Most golf courses featured in publications and on web sites tend to fall into three categories – prominent resort facilities, upscale daily fee layouts and first class private clubs that host tour events.
Atlanta’s Sugar Creek does not fall into any of those three categories, along with a lot of other courses that serve a vital (but largely unnoticed) role in the golf industry’s efforts to keep the stagnant number of participants from going any lower.
Sugar Creek is a municipally owned facility that is part of DeKalb County Parks and Recreation. The course is managed by Cornerstone Golf Partners, which is also responsible for the management of Mystery Valley and Collins Hill in metro Atlanta, and Sapelo Hammock and Mary Calder near the company’s base of operations in Savannah.
Cornerstone assumed management of Sugar Creek earlier this year, with the course in similar condition to Collins Hill when Cornerstone took over operations of that course several years ago. Both facilities were in dire need of attention from a maintenance standpoint, with Cornerstone significantly improving the course conditions in a relatively short amount of time.
“if you saw the course in January when we took it over and see it now, you know it’s come a long way,” says John Crumbley, the Director of Golf Operations for Cornerstone. Crumbley is Director of Golf for both Sugar Creek and Mystery Valley, which is also part of DeKalb County Parks and Recreation.
“By the end of the summer, we’ll have it in the same shape as Mystery Valley.”
Crumbley describes Sugar Creek as “a fun layout that is a better golf course than people give it credit for. And there are not many courses that are easier to get to from anywhere in Atlanta, which makes it one of the best courses for outings, especially with this clubhouse.”
Sugar Creek is located just off the I-285 Boulder Crest Rd. exit (No. 51), a few miles west of the I-20/285 interchange on the east side of the perimeter. Although the course is less than a mile from 285, it is secluded in a heavily wooded, non-developed area that provides a pleasant golf experience without the intrusions of a residential sub-division.
The appealing nature of the experience begins with a short drive through a canopy of trees that connects the golf course and Sugar Creek’s expansive tennis center to Boulder Crest. With virtually no elevation changes and almost all the tees in close proximity to the previous greens, Sugar Creek is a walker-friendly layout. But for most golfers, the friendliest aspect of the facility is its extremely affordable fees.
Sugar Creek sports some of least expensive greens fees you will encounter in all of Atlanta, and with the improving course conditions, it is one of the best values you’ll come across. Although the rates may increase slightly in the future due to the improving conditions, you can play Sugar Hill for around $20 during the week and less than $25 on weekends, a bargain that’s hard to beat.
Although the par-71 layout measures a modest 6318 yards from the blue tees and 5944 from the whites, Sugar Creek is by no means a pushover, even with modest Course Rating/Slope numbers of 69.8/124 (blues) and 68.6/121 (whites). The senior tees are 5403 yards with the forward tees 5057.
Sugar Creek is among the tighter courses in metro Atlanta, with most holes featuring tree lines on both sides of fairways that are on the narrow side. Some of the holes begin with drives through chutes of trees that are uncomfortably close to the tees and can be an intimidating presence to those who struggle with accuracy.
The necessity to hit it straight off the tee, along with the presence of several creeks that impact play on about half the holes, are the main concerns at Sugar Creek, particularly on a short but potentially perilous trio of par 5s and one of the more interesting par 4s in the Atlanta area.
With the exception of the par-3 ninth, none of the par 3s or 5s offer much in the way of length, with the par 4s including a handful of holes that will require something other than short iron approaches for those in the short-to-medium range off the tee.
You don’t have to be able to hit it prodigious distances to handle Sugar Creek’s challenge, but if you don’t hit it straight, you can expect to sacrifice some balls to the thick foliage lining a number of holes, or face pitchouts to the fairways on those that allow recovery shots.
Some of the landing areas are a little wider than they appear, but there are several holes that will not respond favorably to slightly errant tee shots to the wrong side.
Sugar Creek’s greens complexes are on the gentle side, with the putting surfaces featuring minimal amounts of slope and the greenside bunkering definitely on the modest side. There is very little mounding or drop-offs around the greens, which allows for short game shots to be played in the air or closer to the ground.
Without much in the way of undulation, the putting surfaces don’t pose any serious concerns, but they tend to be on the slow side, placing some demands on your ability to gauge the distance from long range or hole relatively short efforts that might need a little more oomph than you’d expect.
The greens are not especially large, but you might be surprised by the length of some putts you’ll face when the pins are cut just a few steps from the back edges, a fairly common occurrence.
Be ready to play when you reach the first tee, as Sugar Creek begins with a stout five-hole opening stretch that includes a string of narrow tee shots on a trio of par 4s, two of which have reasonable length, and two of the course’s three par 5s, both of which require considerable precision from tee to green.
The par-5 second begins with one of the more visually intimidating tee shots on the course, with a creek around 100 yards short of a small, unprotected green which is set at a fairly sharp right angle from the fairway, necessitating a well-positioned lay-up.
The fourth also begins with a narrow tee shot that should favor the right side of the fairway on the sharp, dogleg left. The second needs to be positioned somewhere other than the right side, as a cluster of trees just short of a creek makes any approach from that portion of the fairway a very risky proposition.
If you can reasonably negotiate the first five holes, scoring gets significantly easier for the remainder of the opening nine with a pair of unthreatening par 3s and two short-ish par 4s. The par-4 seventh provides a little width in the landing area followed by a short, slightly downhill approach, with the eighth not offering much resistance to scoring other than a creek well short of the green.
The heart of the challenge on the back nine is a trio of par 4s (12, 13, 14) that range from 386 to 417 in length from the tips, all featuring hazards en route to the green.
The tee shot on the 12th has to clear a creek that bisects the fairway, with thick foliage and hazard stakes extending all the way to the green down the right side.
The 13th requires a straight, solid tee shot to set up an angled approach over a creek, with trees lining the right side obstructing the view of the second for shorter hitters. There is some room to miss left of the green, with bigger hitters having the advantage of a clear look at the putting surface if they can find the fairway.
The 14th is similar to the 12th but a little shorter, with thick foliage again looming down the right side. The hole turns a bit left for the approach, with the green sporting a little more tilt than most of the other putting surfaces,
Like the front nine, the back provides some scoring opportunities on its final four holes, beginning with a pair of short, relatively open par 4s. The 15th is one of the few holes with slight drop-offs around the green, with a creek short of the putting surface the primary worry on the 16th.
The par-3 17th features a visually appealing but slightly claustrophobic tee shot from under a canopy of trees, but like the other par 3s, has no serious trouble in play.
After going 13 holes without a par 5, Sugar Creek concludes with a hole that requires an accurate distance measuring device and a realistic assessment of your game to successfully navigate.
A creek crossing the fairway is in play off the tee, and like most of the creeks on the course, includes some brush on either side that adds to its width. Longer hitters can fly the hazard at some risk and take a shot at reaching the green in two, while the distance-challenged among us can get close enough to the green in two after a lay-up off the tee to retain hopes of a closing par or birdie.
Sugar Creek has a loyal clientele that has stuck with the course when its conditions were less than ideal, and area golfers who may have visited when the course was neglected should give it another look.
There are very few courses you can play for Sugar Creek’s current rates that provide as entertaining and challenging a golf experience as you’ll find at the DeKalb County facility, and as the summer progresses, the improving conditions will make it at even bigger bargain.
For information, call 404-687-409 or visit www.sugarcreekgc.com
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