Now that I’m nearing the halfway point on my quest to play the Top 100 golf courses in the U.S. things are beginning to get a little more interesting. The low hanging fruit is starting to vanish and I’m beginning to see just how difficult a challenge I have set myself up for.
One of the questions that I get asked regularly is “What are the toughest courses to gain access to”. The few public courses on the list are the only bona fide easy ones, and the rest vary in degree of difficulty when it comes to arranging play. Certainly there are a number of standouts that far exceed the others in their difficulty. Generally speaking the Top 10 are among the most difficult, but every once in a while there is a sleeper course that might be ranked between 50 and 100 that turns out to be a very tough nut to crack. One of those courses is Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta which at the time of my visit was ranked 60.
I knew that Peachtree was going to be tough – I had been told so by numerous people, numerous times. It was one of those places that people would always say “Oh, you’re going to have a tough time getting a game at Peachtree”, so after hearing that a dozen or more times I must admit I was beginning to get a little concerned.
I have a number of business interests when I’m not golfing and one of them is real estate. Early in the year a friend had asked me to help him find a nice parcel of land that he could use for hunting. I started calling everyone I know that might have a suitable piece of land that they were willing to part with. After half a dozen calls I hit pay dirt. A local businessman I am friendly with had a parcel that sounded like it might be a good fit for my friend. We coordinated schedules and planned an afternoon for the three of us to take a ride out to the land and give it a look. As we made the 45 minute drive out to the country our conversation turned to my Top 100 quest, where I had played, where I was going to play and where I needed to play. The seller casually asks me “Have you played Peachtree yet?” to which I responded that I had not. He then said “I’m a member there so I will arrange that for you. Consider that one done.” Are you kidding me? What luck! I know I’ve said this before, but I have to say it again . . . I honestly cannot even believe these things myself sometimes.
So with Peachtree secured I started working on arranging a couple of other Top 100 courses in or near Atlanta so that I could make a nice little weekend out of it. I managed to line up East Lake in Atlanta and The Honors Course in Chattanooga, so I booked a flight for the last weekend of October and as usual hoped for good weather.
Peachtree Golf Club was founded in 1947 by Grand Slam Champion and Atlanta native Bobby Jones. Jones had recently added to his world wide notoriety by founding a spectacular little golf club two and a half hours away from Atlanta and using it to host an annual invitational tournament for the very best players of the day. However, Jones lived and worked in Atlanta, so when he was at home he played at East Lake Golf Club where he had grown up playing. The excerpt below from Where Bobby Learned To Play by Linton C. Hopkins tells the story of Peachtree’s genesis far better than I can.
After he returned from World War II, he promised many good friends that he was going to design a new course in Atlanta, the course that became Peachtree Golf Club. He knew the job would demand an enormous amount of time. He kept procrastinating. Finally, one day on the fifth hole at East Lake, he had to wait to hit his approach while a slow foursome deliberately chipped and putted. He walked back and forth across the fairway, kicking the ground and getting upset. Finally he’d had enough. Tommy Barnes remembers that he snatched his ball up off the fairway and stormed off the course saying angrily: “Let’s go build that new course.”
And thankfully that’s just what Bobby Jones did.
Unfortunately my member friend was unable to join me in Atlanta for the game at Peachtree. I was originally all set to play by myself until Brian, my host from The Honors Course where I’d be playing the next day, mentioned that he had never played Peachtree before. As a testament to how tough it is to arrange play here, Brian had grown up and gone to high school just two miles from Peachtree and had never played there. I checked with my friend’s assistant who had arranged everything and she gladly added Brian to the roster so he could join me for the game.
On the day we were set to play the weather was a little grim, but mostly just overcast. Brian picked me up at my hotel and we made the short drive to the club in plenty of time to make our 9:15 start. We pulled up to the old farmhouse style clubhouse, dropped our bags and parked the car. Inside we were directed to the locker room to change shoes and then over to the practice tee to warm up. Our caddie informed us that since we were just a two ball that they were going to have us go off a little earlier than our scheduled start time and behind a single who would be the first man out. We hit a few warm up balls, rolled a few putts to get a feel for the greens and then we were on the tee.
