having to play 50 holes before getting a spot in the field at Winged Foot, where he had his 15 minutes of fame after being tied for third after 36 holes and playing in the next to last group on Saturday with Greg Norman before quickly returning to obscurity.
With its marquee events gone, Horseshoe Bend CC’s status began to decline at about the same time as a boom in the construction of upscale private clubs in the North Fulton area was occurring. The club fell into financial distress as conditions of both the clubhouse and course continued to spiral downward, but all that changed in March of 2011.
Ben Kenny, an oil company executive based in Atlanta, had conducted a national search for a golf club in distress that he could acquire and revive, and selected Horseshoe Bend Country Club. In less than five years, Kenny has spent around $25 million to upgrade the entire facility at the Roswell club, and the result is the return of Horseshoe Bend CC to the top level of the highly competitive upscale private country club market in metro Atlanta.
The improvements made to the clubhouse, golf course, swim and tennis facilities and the clubhouse parking lot are dramatic, particularly the clubhouse, which now ranks with any of the impressive structures found at other premier clubs in the metro area.
The new clubhouse is expansive, visually appealing and provides its members with a first class setting for both casual and fine dining, with some splendid views of the course. It offers numerous meeting spaces, flexible rooms to host receptions and cozy places to socialize.
All of the upgrades to Horseshoe Bend Country Club were done in stages. The first was a renovation to the layout by acclaimed golf course architect Bob Cupp, which began within a few months of Kenny’s acquisition of the club.
In order to limit the inconvenience to the club’s members, Cupp and the construction crew worked on a hole or two at a time, enabling the members to play almost the entire course while keeping an eye on the holes that were being renovated.
“We did a couple of holes and the members never had to go away,” Cupp said. “I got to know some of the members who would stop and ask questions while they were going past the hole we were working on. That was fun.”
Perhaps the most evident example of Cupp’s transformation of the course was the removal of close to 1000 trees, which has opened up the course and improved both its playability and visual appeal, particularly on the holes that run parallel to the Chattahoochee River. The tree removal also aided in turf conditioning.
Horseshoe Bend was named for the turn the Chattahoochee takes at it winds alongside the property, with four of the holes in close proximity to the river. The tree removal has greatly improved the view of the river from those holes, while tree removal on the opposite side of those fairways have made them less claustrophobic from a playing standpoint.
The tree lines were not as pronounced when the Joe Lee-designed course opened in 1974, but things changed as the years went by.
“Trees will eventually take away golf shots,” Cupp says. “If you have a lot of trees, it’s going to be a problem to make a course work.”
Cupp also made extensive changes to the bunkers, with the original layout featuring an abundance of sand, as is the case with most of Lee’s layouts. Cupp took out many of the bunkers, re-positioned others and made some changes to the greens complexes.
Only a few holes were altered significantly, with Cupp describing Lee’s original routing as “wonderful.” The main changes were to holes 1 and 9, which are now 10 and 18 after the nines were flipped. The new No. 10 was changed from a par 5 to a par 4 and the 18th from a par 4 to a par 5 along with two enhanced and appealing water features.
Although Cupp says the course is “not much different” due to the reversing of the nines, there are a few advantages to the switch. The previous routing had three of the holes that border the Chattahoochee on the front nine and only one on the back. The change in nines now has one hole on the front side (the par-5 fourth) giving you a peak at the river, with the three holes at the bend of the river now 14, 15 and 16, making for a more scenic finish.
The original 18th, one of the classic risk/reward par 5s in all of Atlanta, is now the ninth hole. But with the original lengthy par-4 ninth, which Cupp described as a “balls to the wall” two-shotter, now a gorgeous but perilous par 5, Horseshoe Bend still has a memorable finishing hole.
The old 10th hole (now No. 1), a par 4 of modest length, makes for a less daunting opener than the old No. 1, which requires a second shot over water to an angled green, with the creek a serious factor on approaches to back right pins.
With the change, most of the best holes of the course are now part of the back nine, including the most visually striking (No. 11) and most challenging (No. 17) of the par 3s and two of the strongest par 4s (10 and the long 13th), along with the picturesque trio along the Chattahoochee.
Cupp added several hundred yards from the tips, with Horseshoe Bend CC now listed at just over 7100 yards from the gold tees. The blue (6523) and white (6107) tees are not appreciably different than prior to the renovation, as are the two forward sets of tees – green (5482) and red (5034). The gold tees are rated at 74.0/141, the blues are 71.9/135 and the whites are 69.7/128, the latter two almost identical to the previous numbers.
Horseshoe Bend CC’s putting surfaces were converted from bent grass to Champions Bermuda in 2013, and Cupp made some revisions to both the shape and contour to some of the putting surfaces, combining with the changes in bunkering to create some pin positions that can significantly alter the strategy of the approach shots and enhance the challenge of those holes.
The course is in exceptional condition tee to green thanks to the work of Director of Agronomy Sam Welch and his staff, with its unique features including zoysia tees and TifGrand surfaces short the greens, making for interesting short game shots off tight, well-manicured lies.
The conversion of the greens in 2013 followed the work on the golf course and clubhouse, with the next big change a newly constructed swim and tennis facility that was completed last year. The 9,500 square foot facility consists of 13 tennis courts – seven hard, four American-style green clay courts and two red clay courts similar to those of the French Open – and was recognized by the USTA as one of six Private Outstanding Facilities in the Country last year.
There are also four USTA junior courts for youngsters age 8-and-under, with the entire tennis facility bordering part of the golf course. The completely re-built tennis/swim facility features a well-stocked tennis pro shop with a dining area and bar upstairs, again offering some splendid views of the activities surrounding it.
Horseshoe Bend Country Club sports three pools – one which is adults only, a Junior Olympic pool that hosts the meets for the club’s very popular swim team, and a splash pool for youngsters 8-and-under. The club was known for the quality of its tennis and swim programs during its heyday during the 1980s, but the new complex is a sizeable step up and reflects the considerable sum of money spent to make it among the finest facilities of its kind.
Jacqueline Welch, the Vice President for both Horseshoe Bend Country Club and the Golf Club of Georgia, which was recently acquired by Kenny, says Kenny looked at a number of potential clubs to make his first foray into golf business before deciding on Horseshoe Bend.
“He saw an opportunity for a course that was going under and jumped in,” Welch said. “And he came in with a vision.”
Kenny’s vision has resulted in the total transformation of a club that has seen contrasting highs and lows during its four decades, and is once again one of the brightest lights among the array of outstanding country clubs in the Atlanta area.
For information on Horseshoe Bend Country Club, call 770-992-1818 or visit www.horseshoebendcc.com