Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta is a very special place, not least because of its history. The story goes that Bobby Jones was playing with some friends at nearby Eastlake Country Club, and a sluggish group ahead didn’t have the wherewithal to invite Bobby’s group to play through. Exasperated at the slow play Bobby turned to his friend and said words to the effect of, “to hell with this, let’s start our own club.” And so they did. Robert Tyre Jones brought in another Robert Jones as his partner – Robert Trent Jones (Senior) – and built the course that apparently set RTJ’s design career onto a new trajectory. (So reverential was RTJ of Bobby Jones that he no longer went by the name “Bobby Jones” and instead took “Trent” as his given name on the premise that “there’s only room for one Bobby Jones in this town (and that’s you)”). Correspondence and plans from the early stages remain intact and well presented behind glass in the locker rooms upstairs – including a series of letters that the great man himself sent to RTJ among others. As such a visit to Peachtree is as much like a visit to a museum as it is to a golf course.
It is apt that we were fortunate to visit Peachtree the week after The Masters at Augusta National – not because of the Bobby Jones connection per se, but because Peachtree is said to embody what was great about Augusta National decades ago, before the tournament grew into what it is today (that is, a tail that wags the dog). Peachtree is a small club of 225 members. If there exists such a creature as the archetypal southern gentleman, this is likely where you’ll find him. The club is a low key affair at which like minded men come together to celebrate golf’s best traditions – an easy throwaway line, granted, but one confirmed in my experience of two visits – in a wonderful setting. It’s often compared to the likes of San Francisco Golf Club, given its old world feel and well heeled membership – and I can see why. Peachtree however has a charm all of its own: a southern charm, a little bit of Bobby Jones that lives on. From the Georgian architecture of the clubhouse and its surrounds to the empty fairways lined by huge pines, at Peachtree you certainly feel like you’re in a bubble frozen in time. That is until you realise your caddie must be aging because Bobby, our guy, must’ve been north of 70 and counting! (By the 18th he had started to drop 50 yards behind and was looking so exhausted that I wasn’t sure if he’d make it up the hill!).
The course is often compared to Augusta National and, again, to an extent I can see why. There are severe elevation changes and the primary defences are the greens. (I counted only three fairway bunkers on 1, 9 and 18). There are however a couple of streams that meander through the property – be sure to ask your hosts to tell you about them, something I was absent minded enough not to do! – that add to the atmosphere and, a little on the strategy front. Like Augusta there is very little rough of any consequence (if any?) and the playing corridors on the whole are generous. Your driver is therefore your friend at Peachtree – rarely are you moved to leave it in the bag – and you better hope that your wedges are too. Pushed up greens that look shallower in many cases than they actually are, can give you shaky hands a hundred yards out. If there is a gripe with the course it’s that the running game really isn’t viable, save for a few holes. The greens are so elevated and the grass so sticky that a high ball flight trumps a low one; flop shots will invariably get better results than bump and runs; and the 2 irons we carry look like they shouldn’t be there. The real pleasure though is to be had on the putting surfaces, which are pure and rapid. Many, like the 3rd, 10th and 11th are so severely pitched that if you’re above the hole you may be doing well to keep your first putt on the green – depending on the time of year and on how the superintendent was feeling that morning. It’s exhilarating to say the least.
If I were to sum up Peachtree I would say this: Above all it’s a worthy monument to Bobby Jones and the values his life is synonymous with. Second it’s a bubble which, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in, envelops the golfer with a feeling of luxury, much as an Egyptian cotton duvet might. Third it’s at once a versatile and almost one-dimensional golf course: versatile in that there are long tee boxes that allow the course to be stretched out, and undulating greens that when at their fastest could give new meaning to the word terror; one-dimensional in the sense that most holes play down into and up out of valleys to elevated greens, where the premium on accuracy comes at the second (and third, and sometimes fourth!) shot. Having grown up in Scotland playing links and continuing to play that form of the game at Paraparaumu Beach in New Zealand in recent years, I must say that my low ball flight is unlikely to yield many birdies at Peachtree – excuses, excuses – but nonetheless it’s impossible not to relish the test all the same, particularly when as is often the case you’re standing 20 yards from the putting surface after an unsuccessful approach, lob wedge in hand, pin tucked on top of or below a severe ridge, and you just know you’ve got to clip it ‘right’. Then there’s the small matter of a hair raising putt if your ball hasn’t come to rest ‘in the leather’, as they say at Peachtree...
The bottom line? It’s a privilege to visit Peachtree and one I’ll never tire of, if I’m fortunate to make it back again.