Sunday, September 16, 2007


Last weekend, the Missus and I attended a wedding reception in the Atlanta Athletic Club’s St. Andrew’s Ballroom.

Aside from the Grits Bar - the Southern answer to the Baked Potato Bar - the place itself was your typical upper-crust athletic club / golf club / country club / catering operation. The club’s logo was in a style reminiscent of Days Gone By, and what with the enormous amount of Bobby Jones memorabilia scattered about, you got the impression of a Place with a History.

History, it has, in spades...but the Place has changed. For the Atlanta Athletic Club was not always located on Bobby Jones Drive in suburban Duluth.

Founded in 1898, the AAC was located on Edgewood Avenue in downtown Atlanta. In 1906, the club built a golf course for its members just east of downtown. The club’s first athletic director was a guy by the name of John Heisman - perhaps you’ve heard of him. And, of course, there was that fellow Bobby Jones, who later would build the Grand Cathedral of Golf out in the wilds of Augusta. The one who won the Grand Slam in 1930, and Gawd knows what else, as the world’s most celebrated amateur golfer.

Eventually, outgrowing both its downtown facilities and seeing its golf course surrounded by ever-increasing urban blight, the club, in the mid-1960’s, decided to get the hell out of Dodge. It sold off both the downtown club and the golf course, consolidating its operations in one location: Duluth, then a faraway suburb.

The old golf course never went away, although it was no longer associated with the AAC. The Tudor-style clubhouse burned down not once, but twice, and the neighborhood surrounding it turned downright nasty. It got to the point where the few golfers with the persistence to keep playing there were more likely to stop a bullet than they were to stop a stray golf ball.

But, beginning a dozen years ago, all that has been changing thanks in part to Tom Cousins, one of the country’s most successful real estate developers and, not coincidentally, a lifelong club member. He has poured money into the area not merely to “gentrify” it, but to pull the neighborhood itself out of the social mire into which it had sunk. And it seems to be working. Crime is down dramatically, the local schools are racking up impressive results, and even the golf course is decent enough to attract a few good players. Initiation fees, which had sunk to $35 in the depths of the club’s decline, now are in the neighborhood of 275 large. Yeef.

I was there earlier today with my buddy Gary, watching thirty of those “few good players” knocking the ball around at East Lake Golf Club. It’s now the home of The Tour Championship, where Tiger Woods pounded all other contenders into bloody submission with an eight stroke margin of victory, simultaneously clinching the first-ever FedEx Cup. An eleven-million-dollar payday...not bad.

We had been watching the various twosomes playing their way around the course and decided to grab a bite at one of the many (heinously overpriced) concession stands. [They say “Concession is good for the soul,” but it doesn’t do your wallet any favors.] As we climbed into the grandstand at the tenth tee, laden with our Lunch-Food, I heard a voice:

“Wine-Guy! Wine-Guy!”

It was one of the marshals trying to get my attention. Turns out it was Michael W-, one of the guys in the Sommelier Guild, who had recognized me despite my not having a glass of wine in my hand.

After engulfing our food, we headed off to the par-three sixth hole, where we stayed around long enough to see Tiger shoot his first birdie of the day after stiffing his tee shot to within two feet of the hole...the Shot of the Day.

History was being made, and we were there. And having seen both incarnations of the Atlanta Athletic Club within the space of eight days, I felt a little more connected to my adopted home. All I needed was my seersucker suit and Panama hat to complete the picture.

Now for some grits. Is the Grits Bar open?

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