As the Johns Creek, Ga. property approaches its 125-year anniversary, the club continues to evolve while keeping its roots based firmly in historical significance.
Dating back to 1898, with legendary names such as Bobby Jones and John Heisman among those who influenced its direction, the Atlanta Athletic Club (AAC) in Johns Creek, Ga. is replete with history.
The clubhouse is as much a museum as it is a place for members to gather. The on-property Jones Museum, for instance, houses more memorabilia from the golfing great than anywhere else in the world. The hallowed halls are lined with artifacts and QR codes have been added to provide interested guests with an audio tour of the club’s past.
Steeped in Tradition
AAC traces its roots to a structure in downtown Atlanta and added a golf course on its East Lake property in 1904. As Atlanta’s population moved away from the city center, so did the club, which landed in its current location in the late 1960s. The East Lake property was sold and became East Lake Golf Club—now the home of The Tour Championship, currently the final event of the PGA Tour golf season.
The club has hosted both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens and U.S. Amateurs, as well as PGA Championships in 1981, 2001 and 2011. Robert Trent Jones Sr., designed the club’s original Riverside Course and nine holes of the Highlands Course, completing work in 1967. The club then hired Joe Finger to add nine holes to the Highlands Course in 1971.
Rees Jones, son of Robert Trent Jones Sr., worked with the club on both its Highlands and Riverside courses and was called in for an extensive enhancement project on the Highlands layout in 2016.
More recently, golf course architect Tripp Davis was selected from dozens of his contemporaries to overhaul the Riverside course. The renovation of the course had three principle goals: completely update the course infrastructure from tee to green to allow for heightened playing conditions; accentuate the Riverside terrain in a more natural way; and enhance the playing interest and enjoyment for members and high-level players alike.
David Sheppard, General Manager of Atlanta Athletic Club, is quick to praise Davis’ vision and dedication to the project, which basically took place across the global COVID pandemic. The project was not without challenges, but forward thinking proved extremely beneficial.
“We got ahead by ordering the materials ahead of time, so we didn’t face the supply chain and inflation issues that others have since then,” Sheppard says.
Closer to the finish line, Mother Nature threw a curveball.
“Summer 2022 weather [lots of rain in July and August] was a challenge to get the grassing done and meet deadlines,” Sheppard says. “[We] ended up finishing but pushed back opening date by three weeks to allow turf to establish.”
With so many private clubs in the area, it’s not necessarily easy to stand out, but the 125,000 sq. ft. English Manor clubhouse is a good start. It has more than 10,000 sq. ft. of function space and 12 different venue options to accommodate anywhere from five to 500 guests. Additionally, there are numerous patios and outdoor entertaining spaces.
Beyond that, there are no fewer than eight dining options across the massive campus. Merion offers upscale dining with refined contemporary cuisine that displays the flavors of each season. The Royal Troon Grill offers a family-friendly atmosphere with American Cuisine with a southern twist. The Interlachen Lounge is for members and guests looking to socialize, eat and drink. The Pool Pavilion and Aquatics Café provides a relaxed poolside dining experience for the entire family. The Halfway House provides a fresh selection of grab-and-go meals, perfect for getting golfers through the second half of their round. The Center Court Café at the Tennis Center focuses on quick snacks and refreshing libations. Health Bar at the fitness center offers smoothies that pack a healthy punch pre or post workout. And the Men’s Grill is the perfect place to celebrate the end of a round.
Sheppard points to a number of ways AAC sets itself apart from nearby clubs.
“Membership at Atlanta Athletic Club is unique due to the unmatched scale and quality of our facilities, as well as our outstanding programs that are all available on one campus,” he says. “The genuine and congenial relationships between our members, their families, and our team members create the opportunity to make many special memories.
“The club offers facilities and programs for every member of the family, including an array of athletic programs for adults and juniors who enjoy fitness, golf, racquet sports, and swimming. In addition, Atlanta Athletic Club has an incredible heritage and history of hosting major golf championships,” Sheppard continues. “All of these attributes, along with the club’s wonderful membership and team members, create an outstanding organization and culture.”
Along with the two 18-hole courses, AAC has a nine-hole par-3 course, fitness center and spa. The facility boasts state-of-the-art equipment and personal instruction to provide members with the opportunity to attain and maintain optimum levels of fitness. Personal training and more than 90 classes per month are offered, as well.
Within the 62,000 sq. ft, fitness center is the Retreat Spa, with services including manicures and pedicures, facials, massages, wraps, microdermabrasion, and laser treatments. In addition to four treatment rooms and retail space that sells high-end skincare products and fashion from Lululemon, Sheppard is envisioning more.
“Looking to expand because it has more demand than it can handle at the present time,” he says.
The Tennis Center offers four climate-controlled indoor tennis courts, six Har-Tru clay courts, and seven, lighted outdoor hard courts. A group of world-class tennis professionals, all PTR and USPTA certified, bring years of expertise to instruct and develop all ages and tennis levels.
The Aquatic Center features an Olympic-style main pool with three-meter diving board, dual water slides, and a toddler-friendly, zero-entry zone and splash pad. In addition, comprehensive group and private swim lessons for children and adults are available. The AAC (Barracudas) Swim and Dive Team is made up of children ages 4 to 14 and the dive team ages 4 to 18.
With 1,930 people on the books, membership at Atlanta Athletic Club is a privilege. Not so coincidentally, 1930 is also the club’s address—a tribute to the year Bobby Jones won golf’s Grand Slam.
“Covid has changed the private club industry, so obviously we are in a fortunate position to have an extensive external wait list,” Membership Director Erica Smith explains. “Once nominated or invited, it’s a two-year wait to start the membership process; once cleared, these members may enjoy social privileges, but it is at least an additional two years to become golf members.”
While the club has experienced great success with member referral programs, candidates still must be nominated and go through the process.
“Our ongoing improvements to amenities beyond golf courses, including the aquatic center, tennis and golf practices facilities, and special events programming continues to attract families and stimulate the ‘youth movement’ that we are experiencing,” Smith says.
As for communicating upcoming events to the membership, Smith points to a bi-monthly newsletter, Club Times, a weekly “Club Connection” newsletter, special notifications (targeting an event or instant communication), an app with push communications, and a recently redone website. They’re also active on Instagram and Facebook, while Twitter is utilized during major events.
“There are also private social media groups for employees with training videos, dress code updates, and for parents of children enrolled in Timbers, AAC’s day care programs,” Smith adds. C+RB
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