In the golfing world, a smile that speaks of deep respect and awe emerges on the faces of everyone who hears the name “Bobby.” Even more than 25 years after his death in 1971, people still remember “Bobby” as the immortal Robert Tyre Jones Jr., and they do so with great appreciation for a man revered as much for his unfailing character and indomitable spirit as his legendary golf game.
But to the 225 members of Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., the name “Bobby” conjures up a much wider smile, for it was Jones who was responsible for the club’s existence and, ultimately, its greatness. His legacy lives on not only in the 18 holes that he helped create, but in the club that he founded based solely on his deep love for friends and the great game of golf.
Today, Peachtree Golf Club continues to maintain the lofty standards set forth by Jones. According to Furman Bisher, a longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and a renowned sportswriter, Peachtree is “what a golf club should be, a fellowship of the game. A club. Good friends and associates gathered together in the bonds of goodwill in which the binding force is golf.” In fact, many of the original members continue to meet in the grill room every day for lunch, even though they no longer play golf. “It’s like a fraternity,” says Dick Murphy, head professional since 1968. “These people have been friends for years.” And therein lies the most appealing aspect of Peachtree, that it is a club devoted to friendship, golf and nothing else. There are no tennis courts, no swimming pool or country club; just lifelong friends and one of the best golf courses in the nation, ranking as high as No. 16 in the U.S. and hosting the 1989 Walker Cup Matches.
What is even more wondrous about Peachtree is the fact that even though it exists within one of the largest metropolises in the nation, the club has managed to remain an oasis in an urban environment that has produced extensive development around all four walls of the club. But one trip through the gates ushers you into a world where time has seemingly stood still. In fact, the first thing you see is an immaculately landscaped lawn that rises to meet the old Cobb Caldwell mansion, a two-story brick plantation home built in 1857 that now serves as the permanent clubhouse. (It was spared during the burning of Atlanta because General Sherman and his troops spent the night there on July 18, 1864.) Behind the clubhouse you are greeted by Sammy Perkins, the caddiemaster, and escorted into a gently rolling world dominated by magnolias, pines and oaks, as well as azaleas and dogwoods.
Although the imprint of Bobby Jones is evident throughout Peachtree, he was not alone in the early 1940s in wanting to build a new golf course in his hometown. In fact, the idea originated with Dick Garlington, a member of the United States Golf Association’s Green Section and a close friend of Jones. But Garlington, Jones and another early proponent, Mr. Robert W. Woodruff, chairman of the Executive Committee at Coca Cola, weren’t interested in building just another golf course. “We agreed we should try to build a course,” said Jones, “as near like Augusta National as possible, and better, if possible.”
With the proverbial gauntlet thrown, Jones and company selected architect Robert Trent Jones to help them achieve their lofty goals. One of the hottest architects at the time, Trent Jones had studied at Cornell University and apprenticed under the great Canadian-born architect Stanley Thompson. He had been recommended by Ed Dudley, the head professional at Augusta National, but what won Bobby Jones over was the central fact that “his conception of golf course architecture so perfectly agreed with our own.” (Robert Trent Jones had such a deep respect for Bobby that he changed his name to Trent, saying to Bobby during a round at East Lake in 1945. “There can only be one Bobby Jones in Atlanta, and that’s you! From now on, I’ll be Trent Jones.”)
Although Trent Jones was an easy choice, finding an ideal piece of land proved quite the opposite. The two Joneses scoured Atlanta before deciding upon a 240-acre tract in North Atlanta that had most recently been home to Ashford Park Nurseries. (Bobby Jones’ other masterpiece, Augusta National, also resides on a former nursery.) To Bobby Jones, the land was “essentially suitable terrain,” but to Trent Jones, it was “gently rolling and gorgeous.” In fact, upon first setting foot on the property, Trent exclaimed, “contours – they’re all over the place here! And no bad angles. Just naturally good!”
Now, the only hurdle between Peachtree and reality was money. According to Trent Jones, this was the easy part: “shortly [after the purchase of the land], I learned the meaning of clout. I was at a luncheon with [Bobby] Jones and about a dozen of his friends and influential Atlantans. He said, ‘Fellows, it’s taking me five or six hours to play a round at East Lake, and if I have to do that I’m going to give up golf. Some of us think there should be a new course in town. We have picked out the land, Trent here has made a layout, and we want to buy it. I would like your support, so I’ll need a check … from [each of] you by next Monday morning.’ And he got the money.”
Bobby Jones’ muscle was strongly felt by many of the original members, including Jack Glenn, president of Peachtree from 1973-75, who said, “Many people became members because Bobby Jones pointed the finger at them. Some didn’t play golf and some didn’t even know which end of the stick to hold.” Even Ivan Allen, former mayor of Atlanta, said the reason he joined was because “it was Bobby Jones’ golf course.”
