The Yamaha Atlanta Open returns to one of the Georgia PGA’s favorite sites, as Pinetree Country Club will be the host of the 2019 event, which will be played June 4-5.
Pinetree last served as Atlanta Open host in 2004, but over the previous seven years has been the site of five Georgia PGA events, including two Georgia Opens (2014 and 15) and two Georgia PGA Senior Championships (2012 and ’17), along with the 2017 Georgia Women’s Open.
When the Georgia last played at Pinetree two years age, three of the Section’s top senior players had their way with Pinetree’s highly-respected layout, with winner Sonny Skinner winning with a 12-under 132 total for 36 holes and James Mason and Craig Stevens sharing second at 6-under.
Unlike that senior event, Pinetree will play at or near its maximum length of 7,100 yards for the Atlanta Open, similar to that of the two Georgia Opens played at the course four and five years ago. Only 18 players broke par for 72 holes those two years, with just two players more than 8-under par for the two 72-hole tournaments.
Mini-tour players and college golfers ruled the leader boards in those two events, and college golfers have won each of the last two Atlanta Opens, with both of them in the field this year.
Mercer’s Spencer Ball won at Cherokee Town & CC last year, edging out Cherokee instructor Peter Jones by two shots. Kennesaw State’s Wyatt Larkin also won by two at Echelon GC in 2017 over Kyle Owen, who went on to earn Georgia PGA Player of the Year honors.
Larkin will have a home course advantage, as Pinetree is the host facility for the Kennesaw State golf team. Former Kennesaw State golfer Jimmy Beck, currently playing on the Web.com Tour, won the Georgia Amateur and placed second in the Georgia Open in consecutive years, and Larkin should be a contender considering his familiarity with Pinetree.
Due to a conflict with the Dogwood Invitational, which begins the day the Atlanta Open ends, many of the state’s top college golfers are missing from the Atlanta Open field, but the tournament still features some prominent amateur players, among them Chris Waters of Atlanta, one of the state’s top mid-amateurs.
Nolan Miller of Columbus, Ball’s teammate at Mercer, is also in the field along with Georgia Southern’s Jacob Bayer, who won a Georgia PGA at his home course (Berkeley Hills) while still in high school. Recent South Alabama golfer Jason Mendel of Norcross, lost in a playoff in the 2016 Atlanta Open, and Chad Thomas of Temple was a recent contender in a Georgia PGA tournament at Chattahoochee GC.
The Georgia PGA contingent in the Yamaha Atlanta Open is led by veteran Sonny Skinner, who won the event in consecutive years in 2015 at White Columns and 2016 at St. Ives in addition to his 2017 victory in the Georgia PGA Senior Championship at Pinetree. Skinner, who plays out of Spring Hill in Tifton, tied for fourth in the recent Georgia PGA event at Chattahoochee GC, and was a close second in the 2018 Georgia PGA Player of Year standings.
Craig Stevens, an instructor at Woodmont, has a history of success at Pinetree, going back to his tie for second in the 2004 Atlanta Open. He won the 2012 Georgia PGA Senior Championship at Pinetree, and was second when that event returned to the Kennesaw private club two years ago. He was eighth in the Player of the Year standings in 2018
James Mason, who plays out of the Orchard, was second along with Stevens in the 2017 Georgia PGA Senior Championship, and placed second last month in the Georgia Senior Open at St. Ives. At the age of 68, Mason remains competitive against his younger competition in the Georgia PGA Section, and was 10th on the points list last year. In his most recent start, he missed the cut by one shot in the PGA Senior Championship after shooting a second round 71 on the demanding Oak Hill course in Rochester, N.Y.
Next to Skinner, the most recent Atlanta Open champion among the Georgia PGA pros was Hank Smith of the Frederica Club on St. Simons Island, who won in 2014 at Atlanta National.
Tim Weinhart, who teaches at Heritage Golf Links and Woodmont, won the Atlanta Open at Heron Bay in 2009, and has a long history of top finishes in the event, going back to a playoff loss to Mason at White Columns in 2000. Weinhart also lost in a playoff in 2002 to Phil Taylor at GC of Georgia, and has three other top-3 showings in the Atlanta Open since 2008, most recently a tie for third at Echelon in 2017. Weinhart, a 9-time Georgia PGA Player of The Year, slipped to ninth in the standings last year, but began 2019 with a tie for second at Chattahoochee GC, shooting 64 in the final round.
Peter Jones, who was third on last year’s points list, has four top-1o finishes in the Atlanta Open over the past five years, and Kyle Owen, the head pro at Dunwoody CC, has four top 10s in his last six starts, including his runner-up finish in 2017. Owen was fourth in the Player of the Year standings in 2018.
Matt Elliott, who only became a club professional one year ago after completing his college career at North Georgia, won the season-opening Georgia PGA points event at Chattahoochee GC, and will look to become a frequent contender in Section events that have been largely dominated for years by a relatively small group of veterans, most of them now seniors.
Paul Claxton, a long-time tour player who became a regular Georgia PGA competitor a few years ago, has won multiple Section and Senior events since then, but withdrew from the PGA Senior Championship after one round, and may be unable to play in the Atlanta Open. Claxton was the 2018 Georgia PGA Player of the Year.
Pinetree is one of the best conditioned courses in metro Atlanta and sports a challenging layout with some of the most difficult putting surfaces the Section pros and amateurs will encounter.
While the layout includes a mostly demanding group of par 4s and three very strong par 3s,, there are a trio of par 4s that average just over 350 yards from the tips, along with three reachable par 5s. Accuracy is a vital asset, with Pinetree featuring mostly tree-lined fairways with OB stakes and hazards on a number of holes.
The putting surfaces, which can approximate the speed found on the PGA Tour, require precision to avoid three-putt possibilities, but with an ample number of scoring holes, Pinetree offers a balanced test that make it one of the favorite host sites for both the Georgia PGA and GSGA.