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Column: Bobby Jones’ friends working on park's master plan
by Thornton Kennedy
Northside Neighbor Columnist
December 12, 2012 05:54 PM | 2286 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
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In 1930, the greatest amateur golfer to ever play the game won the four major championships in a calendar year: the U.S. Amateur, the British Amateur, the U.S. Open and the British Open.

That man was Atlanta’s own Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones. He remains the only person to have accomplished the feat (even though the amateur championships have been replaced by two professional tournaments, the PGA Championship and the Masters.)

Jones learned the game of golf at East Lake Golf Club in DeKalb County and later made his home in Buckhead’s Tuxedo Park neighborhood. He started a successful law firm here, played golf for fun and founded one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world just down the road in Augusta, the aforementioned Masters.

That first tee at Augusta National Golf Club, with the well-photographed oak and the iconic clubhouse just over to the right, is the most majestic view in all of sports. One can imagine looking out over the No. 1 fairway at the Royal Liverpool Golf Course, where a young Jones was embarking on the second leg of his historic feat. The No. 1 tee at East Lake is enough to make hairs stand up on your arm to know you are playing the home course of the great Bobby Jones.

In this context the No. 1 tee at the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead is anticlimactic. It is unsure of itself, sitting between two other tee boxes. Golfers who have never played his namesake course are likely to tee off on No. 14 by mistake as the tee boxes and fairways are parallel to one another and are almost indistinguishable. The first drive on No. 1 is right over the top of the gaping Peachtree Creek and into a fairway with a slight dogleg left, trees lining either side to the undistinguished green. The yawning creek is overgrown with scraggly brush which climbs over the top of steep, precipitous banks so menacing they remind all who play that no one wants to go into Peachtree Creek, ever.

This hole represents the crux for the nonprofit Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course & Park Conservancy; taking limited funds and reimagining a golf course in a way that lives up to its namesake. Jones played the course at least twice as far as I can tell — once when it first opened in 1933 and again when the clubhouse was completed in 1941. With the recent announcement of a $30,000 grant, it would seem the Friends group, which was founded by Roxanne Smith and Paul Melvin, is on its way regardless of how daunting the feat can be. The funds will be used to create a master plan for the park, the golf course and the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center. The plan and the improvements are greatly needed.At 199 acres, Memorial Park is one of the largest in Atlanta. It was the site of the Battle of Peachtree Creek. It is named to remember the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Battle of Atlanta.

As the city grew to the north, a wastewater treatment plant was constructed near the site of the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center. Back then, in the 1920s, the area was forest land and most of the land was in private hands. As Jones’ popularity and the popularity of golf grew, the city of Atlanta decided to create a park and a municipal golf course there.

In addition to the property already owned by the city of Atlanta for the wastewater facility, the family of Evan Howell donated land as did Eugene Haynes, the developer of Haynes Manor, the neighborhood that abuts the course off Peachtree Battle Avenue.More than the golf course define Memorial Park. It is tied into the Beltline through Tanyard Creek Park just over Collier Road. It has an aging but well-loved tennis facility and a popular playground that is under constant threat from the menacing creek. Memorial Park is also popular with the runners and walkers.

There has never been, to my knowledge, any effort to tie all of these separate pieces together, as has happened with great success at Chastain Park in Buckhead and Piedmont Park in Midtown.

It is past time the course, the clubhouse and the surrounding park were treated in a manner consistent with being named for the most iconic sportsman in Georgia.

Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and can be reached at thorntonkennedy@me.com.
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