Atlanta council swaps Bobby Jones Golf Course for Underground parking

Members of the Atlanta City Council on Monday agreed to a controversial land swap that will give the state control of the Bobby Jones Golf Course.

In exchange, the city will get a parking deck and other property near Underground Atlanta. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said the swap is necessary to close a deal that will allow the city to turn over the downtown mall to a private developer that will transform it into a live-work-play community.

But opponents to the swap are concerned about traffic and runoff. Some also said that Atlanta doesn’t protect its history and worry that losing the revenue from the course will hurt the financial viability of other courses.

Council members voted 12-3 in favor of the deal, after hearing from nearly two dozen people — including the mayor — about the project.

“I’ve never been before you asking for anything on behalf of the state. Never have,” Reed said. “For me to be here, it must be pretty important.”

The mayor compared the deal to one that moved the Cyclorama from Zoo Atlanta to the Atlanta History Center, allowing the zoo to expand and raising money for the history center. He reminded council members of successes like the revitalization of Ponce City Market. His track record, he said, should be trusted.

The deal will let the state renovate the course, reducing the number of holes from 18 to nine. The course will be designed by Bob Cupp to be played forward and backward. Additionally, the land will be home to a new Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and will include a driving range and areas for young golfers and state collegiate golf teams to practice the sport.

A 2015 feasibility study of the existing course said it needed significant upgrades and described it as “extremely dangerous and a potential liability to the City of Atlanta.”

Bobby Jones Golf Course, along Peachtree Creek in Buckhead, is named after the Georgia golf legend and founder of the Masters golf tournament and Augusta National Golf Club.

Marty Elgison, a spokesman for the Jones family, said they are in support of the swap. In a letter to council members, Robert Tyre Jones IV wrote with “enthusiastic support” that his grandfather “would be delighted to hear of the plans to renovate” the course.

“The golf course is obsolete. It’s dangerous. It doesn’t really honor their grandfather’s legacy,” Elgison said. “A new course is something their grandfather would be proud of. It will help bring people into golf; it will grow the game.”

The proposal had support from within the industry, and more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the swap. Chuck Palmer, chairman of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Committee, said the course “absolutely” had to change.

“It will be a jewel for the city of Atlanta,” he said.

But there were also plenty of questions.

No one representing the state attended a Friday meeting where about 200 people came to ask questions about the deal's financing and its environmental impact. A proposal to hold the vote for two weeks to get more answers from the state failed.

Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, whose district includes the course, voted against the deal.

“You can’t vote on optimistic feelings,” she said.

Michael Holmes, whose father won a Supreme Court case to desegregate the city's courses, said the vote was disappointing. As one of the most popular courses in Atlanta, its disappearance from the city slate will make it more difficult to sustain other courses, like the Alfred Tup Holmes Golf Course, named for his father.

“It’s gone,” he said of the Bobby Jones course. “That historical course named after my dad will probably be lost to history.”