By Michelle Hiskey
Like fine restaurants, fancy golf courses lure critics with an educated eye to ingredients, experience and character.
One of the nation’s leading golf architecture critics just gave a big thumbs up to what he called the 2009 “extreme makeover” of the Capital City Club Brookhaven.
The renovation of the par-70, maximum 6,780-yard course changed every hole. Only two follow their original corridors.
Writing in Golf Digest’s December issue, 30-year veteran critic Ron Whitten said the course’s new look surpasses even the Augusta National Golf Club, the iconic home of the Masters Tournament.
“The best renovation I played this year is the oldest private club in Atlanta, Capital City Club Brookhaven, transformed by Bob Cupp (who lives off the third tee) from an over-treed relic into a layout more lovely than Augusta National.”
Cupp scoffed at that comparison, but clearly appreciates the praise. His backyard project on a course built in 1913 produced the most pressure in his 43 years as a golf architect.
“That was a little over the top,” Cupp said of the Augusta comparison. “I tend to take all that with a grain of salt, because it’s not [more lovely]. But as far as the members are concerned, it might be. They are happy, and the only thing I cared about was them being happy.”
Whitten sees Capital City Club as being a forerunner in a trend of remodeling old courses. There’s no duplicating “the magnificent frieze at Brookhaven” at a new course, he said.
Whitten’s review stemmed from a summer round at the course with Cupp. The two have been friends for 30 years.
But before you conclude that friendship influenced the course’s rating, consider how common this arrangement is. Critics, Whitten said, discover the challenges faced by the architect “and where all the skeletons are buried.”
“I like to think that I have enough of a reputation doing this for 30 years that they realize they don’t influence me one way or another,” Whitten said of architects. “Most of them are the harshest critics of their own work.”
In a phone interview Whitten gave several reasons for his rating:
• “This was right smack in Buckhead, a very, very old established course that really had been neglected in some ways. …It’s taking a short course, extending and utilizing the topography and fitting in the new holes, especially the par 3s, to make it very walkable. With Atlanta being hilly, it’s very easy to walk and gives you the full range of examination. There are long, short and gambling holes, and a terrific finish wrapped around the lake.
• “The [first] impression when you pull up is that lake and clubhouse. Augusta has nothing in comparison to that lake, which is so dramatic, with holes running all around. Before the renovation, there were so many trees you couldn’t see the lake. Suddenly the lake is exposed and heightens the experience of the golf course.
• “Even in the summer, Brookhaven was in marvelous shape. It’s everything you would want from a Bermuda [grass] golf course. Another reason it’s more lovely than Augusta is that Augusta is closed during the summer to overseed.”