Distinctive Layout Among Quality Amenities
Metro Atlanta has a size-able number of outstanding country clubs, some of which are well known nationally, others not attracting much attention outside their immediate areas.
Among the latter is Smoke Rise County Club, which opened in Stone Mountain in 1998, and has kept a mostly low profile the past 15 years.
The club has received a little more notice since Canongate assumed management responsibilities in 2009. But it remains among the best lesser-known private facilities in metro Atlanta, with one of the more interesting course layouts you’ll encounter in the highly competitive market.
Smoke Rise is a full service private club with all the amenities associated with quality country clubs, including a tennis facility that earned the 2012 Georgia Peach Award, which honors the best overall tennis facility in the state as determined by the Georgia Professional Tennis Association.
The club also features a large resort-style pool complex and a spacious clubhouse that is currently undergoing renovations that are expected to be completed by mid-May. The club has spent a significant amount of money in recent years to upgrade just about every aspect of the facility, with the golf course converting its greens to Mini-Verde Bermuda last year, in addition to extensive bunker renovation and a new fleet of golf cars with GPS systems.
Stuart Pierce, the club’s Director of Golf and membership director, describes Smoke Rise as “a family club” with strong junior development programs in both golf and tennis.
At the same time, Pierce says the club retains an “old school” feel, with a membership that plays primarily on the weekends and members of other Canongate clubs in the Atlanta area visiting during the week.
Smoke Rise members also have access to Atlanta area Canongate courses, as well as the company’s other clubs around the country. Thanks to Canongate’s “PlayAway” program, its members also have access to some 450 private clubs around the country.
The club is one of about 20 across the country to host a PGA Tour Academy, with half day and full day camps held during June and July.
Located within a scenic, upscale community just across Stone Mountain Parkway from one of Atlanta’s most iconic landmarks, Smoke Rise is conveniently located for Atlanta area residents from Decatur out to south Gwinnett, where the number of quality, affordable private club options east of the city is limited.
One reason for the relative anonymity of Smoke Rise, particularly from a golf standpoint, is that the club has focused more on its members than serving as a host for tournaments or outings.
The course at Smoke Rise is well-suited for member play, with a challenging and interesting layout that will not lose its appeal over time. The course was designed by Gary Roger Baird, who has done most of his work in Tennessee, California and internationally, with Smoke Rise his lone Georgia layout.
Baird is familiar with designing mountain-style layouts, and even though Smoke Rise does not exactly fit that description, its does feature some of the more rolling terrain to be found at an Atlanta area course.
Measuring just under 6,800 yards from the back tees and 6,300 from the next set, Smoke Rise is a very comfortable course from a distance standpoint, with the modest yardages reduced even more by several elevated tees. The senior tees are listed at 5,800 yards, giving the course a nice separation between tee boxes. The forward tees are a little under 5,000 yards.
The friendly yardages, however, do not reflect the challenge that Baird’s design poses. Thanks to the relatively narrow nature of the layout, the occasionally rugged terrain and some outstanding but potentially confounding putting surfaces, Smoke Rise sports some surprisingly high course rating and slope numbers.
Smoke Rise is rated at 73.5/146 from the tips, with Stewart Cink holding the course record at 66, which was set not long after the club opened. The absence of outside tournament play has helped Cink retain the mark, but even with only two par 4s longer than 400 yards and no par 3 over 200, Smoke Rise is not a course that will easily yield low numbers
More so than just about any course in the metro area, there is a premium on accuracy at Smoke Rise. Tree lines, hazards, drop-offs and the occasional OB stakes line most of the fairways, with the trouble frequently well within reach. It’s not so much that the landing areas are uncomfortably narrow, but the penalties for errant tee shots are considerable.
Fortunately, Smoke Rise also has an accommodating nature to its design. A number of fairways feature pronounced mounds that will re-direct slightly off-target tee shots back into play. Conversely, the terrain will also create some uneven lies both in the fairways and just outside them that will test your shot-making ability.
With most of the par 4s and par 5s (there are five of the latter) doglegging to varying degrees, big hitters will not need to hit driver on every hole, although length is definitely an asset on several of the par 5s, three of which measure 560 or longer.
Two of the par 5s feature ravines that cross the fairways and will require some thought and execution to avoid, with creeks or ravines factoring on a trio of par 4s on the opening nine.
Much of the challenge at Smoke Rise is found on its large, quick greens that feature ample amounts of movement and are guarded on most holes by sizeable, deep bunkers that will put your sand game to the test.
The configuration of the putting surfaces will put considerable pressure on your green reading skill and touch from long range to avoid fairly lengthy second putts. But the quality of the new Mini-Verde greens will enhance the likelihood that you can hole your share of par (or bogey) savers.
Long-time superintendent Mike Lawrence has kept the course in excellent condition considering the recent severe weather, with the new putting surfaces comparable to those of Atlanta’s most prominent private clubs.
Smoke Rise opens with a short-ish par 4 with trouble all the way along the left side (bunkers and hazard stakes). The hole rewards accurate tee shots with a downhill approach to a green open in front but flanked by bunkers on both sides, with the sloping putting surface an accurate portrayal of what’s to come.
The second is one of the two par 5s with a ravine crossing the fairway, but it is only in play for longer hitters who entertain thoughts of going for the green in two. The significantly sloping green is likely a greater concern.
The downhill third is among the scenic group of par 3s, but like a number of the holes at Smoke Rise, includes a sharp drop-off around the green, in this case just over the putting surface.
Holes four and five, both par 4s, have hazards short of the green, with tight tree lines and fairly sharp doglegs placing a real premium on accuracy. The short par-4 eighth has a ravine well short of the green that longer hitters can attempt to carry, with most players hitting a lay-up to one of the wider fairways to set up an approach over front bunkers to a relatively small target.
The front nine closes with the longest par 4 on the course, with its slightly uphill nature making it play even longer than the yardage (433/405). Out of bounds to the left and a mean bunker left of the putting surface add to the difficulty.
The back nine has three par 5s and three par 3s, with the 10th the first of two par 5s of modest yardage but plenty of opportunity to find trouble. The downhill 10th takes a sharp turn to the right, tempting longer hitters to attempt to cut the corner. However, the width of the fairway beyond the dogleg is not exactly generous, with trouble all the way down the left and mounds to the right.
The tree-lined 13th tops out at over 600 yards from the tips, with a wide, shallow green surrounded by sand, while the 16th is under 500 from the back tees, with a ravine that is mostly in play for shorter hitters on the second shot.
The lone carry over water comes on the gorgeous par-3 11th, which you’ll drive past on your way to the clubhouse, providing an appealing preview of one of several par 3s that offer splendid views from the tee. Stone Mountain provides a visually striking background on the downhill 14th, one of several holes where another kind of shot from the tee is in order.
The final two par 4s on the incoming nine (15 and 18) feature plenty of sand and rolling terrain, with the downhill 12th the lone hole on the course without a bunker.
In the wake of the many recent upgrades to the course and amenities, Pierce says initiation fees will be increased in the near future, but there is still time to take advantage of the very attractive current rates.
For information, contact Pierce at 770-908-2582.