The daily fee golf scene in metro Atlanta has changed significantly since the golf course construction boom that began in the late 1980s and continued for more than a decade.
A number of the top Atlanta area courses available to the public have converted to private status, others have undergone ownership or management changes and a relative handful were sold, with the land used for something other than golf.
Towne Lake Hills was part of the explosion of golf course development in the metro area in the mid-1990s, and has been the relatively rare example of a club that opened during that time period and has sailed a consistent course over the past two decades.
Over the past 20 years, Towne Lake Hills has had the same ownership and management (HMS Golf Management). Richard Staughton has been the club’s superintendent for the past 15 years, and head pro Paul Carey and instructors Chris Carlisle and Bill Murchison are all well established at the Woodstock club.
Towne Lake Hills’ excellent layout, the creation of renowned golf course architect Arthur Hills and his design associate Mike Dasher, has changed little over the past 20 years, with a softening of the demanding par-5 finishing hole among the few changes of note during that span.
“We’ve been open for twenty and a half years, and we’ve always been open to the public and had memberships,” Carey said. “We’re a true semi-private facility and we’ve stayed true to that model throughout.
“We’ve had constant ownership and management in HMS, and even though the daily fee market is awfully competitive, we’ve stuck with the idea that if you offer a good product at competitive prices with good service, people will come.”
Memberships at Towne Lake Hills include memberships to both Lake Arrowhead and Callahan Links, also HMS managed facilities, with the club featuring an expansive practice facility and one of the better dining options you’ll encounter at a public access course – Featherstone’s Grille.
As a golf club, Towne Lake Hills has to rely on the quality and conditioning of its course to attract members and keep its daily fee players coming back.
Hills has designed top courses all over the country, with both courses at Golf Club of Georgia and the Standard Club part of his extensive resume. He and Dasher also collaborated on Olde Atlanta, with Dasher handling the design work for both Bentwater and the Traditions at Braselton.
Carey says that Towne Lake Hills embodies Hills’ design philosophy of having six relatively difficult holes, six of medium difficulty and six that are more inviting.
“Towne Lake Hills is a good example of that,” Carey says. “It has a little bit for everybody, from 25 handicappers to scratch golfers. We have some big boy golf holes, but it’s very playable for the average golfer from the blue or white tees.”
At just 6784 yards from the gold tees, Towne Lake Hills is not a long course by modern standards, and several of the holes are effectively shortened due to elevated tees. Length, however, is not the major concern Hills’ layout poses.
Towne Lake Hills is one of the tighter driving courses among metro Atlanta’s daily fee layouts, with several of the more demanding tee shots not particularly favorable to those of us whose misses tend to be to the right. The tree-lined course also features several holes where trouble is well within reach off either side of the fairway, but there are a number of holes with more generous landing areas to keep it from being overly imposing off the tee.
“If you can keep your tee ball in play, there are some scoring opportunities because the course is not overly long,” Carey said.
Towne Lake Hills was built on some relatively rugged terrain, with the Hills part of the clubs’ name reflecting both the architect’s name and the land on which the course was constructed. Several of the holes are bordered by hills than can either re-direct your ball back reward the fairway or leave you with an awkward lie.
Other holes feature drop-offs along fairways to tree lines, with Towne Lake Hills also including a number of wetlands areas which are very much a factor. Hazards are in play on approximately half the holes, and help account for some relatively high slope numbers despite the overall absence of serious length.
Towne Lake Hills is rated at 73.5/144 from the back tees, with the blues measuring just under 6300 yards and rated at 71.2/137. The white tees are a comfortable 5800 with a higher slope rating (133) than you’d normally find at that yardage. The forward tees are slightly under 5000 yards and rated at 69.8/127.
With some exceptions, the greens at Towne Lake Hills tend toward the large size but are not especially undulating, although quite a few feature tiers or ridges that will impact putts if you have to come over or across them.
Carey credits Staughton for the excellent condition of the putting surfaces, pointing out that the Towne Lake Hills superintended “knows how to keep bent grass greens alive in the Georgia summer.”
The putting surfaces are guarded by a modest number of bunkers, with a fairly healthy spread of rough adding to the difficulty of short game shots.
The heart of Towne Lake Hills’ challenge is its collection of par 4s, which present more of a test than the yardage numbers might indicate, beginning with the slightly uphill first hole. The hole features a generous landing area and a large green divided by a ridge that can make it difficult to get lengthy putts to back pins.
The toughest par 4s on the opening nine are holes 3 and 6, with the third beginning with an angled tee shot with a sharp drop-off to trouble on the right. The sixth is not as long, but thick trees are in play down the right side, with a demanding second shot over wetlands to a tough to hit target.
Like the first, the eighth plays gradually uphill from tee to green, with the tee shot from the back two sets requiring a carry over a pond, and trees on the left uncomfortably close from the two shorter tee boxes.
There are some similarities between the two toughest par 4s on the back, both of which begin from elevated tees and angle slightly to the right on the second shot.
The 13th is the longer and more dangerous of the two, with the tee shot having to thread its way between a chute of trees and a creek winding along the right side, with the terrain sloping towards it. The green is one of the most heavily-bunkered on the course, with the creek also in play if the approach shot strays right.
The 16th features a wider landing area with bunkers at the far end of the dogleg providing a target from the tee on the visually appealing hole. There are no greenside bunkers, but a hazard is within reach right and long.
The other three par 4s on the nine present scoring opportunities, although the short, dogleg left 11th requires considerable precision off the tee to avoid wetlands down the left side. Out of bounds is tight to the right and bunkers at the far corner of the dogleg are in play for longer hitters.
The 15th plays slightly uphill, but at 327 from the blues with an ample fairway, does not offer much resistance. The rolling 17th features a hill right of the fairway that can obscure views of the approach shot to an extremely wide but shallow green, with pin position making a sizeable difference in the second shot.
Other than the 12th, the par 3s are on the short side, with the two on the front nine around 150 from the blues and the 14th just over that yardage from the golds. The downhill fourth is among the most scenic on the course, with a pond just right of the green providing both aesthetic appeal and danger.
A pronounced mound short of the seventh green prevents a clear look at a small-ish putting surface, with no sand on the hole but some pesky rough.
The par 5s are a diverse and interesting group, with all four capable of yielding birdies as well as scores that don’t look quite as pleasing on the scorecard.
The downhill second starts with a narrow tee shot, with a pond short and left of the green making it a risk/reward hole for longer hitters. The triple-tier green wraps around the pond, which sits below the surface. Front pin positions make for inviting second and third shots, but when the hole is cut in the upper back tier, it takes some courage to fire at the flag.
The downhill fifth is the shortest of the group, and is reachable for those who can handle an uneven lie with a fairway wood or long iron. Tree lines are within reach down both sides, but there are no other impediments to scoring on the hole.
The only trouble on the rolling 10th is a drop-off to thick grass right of the fairway, but you face the prospect of a blind or semi-blind third to a green that slopes from left to right with a friendly mound to the left aiding slightly errant approaches.
The once-fearsome 18th has been improved and softened by the removal of a creek down the right side of a fairway that sloped hard in its direction. It is still a lot of hole from the tips (559), but is well within reach from the blues at 478, with players able to go directly at the elevated fairway and green after a well-struck tee shot.
Shorter hitters play down the left side, looking to avoid the creek that is still in play for the second shot, with a sharply uphill third having to negotiate a steep hill to a green without much depth from that angle.