For most Atlanta area daily fee golfers who remember life before the internet, Mystery Valley was a part of their formative years in the game.
The course is one of just a handful of metro Atlanta facilities with a history that pre-dates drivers with metal heads, although that history includes some lengthy stretches when Mystery Valley’s course conditions were something less than ideal.
Fortunately for the club’s loyal group of regulars and its visitors from various parts of the metro area, the days of spotty grass coverage on the fairways and temporary greens are just a memory.
Thanks in large part to a new irrigation system installed several years ago, the DeKalb County course is no longer known as “Misery Valley,” a nickname that aptly described the course in years past, but is no longer accurate.
Mystery Valley is currently in its best shape ever, with vibrant green grass covering the fairways and rough and only the occasional hardpan areas, usually in proximity to the cart paths. The greens are equally healthy, and while they are not particularly speedy, you no longer have to give a 10-foot putt a solid smack to get it to the hole.
Word of mouth about the improved conditions is spreading, and many metro golfers who long ago abandoned Mystery Valley for newer and better maintained daily fee facilities closer to home have re-discovered a course they played in their youth.
“We had one guy who had not played here in 25 years say he could not believe the place,” Mystery Valley Director of Golf John Crumbley said. “This is not the course you played growing up.
“People need to come out here and give it another try. They’ll be amazed. The course is in better shape than it’s ever been and it keeps getting better. This has got to be the best deal in town.”
As a municipal facility (Mystery Valley is owned by DeKalb County), the course offers slight discounts to DeKalb residents, but remains an excellent bargain for those living outside the county.
Located just south of Stone Mountain and a few miles north of I-20 off Stone Mountain-Lithonia Rd., Mystery Valley is conveniently located for golfers in Gwinnett County and east metro Atlanta, and is not a bad ride from the northern metro suburbs.
The rates are among the area’s most affordable, and the compact, non-developed nature of the otherwise sprawling layout makes it a favorite of those who still prefer walking. Crumbley says about 30 percent of the rounds at Mystery Valley are played on foot, with pull carts becoming a popular tool for those who prefer to walk but are not thrilled with the prospect of toting their bags.
Mystery Valley has a long history of supporting junior golf, and hosts events for U.S. Kids Golf and Atlanta Junior Golf as well conducting junior clinics throughout the summer, splitting that duty with sister course Sugar Creek, which is also owned by DeKalb County and managed by Cornerstone Golf Partners.
Cornerstone has operated Mystery Valley for more than a decade, and Crumbley says the facility “is our base. It’s the one we hang our hat on as what we’re capable of doing. It’s something we’re pretty proud of.”
In addition to its commitment to junior golf, Mystery Valley is active in the “Get Golf Ready” program, which helps introduce adults to the game. Crumbley says the club conducts six or seven Get Golf Ready programs each year as part of the PGA’s initiative to grow the game.
While Mystery Valley is a public facility, the club has strong men’s and women’s golf associations which hold monthly tournaments, along with games held several days a week that are open to anyone wishing to participate.
Mystery Valley’s biggest annual tournament is the popular DeKalb Cup, a four-ball event played on Labor Day weekend that is among the state’s longest running competitions.
In addition to the improvement in course conditions, those visiting Mystery Valley after a lengthy absence will also notice changes in the clubhouse. The pro shop has moved up the steps, creating a larger dining area downstairs where groups can more comfortably gather after outings or tournaments
Mystery Valley opened in the mid-1960s, and was one of the last courses designed by acclaimed golf course architect Dick Wilson, whose creations include Doral, Bay Hill, LaCosta, Greenbrier and several of the courses at Cog Hill, along with Callaway Gardens and Jekyll Island’s Oleander layout.
Wilson’s design is traditional and understated, featuring almost ever-present moderately rolling terrain, generous fairways and mostly ample greens with modest amount of undulation and relatively well-protected by sand.
