Quiet private club has plenty to offer its members
By Mike Blum
Atlanta has its share of outstanding private club golf courses that have attained national recognition in large part because of the tournaments they have hosted.
Without a major championship, pro tour stop or USGA event, it can be hard for a private club to make a name for itself in a metro area that has at least a dozen facilities that have hosted tournaments that attracted attention from a national golf audience.
Pinetree County Club in Kennesaw will be celebrating its 50th birthday next year, and has long been regarded as one of the top private clubs in the metro area. The club will host the Georgia Amateur for the fourth time in 2013, and has been the site of qualifiers for the USGA’s top events as well as the Georgia PGA’s Atlanta Open.
But without a tour event on its resume, the club has remained relatively anonymous in Atlanta’s crowded private club scene, known mainly to the area’s tournament players who have competed in an event there.
In an effort to improve the golf experience for the club’s members and increase its profile, the membership decided to renovate the course several years ago, with former tour player turned architect Bill Bergin handling the renovation.
Bergin, an Atlanta area native, added about 270 yards in length with the addition of a number of new back tees, while reducing the yardage on a handful of holes. The blue and white tees are a bit longer than they once were, with the forward tees about 40 yards shorter.
Several of the greens have been re-positioned, with the par-3 12th and par-5 16th now dramatically different with the greens shifted to bring a small lake into play on both. Bergin also added bunkers that improved Pinetree from both a visual and strategic standpoint.
“All the greens are brand new,” Bergin says, with several expanded in size while some of the notorious putting surfaces softened a bit to improve playability.
“Some of the greens you couldn’t putt with modern green speeds,” says Bergin, who designed them to accommodate at least six pin positions.
The surfaces were changed to Champions Bermuda, and are now more subtle than severe, although there is an ample amount of movement on just about every green. The new putting surfaces are just a few years old, and with the removal of some trees to improve circulation, are as smooth and quick as you’ll find at any course in the metro area, including those hosting some of golf’s most prestigious events.
Superintendent Bret Barton, who joined the staff after the renovation, has earned high grades for his work getting the course into such good shape.
Pinetree is a member-owned, non-profit club, with the members making the decision to shut their course down for an extended period in 2008 to accommodate the renovation.
Barbara Jodoin, the club’s general manager, said that “98 percent of the members voted to shut down the course, pay their dues and wait it out. And we did not lose one member.”
When Pinetree re-opened in October of ’08, the members were richly rewarded for their patience. The improvements to the layout and superior course conditions have again put Pinetree into the elite category of Atlanta area private clubs, with the facility retaining its friendly, family-oriented atmosphere.
Pinetree is a true country club, with quality swim and tennis facilities and a thriving social element.
“People look at the club as an extension of their home,” Jodoin says. “We offer a quality experience, and this is a place where they feel comfortable. We have third generation family members and the members here know each other.”
Bodoin says the club draws primarily from the north Cobb, north Fulton and Cherokee County areas for its membership, with the club located almost adjacent to Kennesaw State, just off I-75 at the Chastain Rd. exit. Pinetree is also easily accessible from the east Cobb, north Fulton and south Cherokee suburbs without having to deal with expressway traffic.
Although Pinetree has much more to offer than golf, the course is the primary focus of the membership. The course is surrounded by a residential subdivision, but most of it is comfortably removed from the houses, with its traditional layout making it easy to walk for the membership.
With the addition of the new back tees, Pinetree has been stretched to just over 7,100 yards from the tips, with the course now rated at 75.0/141, up from 73.5/137 pre-renovation.
The blue tees measure 6,538 yards (72.6/134) and are very playable for golfers who are reaching their comfortable limits at that distance. The white tees play 5,916 (70.2/123) with the forward tees 5,163 (71.1/129).
Pinetree also offers several combination sets of tees that have their own course rating and slope for those looking for a yardage in between the four listed on the scorecard.
With the superbly-conditioned course playing firm and fast, Pinetree doesn’t play as long as the yardage, but it’s plenty of course from the gold tees, with the six longest of the 10 par 4s averaging just under 450 yards. They are balanced by three short par 4s of 366 yards or length, with the remaining two-shotter featuring the only forced carry of consequence.
For the most part, Pinetree is relatively generous off the tee, although the tree lines are never far removed from play. A few of the tee shots have to thread their way through chutes lined by trees, but those corridors are not oppressively narrow.
Bergin added some bunkers to a layout where they were once mostly inconsequential, but Pinetree will never be mistaken for a Joe Lee or Tom Fazio design in that regard. The majority of approach angles to the hole locations are open, leaving run-up opportunities for those hitting long irons or fairway woods into the lengthier par 4s or the two par 3s in the 200-yard neighborhood.
The traditional parkland-style layout sports a more modern look thanks to Bergin’s quality renovation work, with the greens and surrounding chipping areas among its major assets and primary challenges. Because of the exceptional condition of the putting surfaces, you are afforded the opportunity to hole your share from short and medium range. But their speed and subtle slopes will make you pay if you misjudge their pace from long range, or get a little aggressive on a chip shot.
Pinetree includes an excellent mix of holes, beginning with the group of par 4s. The three that have been extensively lengthened (6, 15 and 18) are considerably stronger holes than previously, and the three short ones (5, 7 and 14) are inviting but no pushovers, even with no serious trouble in play on any of them.
Both nines begin with a disparate pair of par 4s, although both sport ample fairways. The second shot to the 10th is one of the testiest on the course, especially when the pin is cut back right behind two inset bunkers with the lake looming below the surface of the elevated green.
The re-designed 12th is now the most scenic of the par 3s and likely the strongest, with the slightly longer 4th made a bit less daunting with a friendly mound to the right enabling you to steer clear of an imposing front left bunker.
A diverse group of par 5s includes one with length (No. 2), a tight dogleg right with precision at a premium (No. 9), a short risk/reward opportunity (16) and an entertaining down-and-up dogleg left that is not as severe as it used to be, but still retains some of its slightly quirky nature (11).
Pinetree is looking to add to its membership, but is not that far from its cap of golf members. The club is on sound financial footing, which has enabled it to keep its fee structure from significant swings resulting from the uncertain economic climate.
The club, which gave Larry Nelson his start in golf, is in the process of selecting a new head professional to replace the late Daryll Speegle. Mark Siksta is the Director of Instruction, with Pinetree featuring a strong junior program as well as hosting local high school teams and Kennesaw State’s national-caliber golf team.
For information, call 770-428-0553 or visit the club’s web site (www.pinetreecc.org.)