The University of Georgia Golf Course has long been one of the state’s most popular tournament hosts, ranging from NCAA Championships and Regionals to a former Web.com Tour stop, significant Georgia PGA tournaments and national and statewide junior events.
The UGA course last hosted an NCAA Women’s Championship in 2013 and was the site of an NCAA Regional in 2016. An NCAA Men’s Regional will be played at the course next year, with the women returning to Athens in 2020.
UGA’s golf course opened in the late 1960s, with renowned architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., handling the design work. The course, which turns 50 this year, was renovated a little over a decade ago by Davis Love’s design group. A number of back tees were installed, lengthening the course by more than 400 yards, with new forward tees reducing their yardage by almost 500 yards.
Some bunkers were removed or re-positioned, with some extensive work done to the greens complexes. Many of the putting surfaces added a considerable amount of movement, including some new tiers, ridges and bowls.
The improvements in golf equipment technology had rendered the course too short for top college players, so 12 new back tees were installed. That added more than 450 yards while reducing the par from 72 to 71, as a short par 5 was converted to a par 4 with a loss of only 10 yards.
The new back “Bulldog” tees now measure almost 7,260 yards, with the new forward tees added at the same time, reducing their yardage by almost 500 yards. Even with the decreased length, the course was still a handful for women and younger juniors at just under 5,200 yards. A more recent addition of shorter forward tees on about half the holes knocked more than 800 yards off the total distance, and General Manager Matt Peterson says they have been “a big hit” with the club’s female, junior and super senior patrons.
The other three sets of tees have remained relatively unchanged, with the Red tees (6,825) slightly longer than the old back tees, despite the reduction in par by one stroke. The Silver (6,444) and White (5,997) tees are essentially the same, with some modifications in designation to accommodate the Bulldogs’ team colors.
The UGA course is rated at 75.1/139 from the Bulldog tees and 73.3/136 from the Reds, with the Silver tees one of the strongest 71.4/125 layouts you’ll encounter. The White tees are rated at 69.5/119.
Peterson, who spent more than a decade on what is now the Web.com Tour and played one season on the PGA Tour, acknowledges that the course “is very difficult to play,” from the Bulldog tees. “It plays long and the greens are difficult. If the average player gets back on a set of tees he shouldn’t be on, it could be a little frustrating.
“But if you play the right set of tees, it’s a very enjoyable course.”
Not all the changes made the course more difficult. Several of the fairways are no longer as sloping as they used to be, keeping tee shots from rolling into the rough and making for more manageable lies for those whose drives stay in the short grass.
While it certainly helps to be able to thump it with the driver whatever tees you play at the UGA course, you don’t have to be a huge hitter to handle Jones’ well-crafted layout. With the exception of a handful of holes, most notably the extreme false front on the 11th and the water guarded 12th, 13th and 16th greens, being a little short of the putting surfaces in regulation is usually better than missing to the side.
Only a handful of holes require carries over front bunkers to reach the putting surface. But the mounded nature of many of the greens will put a good bit of pressure on your short game to reach some difficult to find pin positions along the edges or just above some of the ridges installed by Love’s design group.
The re-contoured greens will produce some putts that could use a UGA math major to compute the break (breaks), and no round at the course is complete without a few perplexing double-breakers across a ridge or up/down a tier.
“That’s certainly one of the challenging things about the course,” Peterson says of the redesigned putting surfaces. “There are some subtle breaks you can’t see. You learn something new every time you play here.”
One of the newer additions to the UGA staff is head pro John Crumbley, well known in the Atlanta area as the long time head professional at Mystery Valley, one of the state’s busiest daily fee courses along with his new club in Athens.
The UGA course is one of those layouts that is a joy to play the first time you encounter it, and will not lose its appeal after multiple visits. It’s also the rare challenging track that will give you a stern test without requiring you to hit shots beyond your ability level. Just keep it in play (not that demanding a task) and bring a deft short game with you (assuming you have one).
Be ready to play from the opening tee shot, because it will be a while before you come upon a relatively inviting hole. The first five holes include four par 4s that average 420 from the red tees and just over 400 from the silver, with a few of the more interesting putting surfaces on the course.
The opening nine also includes a pair of strong par 3s with some length and ample greens featuring plenty of break. Neither hole is very receptive to those who stray to the right, which depending on your political philosophy, is fitting for a university course.
With a few exceptions, the UGA course is reasonably forgiving off the tee, but there are some holes where the tree lines are well within reach, the relatively short (at least from the silver tees) par-5 seventh among them.
The most memorable stretch on the course consists of holes 11-13, beginning with the approach shot to the short par-4 11th, which must contend with one of the most precipitous false fronts you’ll come across. For the most part, UGA is a second shot course, but none of the second shots has as dramatic a success/failure disparity as the approach to the 11th. Good luck to those who miss the green long with the pin placed just above the false front.
The 12th and 13th are UGA’s signature holes and just two of three on the course with water in play. A lake borders the right side of the par-5 12th and must be carried at an angle for big hitters going for the green in two, or more directly for those who lay up. With trees and hilly terrain lining the left side, precision is a must all the way to the green, which does not appear to offer much of a target regardless of the angle of the approach.
The par-3 13th goes back across a finger of the lake, which guards a small green front and right, with a large hill just beyond the putting surface adding to its challenge. Length is not an issue, but accuracy and distance control are both very much required.
The closing stretch at UGA includes a tougher-than-it-looks downhill par 3 over water, a slightly uphill par 5 with some length and another challenging green and the extremely long 18th, which is a virtual par 5 for shorter hitters. A narrow strip of green connects the putting surfaces of the 9th and 18th greens, with a sizeable bunker that factors on both holes separating the two.
For those who remember the course when it wasn’t in such great shape, the playing conditions are typically outstanding, even with the departure of the Web.com event that heightened the need for close attention to course conditioning.
All in all, the UGA course is one of the most entertaining daily-fee layouts in the state, and while it’s certainly not one of the easiest, you should expect something of a test from the home of the state’s flagship university.
Even if your final grade is not quite what you were looking for, you can always pretend you’re back in school and the higher your score, the better it is.
For information, call 706-369-5739 or visit www.golfcourse.uga.edu