Marty Elgison, head of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, tries a putt on one of the redesigned course’s oversized, two-hole greens. (Photos by Phil Mosier)

After years of planning, neighborhood debates and massive real estate deals, Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead is open again. Atlanta’s first public golf course, dating to 1932, reopened Nov. 5 with a dramatic redesign pitched as “revolutionary and spectacular.”

The $23 million remake of Bobby Jones, located off Northside Drive in Buckhead’s Atlanta Memorial Park, includes a total reconstruction of the course. Instead of the previous 18 holes, it’s now a “reversible” nine-hole course that golfers can play in two directions. The brainchild of the late famed designer Bob Cupp, it’s one of only two reversible courses in the nation. And that’s just one of many big changes, from a rebuilt tennis center to the inclusion of a state golf hall of fame.

Standing on a manicured green during a recent preview tour, General Manager Brian Conley said he’s seen quite a few courses in his time — including the championship set-up at Lanier Golf Club, which he formerly ran — but nothing like the new Bobby Jones.

“This really doesn’t compare with anything,” he said.

Marty Elgison has been working on Bobby Jones improvements for at least seven years, at first as a member of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy. Now he’s head of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, a private group overseeing the reconstruction on behalf of the state, which now owns the course.

Piloting a golf cart over the course’s rolling landscape during the tour, Elgison emphasized the intent to make it a welcoming and accessible public course, not just a “revolutionary” experience for pros. One of the simplest features is a lack of roughs.

“One of the things we want to encourage is to play fast and have fun,” said Elgison.

The tees will be gender-neutral, ranked by a numerical skill level rather than “men’s” and “women’s,” and were designed as accessible to people with disabilities under advisement from Buckhead’s Shepherd Center rehabilitation hospital.

The city’s only public driving range is part of the project. Youth golf is important, too, with Bobby Jones serving as North Atlanta High’s home course.

An area where trees were saved will serve as a “short course” for children to learn golf.

The redesign includes an instructional “short course” for kids to “grow the game,” Elgison said.

But, for all those appeals to the public interest, not all members of the public were on board with remaking Bobby Jones, especially as the plans shifted over the years from minor upgrades to the massive reconstruction, which has closed the course for the past year. Also unsettling to many was an ownership change, as the city of Atlanta handed over the course to the state in exchange for some downtown properties around Underground Atlanta.

The foundation recently avoided possible legal action from a conservation advocacy group by agreeing to save and plant more trees, and is facing a pending lawsuit from a group of neighbors concerned about tree loss, traffic and other impacts. More general criticism has centered on expansion elements, including a large new clubhouse — it won’t open until sometime next year — that will house the hall of fame, offices for state golf associations, and a bar and grill called the Tenth Hole.

Read the rest of this story at Reporter Newspapers. 

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.