By Tony L. Starks
The iconic name of Bobby Jones is synonymous with Georgia golf. As a founder of Augusta National Golf Club and co-founder of the Masters Tournament, his name is revered throughout the Peach State and the golfing world. His ties to the origins of arguably golf’s greatest venue and most treasured tournament signal a level of excellence within his legacy. However, by 2011 conditions at the public access golf course that bears his name had taken a turn for the worst.
Located just a few miles north of Atlanta’s city center, Bobby Jones Golf Course was in dire need of an upgrade. The limited space of 128 acres presented a challenge. Restoring a championship-level golf course within those confines would mean only 5,400 yards from the first tee to the 18th green – in other words, far too short. Meetings between architect Bob Cupp and the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation – which took over management of the property from the municipality – led to an innovative approach that also meets the changing demands of golfers.
A reversible nine-hole course (one of just a few in the country) along with an expansive practice facility and a creative short course aimed at junior golfers became the solution. In November of last year the facility opened to rave reviews and thus far stands as a potential model for metropolitan golf facilities aiming to provide expansive golf experiences with limited space.
“We were banking on trends that say golfers nowadays don’t always have time to play 18 holes, but people are still seeking ways to experience golf in new and exciting ways,” says Jason Kuiper, the facility’s PGA Director of Instruction. “That’s a big part of this property, people can experience the game in multiple ways. They can go to the range, use the short game area and we have a junior golf course called the Cupp Links that will be open in the summer.
“It was really a leap of faith. Could we make use of the limited land and build a destination within the city that generates enough business and revenue through a premium practice range and alternative golf experiences?” Kuiper continues. “The answer has been a resounding yes. We’ve had very strong numbers since opening last November. If it’s above 50 degrees, than there are barely any open stalls on the range.”
Strategic partnerships and an emphasis on technology have played major roles in the development of the property in this early stage. The PGA Tour Superstore has been a key supporter, lending title sponsorship to the PGA Tour Superstore Practice Facility. As part of the collaborative effort, the Superstore has its logo on each of the range balls and supplies the tools for the clubfitting facility housed inside the Grand Slam Golf Academy on the south end of the range. It allows instructors to deliver a similar fitting experience that consumers would find at a Superstore with TrackMan and multiple fitting carts, while also seeing ball flight.
“If you think about the direction of the golf industry in the last 10 years, whether that’s shorter time constraints, short courses, advanced short game and practice areas, junior golf, clubfitting and technology, we’re able to provide all of that in one space,” says PGA Teaching Professional Justin Martin. “The Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, which is the driving force behind this, recognized the opportunity in this market and wanted to make sure that we covered everything.”
An additional focal point for the foundation and the facility is making a community impact. The facility host groups from the YMCA on Wednesdays and Fridays free of charge. Furthermore, they host monthly clinics in conjunction with the Shepherd Center – a medical facility dedicated to the rehabilitation of people with spinal injuries. They’ve partnered with the Georgia State Golf Association to host adaptive golf programs and are in the process of developing a PGA HOPE (Help Our Patriots Everywhere) program. “The goal is not only to be a well-run business, but to be a positive resource for the community and to be proactive about our outreach,” says Kuiper. “Having a state-of-the-art practice facility allows us to execute these initiatives and programming at a level we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”
The facility’s junior academy is powered by U.S. Kids Golf, which donated junior equipment so that new youth golfers can have access to clubs. Furthermore, both Kuiper and Martin are now Certified Level II U.S. Kids Golf coaches.
What are the next steps? Georgia State Golf Association and the Georgia Section of the PGA of America aim to create the 23,000-square foot Murray Golf House, which will house the groups’ headquarters as well as the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. Bobby Jones Golf Course also serves as the home course for the Georgia State University golf team.
Jones’ legacy is already cemented, but the reinvention of Bobby Jones Golf Course will further elevate the Jones name and family’s lasting contributions to the game.