It wasn’t much debate (for me at least) that I would play the Medal tees which measured out to 6,659 yards and played to a par of 72. The only option behind that is the Championship tees that stretch out to 7,414 yards. There was also a shorter option in the Member tees that played as 6,180 yards.
The 1st hole is a 370 yard par 4 that is quite an interesting start. As shown in the photo below, there are two bunkers of the right hand side of the fairway. A bold shot is to carry the bunkers and leave a pitch of less than 100 yards to the green. A less bold shot is to drive the ball up the left hand side. I love that the first shot of the day allows for an option to be aggressive.
Brian piped a perfect drive over those bunkers and only had 70 yards into the green. Not bad. The photo below was taken from the area where he hit his second shot. This was the first of MANY uphill approach shots we would have over the course of the day.
The practice green had been very fast and we both quickly found out that the speed there was indicative of the speed of the greens out on the course. They were lightning. The photo below is of the 1st green which contained s bit of contour, but not nearly as severe as what was soon coming.
The 2nd hole is a par 5 that we played from 511 yards. The hole doglegs left down the hill and a good drive will definitely yield an opportunity to go for the green in two. Ideally you want to drive the ball down the middle with a slight fade on it.
The photo below was taken from the spot where my drive landed in the right rough. From here getting to the green in two would have required a shot longer than I am really capable of so I opted to lay up. As you can see there is a generous area to the right of the water waiting to accept layup shots.
The photo below is of the approach shot for players who layup. From here the shot to the green is a 120 yards or less.
The green on this hole can be particularly punishing if you are not in the right spot. Luckily for me my approach shot was one of those rare occurrences where I hit it inside three feet so I got to watch Brian have fun here. The photos below don’t do it justice but you can get an idea for the huge hill he had to putt up to get his ball close to the hole.
The 3rd hole is a par 4 that we played from 382 yards. As you can see in the photo below the fairway falls off to the left pretty severely.
I hit my tee shot up the right hand side and had to deal with a fairly blind approach shot. Brian hit his down the left side and I don’t think his view was a whole lot better.
The photo below is of the 3rd green. Note the enormous bunker. This bunker look reminds me of another Bobby Jones course in Georgia.
The 4th hole is the first par 3 that we came to. This one measured 142 yards from the tees we were playing from. As illustrated in the photo below the green is surrounded by bunkers. Missing short requires a very uphill pitch shot from the hill in front of the green.
The 5th hole is a par 5 that we played from 520 yards. As shown in the photo below the hole doglegs to the right. A drive down the middle with a fade on it is the best line to take.
The photo below shows where I hit my second shot from. A LONG ways away. Between the length of the hole and the uphill approach to the green I suspect that it takes a really big hitter to get home in two.
After a 200+ yard layup the photo below shows roughly where an approach shot would be hit from. Again, there are more huge bunkers to be negotiated on the uphill approach to the green.
The 6th hole is another par 3 played over a water hazard. This one played 194 yards from our tees. Not an easy shot to make.
The 7th hole is a 423 yard par 4 slight dogleg right that I really liked. The tee shot is basically blind as shown in the photo below. Our caddie, Hunter, said just to hit our drives up the left side of the fairway which worked out perfectly with the little fade I put on mine.
The approach shot pictured below plays a little bit downhill but not significantly. More huge and deep bunkers to avoid here.
The 8th hole is a shortish par 4 that we played from 363 yards. As shown in the photo below the hole plays significantly uphill so the yardage on the card could be a little deceptive.
For the approach shot I yet again found myself hitting uphill with no idea of where my ball came to rest until I got to the green. Its hard not to focus on all those bunkers when your hitting the shot.
Even from just 20 yards off the front of the green the putting surface is still not visible.
When I got up to the green I realized that I had overcooked my approach and was just off the back. The photo below shows the how bad a position it is to be above the hole on this green. It runs from back to front and being off the back of the green puts running it right back off the front in play. I must admit I chipped in for birdie so I avoided a near tragedy.
