This one feels special. Bobby Cupp says he knows this project is different every time he heads out onto the expanse of scraped clay that soon will become the new Bobby Jones Golf Course. This is his dad’s final course.
“For me, this is dad’s last one, right? And one that was so dear to his heart,” Cupp said one recent afternoon as the Ford SUV he drove bounced across the manmade hills and valleys that will embody the redesigned course in the heart of Buckhead. “[It’s important] just to be here and get it done.”
Bobby Cupp’s dad was Bob Cupp, the Brookhaven golf pro turned golf course designer the Georgia State Golf Association calls “one of the most prominent golf course designers of this era.”
Bob Cupp’s design career lasted more than four decades. His company’s website lists more than 75 new courses it’s designed, another two dozen it’s rebuilt, and dozens more it’s renovated or restored. In 1972, Golf World magazine named Bob Cupp its Golf Architect of the Year, according to the Cupp company’s webpage, In 2014 he became the first architect inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, the association says on its webpage.
And he pursued more than the perfect golf course. “People refer to my dad as a ‘Renaissance man.’ He played guitar and was a singer,” the younger Cupp said. “He was a woodworker and loved model trains. He spent years and years building a model train. It’s part of his house.” He found time to write a novel, too.
Bob Cupp died in August 2016 at age 76. His son took over as president of the Bob Cupp Inc., which meant it fell to him to continue projects he and his dad had been working on, including the redesign of the historic Bobby Jones course. “It’s a collaborative effort,” he said. “I am trying my best to include him in all I do out here. He was the one who decided the concept of the golf course.”
Bobby Cupp grew up in Florida, where his dad worked as a golf pro. That was before the elder Cupp started designing courses. The younger Cupp, who’s now 54 and a busy course designer himself, remembers his introduction to golf came when he was about 5. His dad shortened a set of old clubs and took his son to the driving range.
Bobby Cupp went to work with his dad in 1985. The younger Cupp was “reasonably artistic” and could help get course designs on paper. There was a time he thought about doing something else, such as going into radio, but eventually ended up back in the golf course design business.
The elder Cupp worked years on his redesign of the Bobby Jones course, his son said. Once plans became public, there were heated community debates over everything from potential flood problems to Cupp’s plan to reimagine the public course as a reversible nine-hole course in place of the existing 18-hole course. The idea was that players could play nine holes, or, if they wanted to play the 18 holes usually included in a round of golf, turn around and play the course in a different direction and from a different set of tees.
Cupp’s design allowed the use of some of the land for an expansion of the nearby tennis center and addition of a new driving range. Bobby Cupp said part of the idea is to attract urban players and to create a new generation of golfers. Eventually, the city of Atlanta turned the property over to the state in a land swap, and renovations began. Bobby Cupp said the renovated course should open in November.
The renovations have drawn recent controversy over tree loss and stream impacts. Cupp declined to comment, saying there aren’t definitive answers yet and more than the “rumor mill” says.
About a month before the elder Cupp died, father and son made a site visit to the Bobby Jones course. “We rode around and looked at everything,” Bobby Cupp recalled.
The younger Cupp said he’d never tried a “reversible nine” plan before. It was his dad’s first, too. “It’s harder and more complicated than I ever thought it would be,” he said.
Unlike a traditional course, “this forces you to look at every conceivable angle,” he said. One example: walking the course recently, he said, he turned around and looked back across a fairway and realized bunkers on an adjacent fairway looked, well, weird when viewed from that perspective. They were fine when viewed one way, but not so fine when encountered from the other end. As this would be a two-way course, with play going in both directions, he had to change them.
Sometimes, as he walks the course under construction, there still are questions he’d like to talk over with his dad to find out how he would deal with them. It was his dad’s vision, after all. And it’s important to get this one right.
“This one carries a certain weight,” he said. “unlike anything else or anywhere else I’m working or have worked, ever.”
Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org