A crowd of about 200 people, some wielding signs decrying a “shady land swap,” greeted Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and other officials at a Buckhead meeting on a deal to transfer control of the Bobby Jones Golf Course to the state.
The transfer, part of a swap that Reed has said is key to cementing a deal to sell Underground Atlanta to a private developer, has caused angst among regular players of the course and some residents. Some said they feared traffic and runoff issues during construction for an area vexed by storm water issues the city is trying to fix.
Others favored the deal for a state investment that would create a state golf museum and facilities for Georgia State University’s golf program and junior programs.
The land transfer could go before the full City Council for a vote as soon as Monday.
The proposal would swap the city-owned golf course with state property near Underground, including a parking deck that Reed said is needed for a privately-backed overhaul of the downtown mall into a live-work-play community with a grocery store.
The state plans to redevelop the Bobby Jones land to include a new Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. Other planned projects include renovating the course and reducing it from 18 to nine reversible holes.
Critics contend shrinking the course would hurt its financial viability, something advocates dispute. Backers of the plan said the short yardage course as laid out now is dangerous to players and motorists and 18 holes can’t be built on the limited land that meet safety standards.
Reed said the city could not afford to upgrade the facilities like the state has proposed and the new course will boost junior golf in the city. The project will include a new “golf house” that will be home to state golf associations, and the deal will include a restriction requiring the surrounding Atlanta Memorial Park to remain a park and the course open to the public.
“This is not a backdoor attempt to bring in new development into the Buckhead community,” the mayor said.
The course along Peachtree Creek is named after the Georgia golf legend and founder of the Masters golf tournament and Augusta National Golf Club. Jones was said to have had a hand in the Buckhead course’s design, though a Georgia State Golf Association official said that is not true.
Backers said the state plan largely aligns with plans several years ago to redevelop the park by its conservancy.
Roger Moister, a critic of the deal, said the city and state haven’t been transparent about the deal. He said he fears senior golfers will be pushed aside in favor of other groups, including Georgia State’s golf teams. He also said he doubts the city would get fair value for the property.
“The state has the city over a barrel in this,” Moister said.
Reed disagreed and said the state will be a better guardian of the course and that City Hall has been transparent about the project and negotiated conditions into the deal to make it more palatable.