Editor’s note: This is the final of a six-part series feature the 18 best public golf holes in metro Atlanta. The series was divided into regions and now culminates with a Grand 18, the best of the best.
There are quality golf courses open to the public in each area of metro Atlanta. Likewise, each of those facilities has at least one hole in which it takes great pride.
These golf holes are not going to show up on television. You won’t be able to play them on your video game. And odds are slim that few, if any, of the top names on the PGA Tour has even heard of your course.
But everyone – from the guy with a 22 handicap to the woman who won the club championship – can play any of the holes on the AJC’s Grand 18, a compendium of the best 18 holes in metro Atlanta. These courses are public, municipal, resort and semiprivate facilities that are open to outside play through a third-party vendor.
Best of series
The Grand 18 features four par 3s, 11 par 4s and three par 5s. Each course is limited to one hole. Yardages listed are from the back tees. The holes appear on no particular order.
Bobby Jones Golf Course, Atlanta: No. 7 Azalea, 195 yards, par 3 – One of the many memorable holes on the newest addition to Atlanta. The revolutionary reversible nine-hole course created by the late Bob Cupp has received rave reviews. On the Azalea Course, which plays the course in a counterclockwise direction, you get a lovely view of the Atlanta skyline from this elevated tee. Shots fly across Tanyard Creek to a punch bowl-shaped green surrounded by bunkers.
BridgeMill Athletic Club, Canton: No. 16, 199 yards, par 3 – Masters champion Larry Mize and Desmond Muirhead teamed to build this course. The 16th is of the most famous and photographed holes in metro Atlanta. The Island green is framed and encircled by a pair of semicircular, narrow sand traps. It bears all the markings of one of Muirhead’s artistic endeavors.
Cherokee Run Golf Course, Conyers: No. 12, 196 yards, par 3 – This was the third hole of the Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay design before the nines were flipped in 2015. The elevated tee shot requires you to carry a gully to a green guarded by a front bunker. Don’t be short; anything without enough oomph will roll down the hill – possibly into a bunker -- and leave a difficult up-and-down. The green sits in the hill and is framed by a rock wall with two large bunkers in the back.
St. Marlo Country Club, Duluth: No. 16, 216 yards, par 3 – This design by Georgia-based architect Denis Griffiths is visually stunning; it features more landscaping and stacked stones than many swanky private clubs. This hole plays slightly downhill. The tee shot must carry a pond and avoid the bunkers on the left and right.
- Best of show: Cherokee Run No. 12
Bear’s Best Atlanta, Suwanee: No. 18, 483 yards, par 4 – There are 18 replica holes from the Jack Nicklaus portfolio at Bear’s Best, so most of the holes are notable. This one duplicates the 18th at Castle Pines Golf Club outside Denver. The difficult hole plays slightly uphill to a landing area guarded on the left by a large bunker. Any approach from the left side must carry 11 fairway bunkers – pleasant to look at, difficult to deal with – to reach a green protected by sand on three sides.
Browns Mill Golf Course, Atlanta: No. 3, par 4, 435 yards – Legendary designer George Cobb, who built the par-3 course at Augusta National, designed Browns Mill in 1970. It is an outstanding layout, with No. 3 drawing special attention. Accuracy off the tee is critical here; there are trees on the right and a fairway bunker on the left. The uphill elevation change – about 30 degrees from tee to green – makes this play like a par 5.
Chastain Park Golf Course, Atlanta: No. 9, 371 yards, par 4 – Chandler Egan was the primary designer of the course, with Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen also assisting. Legend holds that Jones brought Egan – a former captain of the Harvard golf team and U.S. Amateur runner-up – from Oregon to Atlanta so he could design Chastain Park and also compete in the 1935 Masters. That makes sense since Chastain Park is the only non-Pacific Coast design on his resume. No. 9 is a tremendous risk-reward hole. Bombers can take a chance to take it over the creek – about 270 yards away – to set up an easy shot to the green.
Crystal Lake Golf and Country Club, Hampton: No. 14, par 4, 437 yards – Griffiths built this testy course, one of the best on the Southside. The 14th is among the toughest. A dogleg right, it demands a long straight tee shot and anything short will make it impossible to turn the corner and transform the hole, into a par 5. The approach must carry a wetlands area and is protected by a bunker.
