ALPHARETTA, GA - Throughout the 1990's the golf advice in Atlanta was "Go north."
It started over 30 years ago when several of the city's finer clubs closed their doors and relocated to more prosperous and social places in the north. On their tails, new clubs began to sprout in towns like Duluth and Roswell.
The effect of the mass private club rebuke of the urban neighborhood was a complete stratification of Atlanta area golf.
As golf migrated north it also become more exclusive. Private clubs such as the Atlanta Athletic Club, TPC at Sugarloaf, Atlanta Country Club, The Country Club of the South, and The Golf Club of Georgia, none actually bearing an Atlanta address, came to define the best golf in Atlanta as far away and exclusive. Inside the city it was decidedly less glamorous and, in fact, overly public.
Some reprieve came in 1994 when the Tom Fazio-designed White Columns Country Club opened near Alpharetta. Though it did nothing to bring high-end golf closer to the city, the public finally got a whiff of how the other half was playing. Golfers would still have to drive 30 minutes to get there, but White Columns was effectively a welcoming beacon in a sea of privatization.
White Columns succeeded because it offered to all players exactly what attracted the money to these forested hills in the first place: a serene peace in the uncluttered countryside and the beautiful topography of the north Georgia mountains with access to the upscale suburban environment.
That the golf course, part of a prized residential development, quickly became recognized as one of the premier, upscale public courses in the South was no accident. The original ownership corporation realized there was a lack of quality golf outlets for the non-affiliated, well-to-do Atlanta professional. Wanting to rectify that situation, they offered Fazio and his team first crack at the virgin property, hoping for a course equal, at least visually, to the nearby private clubs.
They got their wish. Before it was squeezed off this year's list, Golf Magazine placed White Columns 27th in 1998 and 81st in 2000 in its bi-annual rankings of the "Top 100 Courses You Can Play." Golf Digest ranks the course the 16th best in the state of Georgia in its 2001 state-by-state rankings (down from #10 in 1999). In Atlanta and beyond, White Columns quickly gained a reputation as a must-play course.
In early 2001, White Columns was purchased by Heritage Golf Group, and the new ownership will soon be taking the club private when its membership quota is met. It appears that the original vision of creating a private club-like golf course will prove to be prophetic.
Perhaps, with its combinations of assets, it was only a matter of time before the course closed its doors. The club atmosphere at White Columns is unavoidable; the impressive locker rooms, expansive tennis and swimming facilities, and enormous clubhouse all lend it a definitive air of elitism. The staff's confidence in the course is equally evident.
"The course looks like Augusta National," says Head Gold Professional Mitch Cook.
General Manager Larry Hayes says, "Like Augusta National with the dogwoods, we have dogwoods, hardwoods, and pines. In April it's just amazing to see the course when you have the dogwoods, then the underlying trees that are a different color, then the dormant bermuda in the rough, and then the green fairways. It's one of the most beautiful sights you'll ever see."
As master of the picturesque, it's not surprising that Fazio could fashion a glamorous golf course in this naturally beautiful but challenging setting. The technique employed at White Columns and at many of the firm's other mountain-type designs is to utilize the elevations of the site for visual effect while creating a layout that's not half as extreme as it looks.
The course tackles the site's uphill slopes primarily between green and the next tee to create a majority of downhill tee shots. The several necessary uphill approach shots, such as at the 377-yard 5th, do not seem extreme because of the downhill nature of the drive. Purely uphill holes are often short par fours (the 378-yard 3rd) or par fives on gradual grades (the 591-yard 9th and 508-yard 16th). White Columns is a textbook Fazio course that looks dynamic but plays fairly level.
In fact, the most tumultuous contouring is around the greens but not on them. Missing a green at White Columns can result in some tricky stances or difficult shots from small and deep, but not necessarily penal bunkers.
Though nearly all the green complexes are the creation of the shapers, the putting surfaces themselves are comparatively modest. As a collection, they must rank among the least contoured Fazio has designed.
To compensate for the lack of definable contour, the greens are carefully mown and maintained to exaggerate even the subtlest of slopes. Still, getting the ball in the holes is typically more a matter of speed than direction.
Cook says that even though the course is eventually going private, both the in-town and out-of-town enthusiasm remains high.
"Just ask the people about White Columns and listen to the response," he says. "They walk off saying, 'I love that course.'"
"It's the best course in the area to play. When people come to Atlanta they come here. It's straight forward golf and a great retreat."
300 Clubhouse Drive
Alpharetta, GA 30004
The combination of Tom Fazio, who clearly intended to create a visually alluring golf course here, with the scenic hillsides of North Georgia, will be irresistible to many. White Columns will also appeal to the country club set (until it officially is) and will eventually be considered along with Settindown Creek Club and Hawk's Landing among the area's new guard of private clubs.
Architect: Tom Fazio
Yardage: 7,053 yards; 6,517; 6,015; 5,087; plus the 6,727-yard "Fazio" tees, a combination of the back two sets
From Atlanta go north on 400 to Windward Parkway. Turn left on Windward to North Main (Highway 9). Turn right on North Main and go 1.9 miles to Bethany Road. Turn left on Bethany for 1.5 miles to the second stop sign at Hopewell Road. Turn right on Hopewell and drive .7 miles to 1st light. Turn left on Redd Road until it dead-ends at Freeman Road. Turn right on Freeman and drive 1.5 miles to White Column entrance and turn left. Club is on the left.
Walking is permitted, but due to the up-and-down nature of the course, carts are recommended.
For membership information call 770-343-9025 ext. 20.
September 16, 2002