Former private club sports
standout Watson design
By Mike Blum
The choices for metro Atlanta’s daily fee golfers have gradually diminished over the past decade, as at least 10 courses have converted to private status and several others have gone out of business.
Some of the metro area’s best public access layouts were among that group, most notably White Columns, Atlanta’s premier upscale daily fee facility.
In recent years, construction of new daily fee courses has all but disappeared, and the handful of private clubs that have opened have been impacted tremendously by the economic downturn that has hit the golf business hard all over the country.
The Manor, which opened as a private club in north Fulton County in 2006, has been growing its membership steadily over the past year, but the numbers still left too many open slots on the tee shot.
Atlanta-based Affiniti Golf Partners recently assumed management of the club, which has now opened a limited number of tee times for non-member play. Initial results have been positive, and the club is well on the way to filling the niche left vacant in the area since White Columns went private.
The Manor Golf and Country Club is a standout Tom Watson design that has established an early reputation for conditioning that makes it a worthy successor to White Columns as the course of choice for those in search of a quality upscale golf experience. The club’s members still have advanced access to prime tee times, but there are enough slots left to comfortably accommodate non-members, including weekend availabilities.
Those who have visited The Manor for the first time recently have discovered what the club’s members have known from the outset – the course is one of the finest in all of Atlanta regardless of status.
Watson’s design is scenic, distinctive and exceedingly enjoyable, and provides sufficient challenge to keep you on your toes while remaining comfortably playable. At 7,177 yards from the tips and 6,738 from the blue tees, The Manor has sufficient yardage, but the downhill nature of a significant number of the holes makes the distance less of a concern.
For the most part, The Manor is reasonably generous off the tee and there are not an abundance of hazards in play. However, thanks to some of the more demanding greens complexes you’ll encounter, the course has some relatively high Course Rating/Slope numbers, beginning at 74.9/143 from the Watson tees and a healthy 73.8/140 from the blues.
The white tees, which measure 6,338 yards, are a comfortable fit for the bogey golfer, but still represent a real test at 70.6/135. The senior tees are right at 5,800 yards, with the forward tees on the stout side by modern standards at around 5,200.
Jon Hough has been the club’s head professional since The Manor opened, and like the membership, is adjusting to the recent changes. Having a course the caliber of Watson’s gem will attract new visitors to the club, and should keep them coming back, with Hough’s welcoming personality easing the transition for the members while making those new to the facility feel at home.
“Tom Watson did such an amazing job with the design,” Hough says. “There are elevation changes and lots of hills, but the course does not play like one at the foothills of the mountains.
“There are not a lot of blind shots and most of the holes play downhill, which is fun for golfers. Most everybody is very excited to have the chance to play here, and say they expect to come back. I think we’ll get a lot of return business.”
The most distinctive aspect of Watson’s design is the way he uses the terrain to form the heart of the course’s challenge. Many of the tee shots require a decent amount of accuracy to avoid hillsides or drop-offs which can result in some very awkward lies. There are also a number of strategic fairway bunkers in play, but you will likely become more familiar with the sand guarding the large, undulating greens that will give all aspects of your short game a real workout.
The rolling terrain that impacts the tee shots is also very much a factor around the greens, with many of the greens complexes carved out of hillsides. You will almost certainly be faced with some short game shots from above or below the level of the putting surfaces, and the placement of the bunkers within that terrain can make for some perplexing sand shots if you just trickle into them from the high side.
Most of the greens have ample size and healthy amounts of undulation, and Watson divides many of them into sections with the use of ridges and his positioning of bunkers. Plenty of the pin positions are in spots that are very well protected by sand and/or the terrain, with the multiple tiers on the putting surfaces effectively reducing the size of the target and combined with the terrain, making for some very treacherous recovery shots.
Thanks to the superb condition of the greens, you can expect to hole a putt or two if you get one started on line, but they have sufficient speed and movement to make you earn what you get.
Watson offers up a diverse mix of holes, with The Manor featuring one of the stronger group of par 3s you’ll play, especially considering that water is a factor on only one of them, and not a particularly serious concern on the lone exception. All four measure more than 200 yards from the tips, although the 7th is on the short side from the other tees.
Among the concerns are some of the more demanding greens complexes on the course, with the four presenting differing challenges from the tee due to Watson’s use of disparate greens configurations.
The Manor is the rare course without what can be accurately described as a monster par 4. The longest of the group is the 5th, which can play as long as 478 yards, but in reality is significantly shorter due to its considerable drop from tee to landing area.
There are just a handful of water hazards in play on the course, with most of them found on the par 4s, another slight twist that differentiates Watson’s consistently interesting layout.
The 2nd features a creek that snakes through the fairway and may require a layup from the tee. Water lurks just off the right edge of a huge green that offers a fairly narrow target, with mounds along the left side offering the possibility of a friendly bounce or a testy chip.
A pond down the left side of the 6th makes for one of the more demanding tee shots on the course, but it’s the rare hole at The Manor where there is a serious amount of pressure from the tee.
Water is also in play on the three finishing holes, most notably on the 17th, one of several par 4s of modest distance that offer scoring opportunities if you can solve the puzzle of Watson’s well-protected pin positions and place your approach shot on the proper level of the putting surface.
The back nine opens with a scenic view from the stairstep tees at the downhill 10th, with plenty of sand in play on both the tee shot and approach.
Watson provides more scoring opportunities on the par 5s, with three of the four right around 500 yards from the blue tees. Only the gently rolling 8th has much length, and it doesn’t present a serious challenge until you near the green, one of many at The Manor with a pronounced ridge that can make things very difficult if you have to negotiate it. Some deep, inset bunkers right of the green are also best avoided.
Both the 3rd and 13th play downhill to the green after the tee shot, offering a chance to get home in two following a well-struck drive. The 18th offers an expanse of fairway, but mounds down the right and a waste bunker left are very much in play, with an angular green making for differing angles of attack depending on where the pin is placed.
In its brief existence, The Manor has hosted events for both the Georgia PGA and GSGA, and none of the state’s club professionals or top amateurs was able to take Watson’s thoughtful creation apart, although scores were reasonably low.
For golfers not capable of shooting in the 60s, The Manor is an eminently enjoyable but sufficiently challenging layout to make for an entertaining round no matter how well you play. The overall ambience meets the expectations you would have for a high end private club that is allowing non-member play at rates of $69 Tuesday-Thursday and $89 Friday-Sunday.
Affiniti Golf Partners now manages a number of metro Atlanta’s best courses that are accessible to the public, with The Manor joining Echelon, also a former private club, as well as Chestatee, Heritage Golf Links and Cobblestone.
While it is allowing some non-member play, The Manor continues to add to its membership, and is a true family-oriented club with a host of outstanding amenities. Included are 16 lighted tennis courts, including four indoors and six clay courts, two swimming pools, one of which offers a splendid view from the top level of the clubhouse, and an activities director.
“There’s more here than just a golf course,” says Hough, who believes the club will return to fully private status if the gains in membership continue.
For information on The Manor, call 678-366-3975 or visit www.themanorgolfandcountryclub.com.
The Manor now open
to non-member play