by Bob Hughes, ASLA
The Bobby Jones Golf Course—Atlanta’s first public golf course, opened in 1932—was previously an underutilized course that suffered from dying trees, invasive plants, and eroded walking trails—it did not live up to the name of Bobby Jones. Marty Elgison, President and Co-Founder of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, became involved with the facility so that it might impact the surrounding communities, and was pivotal in pursuing a mission to turn something ordinary into something transformational. HGOR was selected by the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy to revitalize the area, establishing it as a destination where diverse crowds could gather and enjoy the sport while connecting with others.
Initial challenges varied in scope and included a lack of adequate parking and community engagement and the misconception that a renovation meant the removal of surrounding trees. An innovative approach was needed to solve several issues simultaneously.
Our creative concept of tennis courts atop a parking deck, with a stormwater management components process tucked below, accessible to the Bobby Jones Golf Course and Murray Golf House, Boone’s restaurant, and neighboring Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, was metamorphic for the area. Additional elements of the unique solution included adding passive green space for flexible programming and a pedestrian trail system, with over 800 new trees planted, surrounding the entire area.
The Georgia State Golf Association and Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) learned of the renovations and unique vision during the development phase and ultimately relocated their home offices to the Murray Golf House facility. Post-renovation, the facility became an Atlanta golf epicenter!
In the fall of 2020, the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation opened the Murray Golf House to the public. It has since become an integral part of the connective tissue for surrounding communities and an exemplary project for other municipalities far beyond the southeast region. The venue, designed by golf course designer Bob Cupp, offers a memorable golf experience with a reversible nine-hole course, multiple combinations that provide a different loop each time, and breathtaking vistas from various points on-site. Additional amenities include the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, the Dan Yates Putting Course, the Ed Hoard Golf Shop, Cupp Links, and numerous programming activities, making it much more than a traditional golf course destination. Also located in the Murray Golf House is Boone’s, the facility’s restaurant, named after Augusta businessman and golfer Boone Knox.
What makes the Bobby Jones Golf Course and its design so impactful to the community is the forethought to create a variety of spaces that support flexible programming. Most notably, the course’s programming has also made an immense difference in people’s lives.
For a typical golf course with a clubhouse, at least 250 to 300 acres are required. Surprisingly, Bobby Jones Golf Course is a mere 128 acres, and could be referred to as the ‘little golf course that could’ because it most certainly DID and continues to deliver! Because of the ingenuity of myself and HGOR’s talented landscape architecture and planning team, and most definitely of Bob Cupp, the golf course architect, the Bobby Jones Golf Course has demonstrated a phenomenal use of limited land.
“I’ve noticed that you’ll have families come out to play 9 holes or the Cupp Links and then go to the putting course. Then they go have a bite to eat at Boone’s, and the next thing you know, they’ve been here all day because there’s so much to do.”
– Josh Deal, VP of Operations, Bobby Jones Links
Course Amenities and Programming
“Not everyone can play golf, but everyone can putt.”
– Marty Elgison
- The Dan Yates Putting Course is a 9-hole course designed as a smaller course component. This section of the facility offers a unique layout for both professionals and those there to enjoy a leisurely day outdoors. It serves as the focal point for the arrival sequence at Bobby Jones.
- Cupp Links is a 5-hole, par 3 course designed for junior golfers to have fun while learning to play golf.
- The Juniors Program, led by an in-house team of six employees, is where kids learn and play. The facility offers weekday clinics for kids and adolescents, a PGA Junior League with coaching from PGA/LPGA professionals, organized team practices and seasonal leagues. Summer Camp and Schools Out Camps are offered during school holidays to allow children to continue learning and playing. Since the facility’s opening, 1,500 children have come through the junior programs and the program continues to increase in popularity!
In response to his favorite thing about coming to work on a Saturday morning, Elgison replied, “Seeing the Cupp Links filled with kids three years old on up to ten years old! There will be 100 kids here just learning to play golf. Many will continue to play for the rest of their lives, and when asked where they learned to play, their answer will be—Bobby Jones Golf Course.”
