One of the wonderful things about my annual pilgrimage to Atlanta for the Thanksgiving holiday break is the 15-20 degrees gained on the journey south from Lexington. Typically, despite whatever the temperature is back home, the warmer Georgia weather is usually enough to induce a desire to golf on that Friday. This year, I was able to meet my longtime friend Eric, and two of his buddies, Matt and Jimmy, at Heritage Golf Links in Tucker, Georgia, a northeast suburb of Atlanta.
We had planned the outing a few weeks prior to the holiday (which is a rare stroke of organization amongst my best friends), so I was able to do a little research on the course beforehand. Heritage has 27 holes, divided into three nines named Legacy, Heritage, and Tradition. The course opened in 1996 to rave reviews, garnering Top 10 New Courses honors from Golf Digest. The course is somewhat infamous in the Atlanta area because at one time it was owned by Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who renamed it Celebrity Golf Club International, before losing the club to foreclosure as Atlanta’s real estate bubble collapsed over the past six years.
“Built in 1996, Heritage is most famous because Dr. J owned it. Hall of Fame slam-dunk pioneer and unaccredited physician Julius Erving bought the 27-hole complex in 2006 and renamed it Celebrity Golf Club International. Dr. J imagined his private club would cater to retired athletes and stars flying in now and again–an Augusta National with laxer clubhouse rules–but the grand opening coincided with the market downturn of 2008. Not enough people joined, and Dr. J lost the course in foreclosure in 2010. I called ahead, gave no name, and was told to come on by.” – Alder, Max and Matt Ginella. “Members Mostly.” Golf Digest. April 2012.
Since that time, the course has new owners who have reorganized the golf club as a middle-to-upper tier daily fee course and re-adopted the Heritage name. Despite the cooler than average temperatures, crisp, warm sunshine greeted us as we arrived and made our way to the practice range. Unfortunately, I suspect that the Heritage’s new owners are still desperately trying to pay off a substantial bank note, because it became clear very quickly that the golf course was going to be severely overbooked. A frost delay pushed back the first tee time of the morning approximately 2 hours, according to the starter. The golf carts lined up from the first tee all the way back to the clubhouse like airplanes lined up on the tarmac trying to get out of Hartsfield-Jackson airport on Christmas Eve.
Our turn at the first tee finally arrived about 90 minutes after scheduled, though our group had long resigned just to accept that it was going to be a long round and we were just going to try to enjoy the day. After the appropriate exchange of pleasantries and sandbagging each other, we decided to play the white tees, which play to a modest 5,750 yards. We played the longer of the three courses that Friday, the Legacy course going out and the Heritage course coming in for a slope and course rating of 68.1/131.
The course was quintessential Atlanta golf, with a never ending series of undulations and severe elevation changes, framed by tall beautiful Georgia pines. The greens were typically very large with dramatic multiple levels, almost to the point of being gimmicky and forced. The bentgrass tees, fairways, and greens were in fantastic shape for late fall, and the dormant bermuda grass rough framed tee and approach shots fairly well. However, the Legacy and Heritage courses both required lots of blind approach shots into elevated greens protected by an abundance of bunkers. Local knowledge of the course layout, a yardage book, or a GPS range finder (none of which our group possessed) could be worth three or four strokes a side.
Typical of courses built in the mid-1990’s, the course felt wedged into its host property. The routing for both nines was somewhat logical, but it still felt like another 20-30 acres of real estate could have provided the opportunity for a real gem of a course. For instance, it was common for us to know exactly what the fellas on the following tee box were talking about from around whatever green we were finishing up on all day. Two of the Par 3’s played to under 110 yards, with Legacy No. 3 playing to 92 yards and 25-30 feet downhill (my three-quarter sandwedge flew the green by 30 feet).
Nonetheless, the course did yield opportunities for shot-making. Elevation change, rather than hazards or wind, was the key determinant of how to play Heritage. The relatively short yardages combined with the elevation changes almost penalized not going for the par 5’s if at all possible. The course was also mostly devoid of houses lining the holes, as the vigorous pine forests from which the course was carved provided sense of calm and isolation in what was a busy, humming suburban area. I was able to grind out 1 birdie and 6 pars for an 84. All told, for the price, it was a really enjoyable way to spend a sunny late November afternoon.