FROM: Fore Georgia
The landscape of daily fee golf in metro Atlanta has changed dramatically over the past two decades, but there are still a few courses left whose history extends beyond the arrival of the internet.
Mystery Valley Golf Club opened for play in the mid 1960s, when the options for Atlanta’s public course golfers were limited.
Almost a half century later, there are far more courses now available to Atlanta’s daily fee players, but Mystery Valley has stood the test of time and remains among the most popular facilities in the metro area.
Mystery Valley has retained its standing as one of Atlanta’s busiest daily fee courses, even through the stretches when its conditioning was not exactly at optimal levels.
The course, which was tagged with the unflattering nickname of “Misery Valley” by some of its regulars, was known for its hardpan lies and greens divided between Summer and Winter sections that made putting from one side to the other an adventure.
But those days are in the past, and a newly installed irrigation system has helped Mystery Valley achieve the best course conditions at the DeKalb County facility in many, many years.
“Everybody who has played here has told us we’re in the best shape ever,” says John Crumbley, Mystery Valley’s General Manager and PGA Director of Golf. “We have grass from tree line to tree line and this is a big golf course. We have more square yardage of grass than most anybody in the city,”
Mystery Valley’s bent grass greens are also in excellent condition, giving the club’s loyal regulars even more reason to make frequent visits to the course, which is located in east DeKalb County a few miles south of Stone Mountain Park.
DeKalb County owns the course, which is managed by GCL of Savannah, which also operates Collins Hill in Gwinnett, like Mystery Valley a municipal facility, the excellent Sapelo Hammock course near the Georgia coast and Mary Calder, a 9-hole facility in Savannah, where GCL is based.
Among Mystery Valley’s most obvious assets is its traditional Dick Wilson design. Wilson was the golf course architect for iconic layouts such as Doral’s Blue Monster, Bay Hill, Cog Hill, LaCosta and Laurel Valley. His Georgia designs include the Mountain View course at Callaway Gardens, the Oleander and Pine Lakes courses at Jekyll Island, and the original Canongate, on which he collaborated with design partner Joe Lee.
Mystery Valley was the last course Wilson designed before his death, and is an understated, traditional layout with plenty of movement on a majority of holes between tee and green but no severe elevation changes.
There are almost no holes at Mystery Valley that don’t feature rolling terrain, and you can expect to encounter some sidehill lies along the way. With an exception or two, Wilson’s well-crafted layout offers ample amounts of fairway, although there a few holes where longer hitters will choose to leave their driver in the bag.
The tree lines bordering the fairways are typically thin and allow for recovery shots, with fairway bunkers pretty much non-existent and water hazards at a minimum and not a serious factor other than the tee shot on the 14th, the No. 1 handicap hole.
With the fairways on the generous side, Mystery Valley is more of a second shot course, with Wilson protecting the mostly large putting surfaces with bunkers primarily along the edges, but occasionally requiring carries to reach pin positions.
Mystery Valley is neither long nor penal, measuring just 6766 yards from the tips with a modest Course Rating/Slope of 71.7/125. The white tees are 6329 yards (70.6/122) with the golds 5928 (69.2/118). There are two sets of forward tees measuring around 5500 and 4900 yards.
While Mystery Valley is not an overly demanding course in any aspect, it is far from a pushover, with only a few holes that can be considered relative breathers.
The par 5s offer scoring opportunities, with only one of the four longer than 525 yards, and the reachable 10th just 488 from the tips and 460 from the whites.
Mystery Valley opens with a dogleg left par 5, with the hole 520 from the back tees and 506 from the whites. The hole plays slightly uphill with a wide fairway, but the trees down the left get plenty of unwanted visitors. A pair of bunkers pinch the front opening to the green, with the uphill nature of the approach shot making it a little tougher than you’d expect to reach the pin positions.
The rolling, mostly downhill seventh and sweeping dogleg left 10th are the most vulnerable of the par 5s, although neither respond well to tee shots with a little too much hook on them. Like the other two par 5s, both holes feature uphill approach shots, but both can be reached in two, although it will require either a well-placed tee shot down the right side of the 10th or a pronounced draw to get around the trees.
There isn’t much in the way of trouble on the seventh, but there are some sharp drop-offs around the green at the 10th, with a deft touch required to get it close to the hole on the elevated green.
The longest of the four par 5s is the 14th (556/535), which includes a fairway with a pronounced left to right tilt and a more seriously uphill approach than the other three. The drop-off here is to the right, with the long green able to accommodate approach shots coming from a lower angle.
Only one of the par 3s has anything approaching serious length, with the 11th a healthy 216/189 but with no major concerns otherwise. The slightly uphill second sports a sizeable putting surface with plenty of back to front slope that makes uphill putts a real challenge to get to the hole and results in some extremely touchy downhillers. If a list of holes that produce the most three-putts (or more) on Atlanta courses was compiled, No. 2 at Mystery Valley would definitely be on it.
Both 4 and 15 appear unthreatening from the tee, and barring a serious miss-hit, provide excellent chances for par or better, with length not a concern on either. The slightly longer fourth provides a comfortable spot to the miss the green to the right, avoiding bunkers short and left.
Mystery Valley’s par 4s provide most of its challenge, with two solid holes to conclude both nines and two other holes on the incoming nine where accuracy off the tee is at more of a premium.
The first par 4 you’ll face is also the shortest, with the 331-yard third beginning with a downhill tee shot with a pond looming to the left of a fairly narrow fairway. The uphill second to a green that opens up at the back is partially hidden behind a front right bunker, with a hill left of the putting surface sloping toward the water, which is in reach if the rough is cut low.
Other than 5 and 13, a pair of straightaway holes in the 380-yard range, the remainder of the par 4s offer various challenges. The uphill sixth is your basic grip it and rip it hole, with a generous fairway and a long green that requires some effort to get to back pins.
The downhill eighth and down-and-up ninth both reward longer hitters with friendly sloping fairways, with the eighth one of the few holes with a bunker in range off the tee. Bunkers flank both putting surfaces, which like most on the course are on the expansive side with modest amounts of roll.
Mystery Valley’s putting surfaces are more subtle than undulating, with their size more of a concern with a few exceptions.
Among the par 4s on the incoming nine is the closest thing Mystery Valley has to a signature hole. At 408 from the blues and 381 from the whites, the 14th lacks for serious length, but a pond just off the right side of a narrow fairway puts a major premium on accuracy, with trees tight to the left. A fairly lengthy approach will often leave sizeable puts on another expansive green, which would challenge the third for three-putts if more people hit it with their second shots.
The dogleg left 12th also requires some precision off the tee, with front greenside bunkers among the most frequently visited on the course. One of the tougher approach shots is found on the down-and-up 17th, among the few holes where you have to carry bunkers at the front to reach the putting surface.
Crumbley and his staff have continued the standard set by former head pro Dave Ayers of making Mystery Valley one of the area’s friendliest facilities, as well as the club’s strong orientation toward juniors. The club is also actively involved in the “Get Golf Ready” program for those new to the game.
Because the course is compact and not part of a development, Mystery Valley is one of the most walker-friendly layouts in metro Atlanta despite its relatively hilly nature, with its green fees making it one of the metro area’s best values.
Both the men’s and women’s golf associations feature active schedules, with the course hosting its top annual event later this month – the DeKalb Cup 4-Ball event. The tournament, which will be played for the 46th time, is scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 1, and annually features a top field of local and state amateurs.
Proceeds from the event benefit the club’s junior program, with the flighted tournament including divisions for women and super seniors (age 65 and over).
For information on Mystery Valley call 770-469-6913 or visit www.mysteryvalley.com.