Windermere Golf Club in Cumming, GA
Tee Time: August 13, 1:09, 85 F, Breezy
Designer: Davis Love III, 2000
Playing Partners: Nicholas Carroll
Tees: Love, Par 71 (71.8 rating/137 slope/6,592 yards)
Course Handicap: 13 (11.3 index)
Stats: 89 (49-44); 34 putts; 9/13 fairways; 6/18 greens; 5 penalty strokes
Windermere Country Club in Cumming, Georgia about a half-hour out of Atlanta captures all the basics for country club living and golfing. Million-dollar homes line the course throughout. Expertly maintained grounds seem to shimmer in the summer sun. An atmosphere so calm and quiet it seems even the animals take care to quiet down during your backswing. Of course with that comes all of the shortcomings of country club golf, such as a lack of a beverage cart roaming the countryside. And… well that’s about it. Having grown up playing Blackhawk Country Club right up until finally getting a job and having to leave the nest, coming out to this Canongate facility felt like playing a round at home. The only exception being that this course’s maintenance and beauty for a country club setting goes unmatched. On some tee boxes, the only thing keeping me from feeling like I was walking Augusta was the lack of azaleas in full bloom.
The golf course, designed by Davis Love III and opened in 2000, opens with a charming par 4 straight off the sales brochure. A wide open fairway, to help out those aging members, beckons for a tee shot down the middle. Sand traps dot the sides of the short grass and only a narrow window will leave a reasonable second shot to an elevated green. Anything short will be in a bunker or feed on back into the lake. From there it is a straightforward par 3 before the par-5 3rd, a 497-yard dogleg left that drops almost 100 feet from tee to fairway, much like a certain par-5 3rd hole on the Lakes in Blackhawk. See, the similarities never stopped coming. There are many more doglegs on the journey out, but never any really scary tee shots. The approaches are where scores are made or lost. Elevated greens abound at Windermere and subtle breaks between tiers on the putting surfaces place a premium on getting shots onto the correct section. Another fun hole is the par-4, 404-yard 8th that runs downhill and to the left, just begging righties for a gentle draw that will skip 300 yards down the fairway and leave an easy wedge in.
The inward nine is most likely where all of the millionaires must reside, because 10,000 square-foot homes pepper the landscape while you try to avoid peppering their dozens of windows with errant golf balls. The par-4 10th really is the only hole that doesn’t need a driver, with a tee shot into the large hump down the center and down onto the waiting green. The course’s longest par 3 sits after and as it sits up a grade and into a prevailing wind, fairway woods are a requirement. From there it is off to the beautiful 12th hole with a nasty, enormous green that must see its share of 3-putts every day. The finishing four holes are among the most fun. The 15th, a 418-yard par 4, bends to the right and drops way down to a sharply breaking green. Another Blackhawk doppelganger, the boomeranging par-4 16th plays just like its California cousin, with a tee shot from way up to a fairway far below. The creek running along the left of the green to punish greedy corner-cutters even is stocked with as many frogs as the 17th on the Lakes. The 145-yard par-3 17th is easier than it looks, with a flat tee shot that is made tougher with the pin obscured by lush vegetation sprouting from the creek running down the center. And the finishing hole involves a blind tee shot over a ridge, which leaves a decision to make about whether to attempt to reach the 505-yard par-5 in two and risk getting wet in the lake protecting the front of the green, similar to #10 at the Falls.
Now obviously if I could be a member at only one private golf course in Georgia, it would be at a certain hallowed grounds that stages a popular major golf tournament each April. But Windermere Country Club is not a bad consolation prize. The amenities are on par with any country club the US has to offer. The restaurant staff is friendly, the on-course marshals are helpful and the on-board GPS is quickly winning me over as a requirement for luxury golf. While I may not have gotten the members bounces playing as a guest, I still enjoyed my round even after losing a sleeve of golf balls within my first 200 yards of play. The greens, with the aid of gigantic hair dryers on the fringes (looks like that’s where all the propellors from the WWII B-17 bombers ended up), were true and firm, like putting on ice. Every fairway provides an excellent lie, the rough is a legitimate punishment and the sand traps are consistent throughout, which is increasingly hard to find around the country. Drop everything and play here if you ever get an invite.
#14, Par 5, 569 yards, 5-handicap, My Score: 5
I always love an endless par 5, and the 569-yard 14th is just that. A great tee shot and a perfect 3-wood will get home in two with the slight downhill landscape, but sand traps at awkward distances and, more importantly, a pond jutting into play on the right makes this a 3-shot hole for all but the most brazen golfers. While the main challenge here is the length, the pin position during this Monday round was very tricky as well. It was stuck just a couple yards into the front side of the green and sloped from front to back, threatening to throw low approaches off into the rough behind. And for those of you scoring Blackhawk references at home, this is #3 at the Falls hands down, if Windermere ever dredges a creek across and plants a giant oak just on the front left of the green.
Amenities: A; GPS golf carts, a good driving range and a well stocked snack bar provide a great complement to the actual golf course.
Difficulty: B+; wide fairways provide relief, but multi-tiered greens, ankle-deep rough and well-placed hazards make course management a requirement to score well here.
Scenery: B; the million-dollar homes lining the fairways provide a pleasant backdrop while the lush green forest perfectly sits along the expertly maintained golf course
Value: N/A; as this is a private country club we were only able to play using a guest pass and with no public rates I cannot assign a value.
Overall: 3.54 (B+); I grew up playing country club golf (I know, I was lucky), and Windermere Golf Club provides the same feel and experience I have come to expect. The members take pride in their course and it shows, I’d love to come back some day if they’ll have me.