Skeptical golfers packed the Buckhead clubhouse of the Bobby Jones Golf Course to hear proposals on how best to fix up the venerable city-owned golf course named for an Atlanta golf icon.
“We think Bobby Jones is not broken,” Anthony Smith of the Friends of the Bobby Jones Golf Course told the crowd.
The Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that supports the park that contains the golf course, is proposing that the city undertake a substantial renovation of the nearly 200-acre park.
City parks officials are collecting public comment on the proposal before deciding what to do. City officials said they had collected more than 200 comments on the plan during a meeting April 27.
The conservancy proposes to rebuild the 18-hole golf course as a 9-hole one, to add a driving range and other practice areas, to construct a multi-use trail, a parking garage, a new clubhouse and to expand tennis facilities in the park.
“Our mission is to make Atlanta Memorial Park a beautiful, sustainable park connected to the neighborhoods,” Conservancy Executive Director Catherine Spillman told the standing-room-only crowd of about 200 people, who filled the clubhouse June 1.
Spillman said the changes proposed for the portion of the park containing the golf course could cost $15 to $18 million. She said the conservancy plans to raise the money from foundations and corporate sponsors.
“Our intent the entire time is to create a place that is applicable to as wide a group of people as possible,” said Kirk Billings, president of the conservancy. “We have a jewel here.”
Billings told the crowd the golf course, which opened in 1933 and was named for the Atlanta golfer who won the “grand slam” of golf tournaments, is outdated, and that the renovations proposed would make the park more attractive to golfers as well as other residents. “I think there’s a great opportunity here,” he said. “After playing the nine-hole course, it’s going to be a better experience for golfers.”
But golfers attending the June 1 meeting seemed unconvinced.
Several in the audience voiced their objections during the conservancy’s presentation and Smith said 1,200 had signed an online petition objecting to the nonprofit’s proposal.
Jane Yates, a member of the board of the Friends of Bobby Jones, said she would support some modifications. “It does need upgrades,” she said, but said she thought it should remain an 18-hole course. “I just prefer Bobby Jones as it is now.”
Smith presented an alternative plan calling for improvements to the course, but keeping it 18 holes. The course is played by tens of thousands of golfers, he said, and reducing the length of the course would make it less attractive. “We cannot give up the integrity of 18 holes,” he said.
He estimated the Friends of Bobby Jones’ plan could cost as little as $1.5 million to implement, a tenth of the estimated cost of the conservancy plan.
Smith said the golfers liked some parts of the conservancy plan, such as construction of a multi-use trail around the golf course – “with the emphasis on around,” he said.
He said other changes, such as adding the driving range, weren’t needed. He said the course’s history attracts golfers from around the country and from overseas to Atlanta to play the course because of its association with Jones.
Spillman argued the conservancy’s plans would attract new golfers to the sport and more people to the park.
“It opens it to a wider demographic of people,” she said. “We’re trying to get more people into tennis and more people into golf.”