Mystery Valley is neither a long nor particularly demanding layout, listed at 6766 yards from the blue tees with a course rating/slope of 71.7/125. The white tees measure 6330 (70.6/122), with the golds just under 6000 yards and rated at 69.2/118. There are also two shorter sets of tees around 5400 and 4900, making it a friendly facility for women, juniors and seniors who don’t hit it as far as they did when both they and the course were younger.
With water seriously in play on only one hole and a minor factor on a few others, Mystery Valley is not a course that can do significant damage to your scorecard on a hole or two. The thin tree lines allow for recoveries after errant tee shots on all but a handful of holes, with the par-4 15th a rare exception.
The 15th is the most demanding hole on the course, with water looming down the right side and trees and thick brush just off the left edge of the fairway. The hazard no longer crosses the fairway, but the 15th remains the most difficult driving hole and one of a just a few where longer hitters will need the leave the driver in the bag.
Most of Mystery Valley’s challenge comes from its par 4s, although the 18th is the only one longer than 420 from the back tees. With the layout neither especially long nor tight off the tee, it is more of a second shot course, with Wilson protecting a number of pins located near the front of greens or along the edges.
Because of the size of most of Mystery Valley’s putting surfaces and the generally modest speeds they run, you can expect some lengthy efforts that will take some touch to avoid three-putting. You won’t encounter many putts with appreciable break, but the greens have enough subtleties to keep you from holing as many make-able opportunities as you might anticipate.
Other than 5 and 13, a pair of straightaway holes with no serious concerns, the par 4s will make you earn your pars, even the short third, one of the holes where water is present but not an imminent danger, requiring a significant hook to reach it. The down-and-up dogleg left requires an accurate lay-up off the tee to set up a short approach, with a front right bunker obscuring views of the green that opens up at the back.
The 12th is the only other par 4 which features a pronounced dogleg, also turning left. Driving through the fairway is a distinct possibility, with a pair of bunkers that pinch the front of the green attracting more than their share of approach shots that needed a little more carry.
The rolling eighth offers a large expanse of landing area along with one of the few fairway bunkers in play on the course, with the slightly downhill approach one of the most visually appealing shots you’ll come across.
Among the stouter holes on the opening nine are the open, slightly uphill sixth that requires two well struck shots to get home in regulation, and the down-and-up ninth, one of several holes with front bunkers along the edges that can make it a challenge to get to some of the hole locations.
The back nine also closes with back-to-back mid-length par 4s, with the 17th one of the few holes with a front bunker that must be carried to reach the putting surface. The 18th begins with a tee shot that needs to carry the crest of a hill, and is one of a few holes where the terrain limits the view of the landing area and necessitates some awareness of the group ahead before giving it a rip with the driver.
The par 3s are a mostly tame group, with the 11th having a little length and the short second featuring one of the toughest putting surfaces on the course, with its back-to-front tilt resulting in some scary downhillers and producing an inordinate amount of three-putts.
Mystery Valley begins with a dogleg left par 5 sporting plenty of room down the right side, but also a fairway bunker and trees along the left that are visited more than you’d expect.
Like the opening hole, the rolling 14th provides ample amounts of fairway and is the longest of the par 5s with an uphill approach, but does not play its length due to the downhill nature of the first two shots. The seventh also plays downhill with a slightly uphill approach, and is one of the few holes with a thick tree line in play if you stray a little left.
Among the most inviting holes is the par-5 10th, which is short and reachable provided you can place your tee shot in good position on the sweeping dogleg left. A front bunker guards the slightly elevated green, requiring a precisely struck shot from long range to hold the surface and a deft touch with a wedge to get close for a possible birdie try.
The overall atmosphere surrounding Mystery Valley is among the most accommodating in Atlanta and is one of the reasons the facility has maintained its popularity through the years, even when the course conditions were not what they are now.
For information, call 770-469-6913 or visit www.mysteryvalley.com.