The 9th hole is a par 4 that we played from 382 yards. The approach shot is another doozy of an uphiller with a nasty bunker to be avoided as shown in the photo below.
The 10th hole is a fun par 5 that we played from 503 yards. The tee shot is downhill and I suspect that if you are smart enough to actually hit it in the fairway and capture some roll that getting on the green in two is plausible.
The second shot pictured below shows yet another uphill approach to the green. It takes a mighty lash from here to cover all that ground, avoid the bunkers and find the green.
I had to chip out of the trees for my second shot so my approach was made from a less than ideal location. The photo below was taken from the right rough at the bottom of the hill where where I made my third shot from.
The photo below is a look backwards at the 10th hole.
Here is a look at the 10th green. Its pretty enormous.
The 11th hole is a par 3 that we played from 180 yards. There is a very severe false front on the green that is slightly visible in the photo below. Brian hit a perfect tee shot that landed about 7 feet short of the hole and we watched it roll all the way down the false front and clear off the green. Not good.
The 12th hole may have been my favorite on the course. It is a par 4 that we played from 431 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee. The hole goes down the hill and then turns sharply to the right. Because there is a creek that runs across the fairway at the bottom of the hill our caddie recommended hitting 3 wood off the tee in order to avoid the creek. That’s a long hole to be hitting 3 wood on.
I didn’t hit a very good drive and ended up on the right side of the hole with about 200 yards to the green. The photo below was taken from the spot where I hit my approach.
The 12th green sits on top of a small hill but the uphill is not near as severe as other places on the course. The photo below of the green was taken while walking up to it from the fairway.
The 13th hole is a straight forward par 4 that we played from 385 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
Below is a photo of the approach shot to the 13th green which has some deep bunkers protecting the right side.
The 14th hole is the last par 3 of the day and yet another one with a water hazard. It seems that the bulk of the water hazards on this course were on the par 3 holes. This one we played from 167 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
Here is a closer photo of the green. Note Brian’s ball on the green and mine just off on the right hand side. By this time we were embroiled in a very tight match. I was 1 up with 5 to play. I got my ball up and down and Brian 2 putted for par so we halved the hole and I remained 1 up. I wondered where the galleries were for this incredible competition!
The par 4 15th hole we played from 411 yards. As can be seen in the photo below the hole falls off the the right so its best to make sure you keep your ball along the left side of the hole.
The 16th hole played at 510 yards and is a par 5. In the photo below it can be seen that this is another hole where the drive plays downhill and the approach back uphill. At 510 yards it should be reachable in two for longer hitters.
The photo below is where the second shot was hit from. You have to be careful here because there is a creek that runs across the fairway and if you don’t lay up well your ball can certainly find the water.
Laying up short of the creek still leaves a manageable distance for the approach shot. Again there are very large and deep bunkers to be navigated in order to get onto the green here.
The 17th hole is a par 4 that played 391 yards from the Medal tees. The drive is up hill as illustrated in the photo below.
And the approach shot is dead up hill here too. I distinctly remember hitting my approach on this hole. I had been hitting my 4 iron all day long which is a club I don’t really like to hit. For a change I’d been hitting it really well. I commented to my caddie that my luck was going to run out soon with that club. Fortunately the old 4 iron had one more good stroke left in it for the day and I knocked the approach to about 8 feet. I regret to report that the birdie putt stopped about half a revolution from going in the cup. Oh well. The consolation was that I did close the match against Brian out here winning 2 and 1 and I was now one golf ball richer.
Here is a closer up shot of the 17th green complex.
For the final hole of the day we once again found ourselves trudging up the hill. By this time I was nearly worn out. The terrain at Peachtree Golf Club is perfect for creating a world class golf course which also means that it is not exactly and easy stroll. As seen in the photos there is a LOT of up and down. The photo below is the approach shot for the 394 yard par 4 18th hole.
And a slightly closer up view of the green complex at the 18th hole.
For me, Peachtree Golf Club lived up to its hype. It is a great, fun golf course that I would be happy to play every day. With a ranking of 60th on the Golf Digest list I feel safe saying that this one may be grossly underrated. Next stop Cattanooga, TN.