Love team took obstinate Georgia land and built Windermere

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

CUMMING, Ga. - When it comes to golf properties, there are good sites and there are bad sites. What exactly makes a good site is sometimes difficult to define; the factors that make a site bad are less problematic to understand.

I'm not certain if there's a categorical table for all the difficult types of properties architects encounter, but if there is it's certain to include things like land with extreme elevation changes and broken or abrupt terrain, properties consisting of clay or other poorly draining soils, properties cut by rivers and wetlands that require heavy permitting and engineering, projects with routings that must contend with real estate developments and residential streets, and sites with no elevation changes whatsoever and high water tables.

And then there are combinations of all of the above.

The Windermere Golf Club property, located roughly 35 minutes north of Atlanta, was a site rich with such difficulties. In fact, if challenging factors were rare coins, the property would be a veritable treasure, and Love Enterprises & Associates, the golf design firm of Mark and Davis Love III hired to navigate the site, would be wealthy.

It might be best to describe the property at Windermere as obstinate. The site possessed all of the above issues (with the exception of the flatness problem), and in such difficult combinations, that the Love team needed to arrange the holes on vastly separate sections of the land, each being unique and often distant from the last. In fact, the architectural team probably found themselves wishing for some flat, Florida-esque land after a while.

Nevertheless, one still comes to the conclusion that the golf course is a success due primarily to the shaping and character of the individual holes. Now four years old, the semi-private Windermere simulates the relaxed class of its upscale, worriless neighborhood and wants nothing for either conditioning or presentation. Players who are used to jumping into and out of golf carts and riding from beginning to end will be so enthralled with playing the required aerial shots that they won't be unsettled by the necessarily disjointed routing.

It must be pointed out that the routing has little choice but to be disjointed, confronted by the region's panoply terra shifts and property lines, and to be fair the holes are better appraised in isolation rather than for their interconnectedness.

In this way Windermere is like a very good book of short stories, where each chapter offers elements of humor, drama, or suspense even if the stories don't necessarily render a best-selling novel. They are compelling on their own and linked by a riveting common theme, in this case a string of elegant, highly crafted putting surfaces that serve as the course's equivalent of fictional climaxes.

The book begins with an epic first tale, a sprawling par-4 of 446 yards playing downhill toward the rim of a lake. The scene abruptly shifts with the second, an equally prodigious par-3, set on a mountain seemingly in another country. The par-5 third, beginning on even higher ground than the second, descends sharply toward a stream where it bends left and begins to climb uphill once more to a blind putting surface.

Only three chapters in and Windermere has already given us three distinct looks, three different holes, and three different landscapes. A pattern has begun to emerge, revealing and effort to begin the golfer at elevation and play downward, and then slightly uphill toward variously unique green settings.

Approach shots from the left side of the first fairway near a flanking bunker get the green's entire depth to work with. The putting surface is cut warmly into a side slope and tilts simply right to left, so approaches played from the roomier right portion of the fairway have a shallow green but also the backstop of the hillside.

The enormous second green, designed to accept fairway woods and running approaches, has a simple rise in the center. The more contoured, slightly bowl-shaped third is designed to happily accept wedges and short irons, but is not as agreeable to woods and long irons.

And so it continues as the first nine plays through the hilly woodland section of Windermere and the second drifts out to more open spaces and starker elevation shifts. Tremendous inclined stretches between the first and second holes, the seventh, eight, and ninth holes, the 11th and 12th, and the 12th green and 13th tee make Windermere virtually unwalkable (players beginning the hole in carts behind you would finish and lap you by the time you walked to the next tee). Yet almost each of these holes, with the exception of the pinched par-3 seventh, offers variety, scenery, and broad playing appeal.

Love's team obviously felt it was with the green complexes that Windermere would ultimately succeed or fail. Based on this and other regional designs, the firm seems to understand that subtlety and shaping nuance can be far more enduring and flexible than bold landscaping.

As is typical for them, the greens aren't overt or over the top. They slide in lovely rhythms, side-to-side and back and front, from both elevations and fairway level. It is usually one singular feature that defines each green - a ridge, a left to right slope, a gently curved tier, a lowered section, a descending bridge running from high point to fairway - and various pin positions are then worked around these seemingly innocent forms.

The size and shape of these putting surfaces, guarded by some surprisingly deep greenside bunkers, are the plotline of a round at Windermere. Teeing from high to low and driving between bunkers to wide fairways is fun, but that's not where the true action takes place. At Windermere, the game doesn't truly begin until the greens are teased.

The verdict

Windermere is a disconnected series of good holes. The sweeping 428-yard eighth, the short par-4 10th (drivable from some tees), and the monstrous 457-yard 15th are the key holes on the course and some of the best in the region. The 505-yard 18th gets most of the attention for it's do-or-die second shot over a pond, but the 533-yard ninth rising slowly to a saddled green setting is a more natural and interesting par-5.

Ultimately, the sum of Windermere's parts may be better than the whole, but it remains one of North Atlanta's most impressive and rewarding courses open to the public.

Places to stay

If you're in Atlanta for a prolonged stay, try the hotel district in Buckhead where accommodations range from affordable to deluxe.

Amerisuites Atlanta Buckhead
3242 Peachtree Road NE
Atlanta, Ga. 30305
(404) 869-6161

Crowne Plaza Hotel Buckhead
3377 Peachtree Road, N.E.
Atlanta, Ga. 30326
(404) 264-1111

Ritz-Carlton Buckhead
3434 Peachtree Rd. N.E.
Atlanta, Ga. 30326
(404) 237-2700

In Cumming:

Holiday Inn Express Hotel
835 Buford Road
Cumming, Ga. 30041
(770) 889-4600

Places to eat

In Buckhead, try Dantanna's, an upscale seafood and sports bar behind the Westin with a collection of the largest televisions screens in the city.

3400 Around Lenox Drive
Atlanta, Ga. 30326
(404) 760-8873

If you like barbeque, try Pappy Red's in Cumming, or head a few exits south into Roswell on either Holcomb Bridge Road or Mansell Road for a variety of top flight restaurants.

Pappy Red's Barbeque
867 Buford Road
Cumming, Ga. 30041
(770) 844-9446

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in,,,, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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