An early proposal for the name of the club was “Atlanta Golf Club.” But when the doors officially opened in 1948, the name had been changed to Peachtree Golf Club, due to the peach trees scattered throughout the property. The course was immediately hailed as a masterpiece and sent Trent Jones to the forefront of golf course architecture. “Often it is difficult to pinpoint the event, the circumstance, that launches a career, or at least accelerates it,” wrote Trent Jones. “For me the moment is relatively easy. Peachtree did it.” He has since become one of the most prolific designers in history, with more than 500 designs spread throughout the world, including such gems as Spyglass Hill in Monterey, Calif., Ballybunion New in County Kerry, Ireland, Mauna Kea in Kamuela, Hawaii and this year’s Ryder Cup site, Valderrama in Spain.
Part of the magic that Trent Jones brought to Peachtree was the fact that the golf course challenged the professional players but provided the mid-to high-handicappers with an enjoyable round of golf. This was not an easy task, but Jones achieved this with what has become part of his signature style: enormous greens and long, runway-style tees. According to Larry Dennis, a noted sportswriter, “The famed Peachtree Golf Club…was the first exemplification and still is the hallmark of [Trent Jones’] philosophy.” Ultimately, what Jones brought to Peachtree was a great deal of flexibility, which allowed the course to be set up as hard, or as manageable, as needed. “I believed…that the course would set a standard for modern golf course architecture,” said Trent Jones.
While its greens and tees were unprecedented at the time, the most visible feature of Peachtree was and is the topography of the land. The course was designed to play up and down the valleys rather than over the hills, due in large part to the vast acreage of the land and the fact that Bobby Jones wanted to echo the qualities of Augusta National. David Boyd, a member of the USGA’s Executive Committee and a member of Peachtree since 1968, believes that what is so great about the course is the fact that “Bobby and Trent Jones left in every contour, every undulation.” This was equally important to Bobby Jones, who felt that “contours [were] a subtle line between a great golf course and a lousy one.”
The 7,043-yard parkland course features generous fairways, but ample rough and dense stands of magnolias, pines and oaks tend to tighten the landing areas. The fairways are also flooded with dips, swales and slopes, making it nearly impossible to find a level lie. The bentgrass greens, Peachtree’s most intriguing and challenging feature, are intimidating due to their size and undulation, and the dramatic greenside bunkering puts a premium on the approach shot. One thing not seen at Peachtree, however, is the proliferation of fairway bunkers; in fact, only two holes, Nos. 1 and 18, feature them and No. 18 was not part of the original design. “The concept,” according to Tom Doak, a practicing architect and renowned authority on architecture, “was to use the heavy rolling topography of the site as the principal tee shot hazard.”
“A par-buster’s nightmare” according to LIFE, the course begins in a relatively straightforward fashion, with a slight dogleg right that tumbles gracefully before rising to meet the green. It is important to get off to a good start, because Peachtree’s signature hole comes at the 524-yard, par-5 second. The tee shot is played to a plateaued landing area, but then the hole drops off severely and a decision must be made: Either go for the green in two, which is guarded by a creek and a lake that runs in front and to the right, or lay up to a sliver of fairway on the right, which forces a precise wedge over water to a green that slopes toward the hazard and features a large hump in front. It is both brutal and beautiful, as a stone bridge leads to the green and a weeping willow provides the backdrop.
One of the most photographed holes is No. 4, a 166-yard par-3 that’s played over water to a shallow green ringed by four bunkers. In the springtime, azaleas and dogwoods come in full bloom behind the green. The course picks up steam at No. 5, a par-5 that plays 532 yards to an uphill green, and then continues to pour on the heat at the 215-yard, par-3 sixth and the 434-yard, par-4 seventh, which is the No.1 handicap hole as it rises gently to the landing area and then doglegs right and shoots downhill to a tightly bunkered and elongated green.
The back nine begins with a par-5 that plays 516 yards from an elevated tee to a multi-contoured and sloped fairway before crossing a creek and climbing sharply uphill to a green guarded by a gaping bunker. (The 10th green was the largest in the U.S. when it was built.) Perhaps Peachtree’s best hole, though, is the 455-yard, par-four 12th. The hole dramatically drops from the tee to a landing area guarded by a creek and a huge weeping willow before sliding right and slightly uphill to an elevated green bunkered in front and behind. In competition with the fourth hole is the downhill par-three 14th, which plays 179 yards over water to an undulating green that features its own share of dogwoods and azalea bushes, as well as a weeping willow on the left.
The final road home is one of the toughest in the nation, beginning with the roller-coaster 448-yard, par-four 15th and the dramatic 528-yard, par-five 16th, which features a lake, creek and bunker that play havoc with lay-up shots. But the gem is No. 17, a brutal par-4 that relentlessly climbs 439 yards straight uphill to a green protected in front by two huge gaping bunkers. The course finishes in strong fashion with a 413-yard par-4 that features a fairway bunker on the left, which was added before the Walker Cup, and an elevated, two-tiered green. According to Murphy, “The fairway bunker on No.18 took a mediocre finishing hole and made it into a great one.”
Between the 18th green and the first tee, there is a memorial plaque honoring Bobby Jones. His engraved portrait dominates the plaque, which looks out over the living monument that bears the indelible imprints of his heart and soul. In a resolution in 1966 electing Bobby Jones president in perpetuity of Augusta National Golf Club, it was written that “every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a man,” and therefore, it seems only fitting that Peachtree Golf Club should begin and end under the watchful eye and immortal shadow of its legendary and most gifted member and friend.