Heritage Golf Links, Tucker: Heritage No. 9, 442, par 4 – The original owners wanted designer Mike Young to build the toughest course in the city, and he delivered. The Heritage nine – part of the original 18 designed by Young -- concludes with this one, where a tee shot must carry to lake to reach the fairway. But you still aren’t finished with the water. It’s there to taunt you on the right side all the way to the green.
Legacy Golf Course at Lanier Islands, Buford: No. 14, 441 yards, par 4: Billy Fuller burst onto the scene as the superintendent at Augusta National and later created the popular Billy Bunkers that revolutionized maintenance of sand traps. He’s also done well as a designer, evidenced by Legacy. The 14th hole is tough as nails, regardless of the tee box selected. From the back tees, it’s a 200-yard carry over water and three big fairway bunkers. The fairway turns into a ribbon about 150 yards away, and there is no bailout room for the approach, with Lake Lanier eagerly awaiting anything sliced its way.
Mystery Valley Golf Course, Lithonia: No. 15, 381 yards, par 4 – This is credited as the final course designed by Dick Wilson, although it is believed that associates Joe Lee and Robert Von Hagge did the bulk of the work. The 15th is one of the most difficult holes in Atlanta. Long and narrow on both sides, with a spot of water near the landing area. Par here is worth celebrating.
Stone Mountain Golf Course: Stonemont, No. 1, 451 yards, par 4 – You can tell by the opening hole on this Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout – the only one in Georgia designed by the elder Jones – that he isn’t fooling around. This one is considered by many the most difficult opening hole in metro Atlanta. Nothing fancy. Just a long hole with a fairway that slopes to the right before you reach the deep green – the only thing friendly about this hole.
Stone Mountain Golf Course: Lakemont, No. 3, 408 yards, par 4 – The John LaFoy design at Stone Mountain is completely different than its older brother. There’s more water, and the course seems less penal. The idea on the tee at No. 3 is accuracy, not distance. You’ll want to be in the fairway when attacking the island green that’s protected by a creek in the front and the lake in the rear. Plus, you get a great view of Stone Mountain.
Summer Grove Golf Club, Newnan: No. 5, par 4, 323 yards – Summer Grove, designed by Joe Jemsek and Jeff Burton, features conditions typically found on private clubs. (The course was, in fact, private for a while, but now is a public facility.) The shortest par 4 on the course may be the prettiest on a lovely golf course. But there is water that runs the length of the hole and guards it short and right. Big hitters may opt to gamble and go for it. Few are successful.
Chateau Elan Golf Club, Braselton: No. 18, par 4, 455 yards – This is a big golf hole, so Griffiths recommends players let it rip off the tee. The large green has three different target areas. “I’m really fond of No. 18. I love it as a finishing hole,” Griffiths said. “From my perspective, it’s almost the epitome of a perfect finishing hole.”
- Best of show (long hole): Legacy Golf Course No. 14
- Best of show (short hole): Summer Grove No. 5
Cobblestone Golf Course, Acworth: No. 15, 542 yards, par 5: The double dogleg plays downhill and finishes with a green that sits majestically on the lake. Designer Ken Dye said, “It’s probably the best par 5 on the golf course.” Longtime Atlanta sportscaster Bill Hartman lists it as his favorite par 5 on a public course. Many would agree with that assessment. When all the intangibles are considered, it may be the best golf hole in metro Atlanta.
Chicopee Woods Golf Course, Oakwood: The School No. 9, 566 yards, par 5: Griffiths built three strong nine-hole layouts here. The School loop is one of the original 18 built. After thinking birdie on the other par 5 on this nine (No. 5), you’ll be trying to avoid a big number on the closing hole. There is plenty of landing area for the second shot, but a pond protects the right side, and there’s more water if you go long. It makes you think and often leaves you scratching your head.
Woodmont Golf and Country Club, Canton: No 16, 573 yards, par 5 – There are a few funky factors about this hole that make it great. An S-shaped creek crosses the fairway and runs in front of the green. A true three-shot par-5 – one of three par 5s on the back nine on this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design -- that requires all three shots to carry the water. There is potential trouble at every turn. This is one of those holes that causes a player to say, “I’d like to play that one again” when they walk back to the cart.
• Best of show: Cobblestone Golf Course No. 15
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