Stan Awtrey looks at the latest renovation at Atlanta Athletic Club's Highlands Course, which is hoping to give Medinah a run for most pre-major redos. The Highlands hosts the PGA in 2011, and I know you just can't wait to see it again.
"We wanted to make the course more spectacular," director of golf Rick Anderson said. "We wanted to make the holes more challenging, with some strategy to them. We weren't out to make it just dog-long."
With Highlands in need of major irrigation work, the Athletic Club opted for a major facelift. There's different grass, more bunkers and more water. And, of course, it's longer.
"We wanted to see how many things we could fix at one time," said Anderson, who was only half-kidding.
Superintendent Ken Mangum, the director of golf courses and grounds, was in charge of the project, which began in March. He had an operating budget of more than $4 million.
Can we add that $4 million to the class action suit that the world's golf courses should file against the USGA and R&A to recover expenses?
New championship tees were built on 11 holes. Among the most dramatic is at No. 15, a par 3 which played 227 yards when Toms made a hole-in-one there five years ago. The hole can now be pulled back to play 260 yards.
That's a big yes.
Many fairway bunkers were moved, and others were constructed, to catch up with the pros' ability to fly the ball 300 yards. At No. 6, for example, fairway bunkers have been extended all the way down the right side to the green.
Bet that looks pretty.
Water is more evident, too. A pond was added to the left of the green at No. 6; it draws short shots to it like a magnet. A new back tee at No. 8 requires a 290-yard drive to fly the pond, for those brave enough to take the risk option.
You can now see the water from the 18th tee, which wasn't possible until the alterations pulled the pond 10 yards farther to the right and 10-to-12 yards closer to the tee box.
"I know when I can see the water, it bothers me more," Mangum said.
The 18th, already one of the most famous finishing holes in golf, can now play 528 yards. It will probably play as a par 4 in 2011.
Anderson and Mangum stressed that the changes were needed and would have been made regardless of whether the PGA was returning in 2011. They said the Riverside course, which was redone with zoysia fairways in 2003, had grown to be a favorite with members, and it was drawing more play than Highlands.
Can't imagine why.