Group wants Bobby Jones Golf Course overhauled

But another group says ‘hands off’ the historic links


Ever since Atlanta turned an old sewage plant site into a golf course honoring native son Bobby Jones in 1933, duffers have had 18 holes to play at Atlanta Memorial Park in Buckhead.

A nonprofit organization that oversees the greenspace says the course is outdated and overdue for a driving range and practice area, along with a transformation into a 9-hole course. But a group of players counter that what they have is a tree-filled treasure that should largely stay as is.

“Currently, the 18-hole course that is sitting there right now, sits on 128 acres. That is simply not enough to build a quality, safe golf course,” said Catherine Spillman, executive director of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that has submitted the draft 9-hole master plan to the city.

The conservancy wants to replace the 18 holes with a 9-hole “reversible” course that could be played in opposite directions on different days. It would include a driving range, other practice spots, more tennis courts and a new clubhouse to be shared between golfers and tennis players. The plan also recommends new plantings and swales to mitigate erosion and flooding in the floodplains of the park’s creeks on both sides of Northside Drive.

The AMPC raised $30,000 from the city in 2012 and $45,000 from private donors to develop the master plan. The cost of all the proejcts on the east side of Northside Drive would come to about $15 to $18 million said, Spillman. West side projects would add another $2 million.

The Conservancy aims to fund the proposals with private donations, public grants, and other sources. For example, Georgia State University has agreed to raise $500,000 towards the effort in exchange for use of the facilities for Panther golf. Federal Environmental Protection Agency grants might pay for some of the floodplain work.

The city has no comment yet on what it would be prepared to spend or expects to spend.

“We must analyze all the details first,” says Mayor Kasim Reed Spokeswoman Jewanna Gaither via e-mail.

But another group says it represents the interest of public golf in Atlanta and preserving what its members consider a classic piece of the city’s history. The Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course supports some of the same spending on upkeep and maintenance that the AMPC supports: selective tree pruning, or taking down diseased or dangerous trees; drainage projects; maybe even upgraded space for practice or parking.

But it wants to keep all 18 tees on the course that its members play dozens and dozens of times a year. They like the option of a long course — and argue that players who want a short game have the option of booking only 9 holes.

“We also want the wider public to be aware that dozens of mature hardwod trees are about to be cut down in their third-largest regional park in order to make way for a driving range and parking deck,” said Douglas Balch, a golfer and Friends board member.

The city owns four 18-hole golf courses, the 9-hole course at Candler Park; plus there’s a youth golf center operated by the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority on Cascade Road.

Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation has held two public meetings on the proposed plan; it’s not clear when or if they will have another. The parks department is reviewing the plan, said Gaither. In 2012, the city commissioned a review of its golf courses to see if their living up to their “full potential.” It recommended $1.25 million in restoration and flood plain works at Bobby Jones.