- The Adaptive Golf Program provides disabled individuals with a robust educational program to learn and enjoy the sport. Home to the Georgia State Golf Association’s adaptive golf program, Bobby Jones Golf Course hosts two complementary Adaptive Golf clinics every month with the GSGA and Shepherd Center. The program, facilitated by instructors trained in adaptive golf, includes equipment, training aids, on-course instruction and paragolfer / adaptive golf carts. Future plans for the course’s program involve having adaptive golf carts available for golfers to play the course at their convenience with additional amenities for their use and comfort.
At 18, high school athlete Mak Yost suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with a brain arteriovenous malformation limiting him from doing what he loved the most—playing team sports. Several years later, Mak has found his love of sports again, and he found it at Bobby Jones Golf Course through the Adaptive Golf Program.
- PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is a national program that uses golf to help veterans suffering from PTSD as a form of therapy, allowing them to transition back to civilian life while fostering bonds with fellow service members participating in the program. Funded by the Blank Foundation as the leading program in Georgia, the Bobby Jones Golf Course offers a 6–8-week course that provides equipment and instruction by course professionals at no charge to participants.
- The Young Gents Program teaches proper social etiquette while providing free golf instruction to adolescents from disadvantaged communities. The curriculum develops young boys into leaders in every aspect of their lives, from community involvement to travel, financial literacy, careers, and cultural enrichment. As golf is considered a game of honesty, integrity, strategy, skill, and etiquette, Bobby Jones Golf Course hosts the Young Gents to help build character and competitive talent for future leaders.
- The Police Athletic League, a non-profit organization, enables high-risk kids to participate in a healthy, social activity in a vibrant golf environment. Partnering with local law enforcement, Bobby Jones Golf Course provides children’s clinics led by trained instructors. The program promotes confidence, self-esteem, civic engagement, academic achievement and social principles.
The facility’s renovation and additional area enhancements allowed the Bobby Jones Golf Course to have an incredible impact on individuals and communities far beyond the metro-Atlanta footprint. It has become a ‘stay-and-play’ destination for the city of Atlanta. As such, it has been speculated that the Murray Golf House and Bobby Jones Golf Course renovations directly contributed to surrounding neighborhoods’ property values increasing by 20-30%. When asked where the course would be without the renovations, Elgison replied, “Underutilized, no driving range, no place to teach kids to play golf, nowhere to learn how to play golf—it would have remained as it was… a lousy putting green, a lousy 18-hole course all crammed together…it was just bad. And it wasn’t serving the community.”
The master plan, incorporating miles of pedestrian trails surrounding the Bobby Jones Golf Course and offering future connectivity to the Atlanta BeltLine and direct linkages to multiple other pathways, was developed as a strategic and forward-thinking concept providing significant connectivity and value to the area—one that led the facility to receive a Best in Real Estate, Renovation Category, Award from the Atlanta Business Chronicle in the spring of 2022, not to mention numerous accolades by the many surrounding communities who can now enjoy any number of activities at the newly designed facility.
The future of outdoor social gathering places is only increasing. We are proud to have been a critical part of developing an environment that has given such a considerable amount back to the people and community of Atlanta while providing substantial economic benefits for the facility and surrounding neighborhoods. The Bobby Jones Golf Course and Murray Golf House continue to fulfill their mission of serving the community, and we thank them for being such an inspiration.
With 45 years of experience as a landscape architect, planner, and founding principal of HGOR, Bob Hughes, ASLA, is recognized for his professional and personal contributions to the growth and expansion of the southeast region. His experience with significant projects that provide remarkable places for the people who use them through cutting-edge innovation has allowed HGOR to be a recipient of awards in over 34 states and seven countries. Recently, Bob was awarded the high honor of becoming a National ASLA Council of Fellows member.