Published on June 2nd, 2015 |5
Friends of Bobby Jones get chance to present 18-hole golf plan
The venue for the discussion was the city Department of Parks and Recreation’s second public information session to weigh the pros and cons of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy’s proposal against those of the “Friends” within the walls of the historic Bobby Jones Club House.
Just as with the first meeting April 27, the club house was jammed with standing room only for the approximately 250 or more area residents and golfers who still appeared split almost 50-50 for or against changing the golf course layout, as proposed in the AMPC’s park Master Plan.
The AMPC board has already gone on record endorsing changing the golf course from an 18-hole layout to a reversible 9-hole layout, adding a practice tee area and possibly a Wee Golf Course for youngsters to play and building a new club house that would serve both the golf course and the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center. (Read that endorsement here.)
But until Monday evening, the public had not heard or seen how the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course would like to preserve and enhance the present 18-hole layout of the golf course or the reasons for it. All that had been heard had been their objections to change.
But Monday night, the “Friends” group was given equal time to present its case and answer questions as was representatives of the AMPC board, with both presenting slide shows to support their positions. Each presentation was followed by questions from the audience.
The storylines for the “Friends” group’s positions and plan was presented primarily by Anthony (Tony) Smith, who spoke passionately about the history of the course and the clubhouse, about Bobby Jones, Louise Suggs and Tup Holmes, who was denied play there in 1951 because he was black, but filed a suit against the city and won, integrating the facility in 1955.
But more important, Smith presented unemotional reasons—business and golf experience related—why the course should remain 18-holes instead of nine, and areas where the “Friends” are in agreement with the Conservancy and where they are at opposite ends of the flag pole.
Smith said he and his group like the PATH “around” the golf course, emphasizing “around” and not through the current golf course. “It is a great asset for golfers and walkers,” he added. They also agree on the need to solve the flooding problems associated with the golf course, but would like to get American Golf (who operates the course) to handle that.
However, the major areas of disagreement, Smith told the audience, is in converting the course to nine holes, building a new clubhouse that would be shared with Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, devoting a large amount of the property to a driving range and youth golf course and the parking deck proposed near the new clubhouse for golfers and tennis players.
Smith said the “Friends” plan would and enlarge the present parking lot for golfers and would add an artificial turf pitching and putting area with sand trap on land the city got from FEMA following the 100-year flood, below and behind the present clubhouse. The contract with FEMA, however, restricts the use of that land to “passive use only.”
And, Smith and his group want the present 7,000-square-foot Bobby Jones Club House, which was built in 1941, to remain the clubhouse for golfers,
not have to move to the proposed 1,700-square-foot club house that would be shared with tennis players.
“All famous golf courses begin with a beautiful clubhouse,” Smith said.
Addressing the argument that the present 5,400-yard course is too short for today’s golfers, Smith said his group would like to see a part-three hole that had been shortened years ago restored to its original length, which would being the course closer to 6,000 yards.
Smith estimated the plan proposed by the “Friends” group would cost around $1.5 million as opposed to the estimated $15 million to $18 million for the proposed Conservancy golf course plan. He said his group’s plan would preserve more trees, increase play and enhance revenues. (To view the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course proposal, click here.)
“I think we all have to compromise,” Smith said, “but we can’t give up the 18 holes. All goals of improving the park and green space can be realized with 18 holes of golf.”
The Conservancy’s side of the story was presented primarily by the organization’s Executive Director Catherine Stillman, its board Chairman Kirk Billings, who outlined the proposal which was shown at the April 27 public open house and is outlined in the Master Plan proposal.
Spillman pointed out that the 600-member Conservancy had already raised $350,000 to use toward implementing the Master Plan and had pledges of another $50,000. But she indicated it is difficult to raise large amounts of funds until the plans for the park are adopted by the city.
She said the 199-acre park is the third largest in Atlanta and it has a number of issues:
- The condition of the watershed and creeks require considerable work.
- There is a connectivity issue between the east side of the park and the west passive part of the park, which is rocky and eroded and has environmental issues.
- Parking is an issue, because most people using the park end up parking on the neighborhood streets.
- The Bitsy Grant Tennis Center courts are suffering from erosion.
- The golf course is a great place to play, but the growth of trees has made playing more difficult, the tight holes do not provide a quality and safe golfing experience, and the new water and road construction work on Northside Drive is taking away even more of the golf course land area.
- The Conservancy would like to more opportunity for youth programs at the park.
Speaking in favor of the Conservancy’s proposed 9-hole golf course option, Billings said, “The present course is dated and outdated from a distance standpoint and in terms of safety.”
The Conservancy board chairman, who started playing golf at Bobby Jones in 2001, explained that playing “a 9-hole course would be a better experience….It would appeal to a wider audience. It has the ability to be a beacon of how a course can work for greater audiences.”
Billings explained that the driving range would be a great place for kids to learn how to play. “Golf takes time on a range,” he added. The possibility of adding a Wee Course for youngsters also is attractive in helping to obtain private and public funding Billings said.
He said U.S. Kids Golf has already expressed interest in providing $250,000 if there will be a driving range and possibly a Wee Golf Course. Also, Georgia State University has indicated it would contribute $500,000 if they could have five stalls at the driving range for their team’s use.
At the conclusion of his support for the 9-hold Conservancy option, Billings read a letter sent to the Conservancy by the grandson of Bobby Jones supporting the Conservancy’s proposed changes to the course.
Although the audience was attentive and considerate to the presenters during almost all of the discussions of the two proposals, the Conservancy speakers did receive some heckling and shouting from the audience of golfers attending who disagreed with some of the points being made.
During the question and answer period following the Conservancy’s presentation, they were asked how long it would take to complete the 9-hole conversion and what the cost of the Master Plan projects would be.
Spillman said she had been told by Bob Cupp, who has been working with the Conservancy on the golf course plans, that the conversion would take 9-10 months, but others suggested it would take 18 months to two years.
In terms of the costs to complete the Master Plan work, Spillman said the estimate for the work to be done at the passive part of the park west of Northside drive is $2 million to $2.5 million. The estimates for the proposed work on the east side of the park (golf course, tennis facility, etc.) are $15 million to $18 million.