After months of community argument over how best to remake the Bobby Jones Golf Course, city officials have transferred ownership of the historic Buckhead course to the state.
Atlanta City Council voted 12-3 after hours of discussion on June 6 to turn over the course to the state of Georgia. State officials promise a $25 million makeover that will add a golf museum to the site and create what one supporter called “a junior golf Mecca.”
In return for the course, the state will turn over to the city a parking facility and another property near Underground Atlanta that the city needs to complete the sale of Underground to a private developer. The developer proposes building housing and shops in place of the little-used, city-owned tourist attraction.
Mayor Kasim Reed told council members before the vote that the transaction was the best thing for the city and community. “When this is all said and done, this will be the best golf facility in the region and state of Georgia,” Reed said.
Only three council members – Yolanda Adrean, Mary Norwood and Felicia Moore – voted against the transfer. But some supporters of the course continued to question the transfer after it was completed.
“I remain disappointed in the result,” said Anthony Smith, president of the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course. “Financially, this is a giveaway of a park for a promise and a parking lot.”
Debate over the remaking of the golf course, which lies within Atlanta Memorial Park, has drawn hundreds of residents and golfers to public meetings on the renovation of the park originally proposed by the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy.
On June 3, just days before the council vote, Reed told more than 175 people attending a meeting at E. Rivers Elementary School that state officials’ plans for the course named for the iconic Atlanta golfer would create a “best in class” course and improve the care the course will receive in the future.
“This is going to be a golf course forever,” Reed said. “This golf course is going to be maintained in a way the city never could. I think when we get to the other side of this, we’re going to have something that will be a real jewel for the community.”
During the two-hour-plus question-and-answer session, Reed said state officials plan to turn the 18-hole course into a reversible nine-hole, public golf course and add a driving range and other practice facilities.
The state also will add a “Golf House” that would include a golf hall of fame museum and offices for several golf organizations, said Chuck Palmer, chairman of the Bobby Jones Gold Course Foundation and chair of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame committee.
The complex would be used to promote youth golf and as a home for the Georgia State University golf team, said Georgia State golf coach Joe Inman.
“This is not a back-door attempt to bring in new development into the Buckhead community,” Reed said. “It’s an effort to significantly enhance an asset we have in Buckhead.”
Under terms of the deal approved by the council, state officials also will lease back the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center to the city for 20 years, and the city would also get an easement for multi-purpose paths through the park, including PATH and the Atlanta BeltLine.
Councilmember Yolanda Adrean said she would keep fighting for the terms demanded by the community and said Reed could expect to see her in his office as the process continued. But Councilmember Kwanza Hall said he was optimistic about the deal. “The state won’t do anything less than stellar at that site,” he said.
Still, some residents and supporters of the course weren’t convinced that the deal was the right thing to do.
At the E. Rivers meeting, resident Roger Moister argued the proposal seemed to benefit college golfers and not local residents. “We want to leave the golf course 18 holes, save the trees, preserve the green space,” he said. “That’s what our residents want.”
Moister also said the proposed deal was moving too fast and with too little public scrutiny. “The state has the city over a barrel on this,” he said. “Somehow, I think the city is being bullied or blackmailed by the state in order to get this golf course.”
A number of golfers at the meeting objected to plans to facility as a nine-hole course.
But Reed and heads of golf groups supporting the change said the current course wasn’t safe to play and needed to be redesigned to protect golfers and drivers on nearby streets. “We would love as much as anyone to keep 18 holes,” Inman said. “It just can’t be done [here].”
At the same time, Palmer and Inman said, the practice facilities will make the Bobby Jones a center for teaching golf to young players. “This will be a junior golf Mecca,” Inman said.
Smith, of the Friends of Bobby Jones, wasn’t convinced.
“The Trojan Horse was victorious. Now we are left with a clubhouse that may become a White Elephant,” Smith said in an email. “As for Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course, Inc., we will re-assess our mission of providing an enjoyable and beautiful golf experience at the historic Bobby Jones Golf Course and Clubhouse. How this will be implemented with construction pending would be the question before us. We will continue until the money is committed, and until the first tree is cut.”
–Collin Kelley and Joe Earle