The Standard Club: Atlanta’s Overlooked Standard of Excellence

The par-3 6th, falling away left and right off a central crest, blends into the natural environment.

The par-3 6th, falling away left and right off a central crest, blends into the natural environment.

Debates regarding the best golf in certain large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia typically revolve around tier 2 and 3 courses as general consensus exists about the places there that are truly great.

Not so Atlanta.

After Peachtree Golf Club, considered no. 1 by most knowledgable players and panels, the conversation about Atlanta-area courses as a whole devolves into a tier 2-type argument about what’s next best (one might argue that, when it comes to what’s truly great, all of Atlanta’s golf qualifies as tier 2 ). You’ll get arguments for East Lake, the Atlanta Athletic Club, Atlanta Country Club, and maybe a push for Settindown Creek or Capital City’s Crabapple Course here, or Hawks Ridge there.

Less lobbied is The Standard Club, a 2004 Mike Riley redesign atop Arthur Hills’ original course from 1987. And that makes no sense. The Standard Club sits at peer level to the top golf in this city.

Scenic, varied and challenging, Riley's par-3's at The Standard Club might be the area's best. Here, the 190-yard 14th over water.

Scenic, varied and challenging, Riley’s par-3’s at The Standard Club might be the area’s best. Here, the 190-yard 14th over water.

The Standard Club is located in Johns Creek, a few miles up the road from the Athletic Club. It’s surrounded by suburban development, a four-lane highway, commercial strips, office buildings — but you wouldn’t know it.

Like Augusta National, the club is insulated from the city’s encroachment by a dense buffer of woods and land, hiding a gorgeous course spread across nearly 300 acres of preserved nature. The first nine rolls through hardwoods on continually moving ground, and the second nine drops off a ridge to low holes playing back and forth across Johns Creek.

Hills hit Atlanta pay dirt starting the late 1980’s, building five courses in seven years including the 36-hole Golf Club of Georgia. Though routed well, his design for The Standard Club was was unfortunately stuck in the golf tropes of the ’80’s, marked by narrow, oblong greens that were difficult to hit and small, round bunkers that neither fit the wide scale of the property nor accentuated its special qualities.

Riley, who grew up caddying and reading the large and tumultuous greens at the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Somerset Hills Country Club in New Jersey, had a different vision. The greens are now enlarged and rounded out with more voluptuous, pronounced contour, and the deep, choppy bunkers are better suited to the movement and personality of the surroundings. The intricate putting surfaces at the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 13th, 14th and 18th deserve stand-alone notice.

The Standard Club round is full of fun and thrills, beginning with the first, a downhill left-to-right hole that rewards a fearless opening poke. The 400-yard right-to-left 10th sweeps dangerously along a ravine, followed by a run through a shot-maker’s alley along the creek. Seventeen is a 240-yard blast downhill to a green benched between a pond and a rock outcropping, and the par-5 18th rambles close to a drop off on the right before terminating at a deep green full of knobs and humps.

There’s a lot of blueblood, inside/outside attitude that still exists in Atlanta, which might explain why the local tribes don’t hold The Standard Club in higher esteem. The setting and design riches place The Standard Club in tier 1 discussion, but this former all-Jewish club (they now have an inviting, open membership) just doesn’t have the cache or sizzle of Capital City, Cherokee Town & CC or Piedmont Driving Club.

But if you’re here to play golf and not to rub shoulders, make arrangements to play The Standard Club, asap (92).

The Standard Club

Atlanta/Johns Creek

Architect: Arthur Hills/Mike Riley (redesign), 2004

Year: 1987

The deep, tumbling 18th green, one of the most detailed on the course, falls away steeply to the right.

The deep, tumbling 18th green, one of the most detailed on the course, falls away steeply to the right.

 

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