For golfers, Atlanta conjures one name—Bobby Jones—and the hometown hero has deep roots within the local public golf scene
Bobby Jones Golf Course, built in 1932 as the city’s first 18-hole public track, has carried The Emperor’s name since its founding, but the quality and condition of the course never lived up to its gilded eponym… until now. An infusion of $33 million and unprecedented cooperation among private, state, and city actors has turned an anemic 18-holer into a delightful 9-hole reversible course. Ingeniously designed by the late Bob Cupp, the course features tees for every conceivable level of play, no rough, wide fairways, and conditioning that is routinely excellent. No time for nine holes? Pay 10 bucks for a few laps on a practice green you’ll never forget (kids putt free). The clubhouse serves an excellent burger, or head south a couple miles and embrace The Varsity, Atlanta’s go-to drive-in hot dog joint.
Fifteen minutes north in Buckhead is the Chastain Park Golf Course. In the early 1930s, the City of Atlanta decided to construct a network of municipal golf courses. Who better than Jones to oversee construction? He hired one of his pals, H. Chandler Egan, a top-flight amateur who as a course designer had worked on the renovation of Pebble Beach for the 1929 U.S. Amateur. Much of Egan’s imprint on Pebble has faded over the last 90 years, but pictures from that era bear a striking similarity to today’s Chastain, in particular Egan’s sweeping bunker designs. Still, few who roam this worn muni are aware that they are treading on an architectural gem. Best pizza in town is about a mile away at Fellini’s on Roswell Road.
An hour drive northeast brings you to Suwanee where Bear’s Best was culled from Jack Nicklaus’s favorite holes at some of his iconic designs, essentially a Greatest Hits album packaged in a daily-fee experience. The par-three 6th plays over a small pond in tribute to the 12th at Muirfield Village, which itself was inspired by the famed 12th hole at Augusta National, and the rising 18th replicates the uphill home hole at Castle Pines.
It’s a bit of a drive—about two hours southwest on I-85 and then I-20—to The Frog, but the trip is well worth it. Arguably the best public golf course in northwest Georgia, The Frog is very well conditioned. Its wide fairways and largely level greens are filled with local players enjoying a private-club experience on a budget.
Finally, the Charlie Yates Golf Course at East Lake, which gave Jones his start, has built a towering reputation by using golf as a tool for community development. While East Lake Golf Club itself is private, its neighbor across the street is as public as it gets. Named for the famed Atlanta amateur and dear friend of Jones, this old Donald Ross course was updated in 1998 by Rees Jones. The now 9-holer is centered on a large lake, and holes 4 through 7 are a joy. In May 2021, the course announced that the greens will be converted from bentgrass to prizm zoysia. Those and other planned improvements will keep Charlie top of mind among Atlanta’s public-course cognoscenti. On your way back toward town or the airport, stop at historic Oakland Cemetery. Lay a golf ball at the burial site of Bobby Jones and toast his devotion to public golf at the aptly named bar across the street: Six Feet Under.
What are your favorite golf courses around Atlanta?