BUFORD - Mike Smith's inaugural tee shot at the re-opening of the Legacy on Lanier golf course sailed closer to trees than fairway.
But the Atlanta Falcons' head coach still drew a round of cheers from those who attended the opening-day celebration July 1. The adulation was part for the NFL coach and part for the long-awaited completion of a more than two year renovation project at the Lake Lanier Islands' golf course formally called Emerald Pointe.
The new name typifies the swath of changes made to the course. There are longer holes, new unique greens and a brand new 10th hole on a track that winds along the slowly filling shores of Lake Lanier. Thirteen of the 18 holes utilize the lake as either a hazard or aesthetic and often as both.
"I am not a golfer and I still enjoy it," said Grier Todd, CEO of Lake Lanier Islands. "The biggest thing is the lake and the experience of having the course along the lake."
Straddling the line of incorporating Lake Lanier's shores and inlets into the new course design without threatening average golfers with the potential for dozens of lost balls and infinite penalty shots was architect Billy Fuller.
"The water makes the property so unique and offers challenge to the golf course," Fuller said. "The goal is to strategize so the really good player has ample challenge and the average golfer has fun maneuvering the water."
Must subtle than the water, but unique to the new Legacy course is its Miniverde Bermudagrass greens. It's a coastal grass making its way to courses further inland, but East Lake in Atlanta, host of the PGA's Tour Championship, is the only other Georgia course currently playing the same grass on its greens.
The grass's advantage comes with its ability to weather traffic and the southern heat, while hopefully not dying during the bursts of cold in the north Georgia winter.
"The jury is still out on what its cold tolerances will be," Fuller said. "It's a great surface with less maintenance. We hope it is a better fit in this part of the country, more heat tolerant and will survive the winter."
A former golf superintendent for 15 years, including five at Augusta National, Fuller wears the sun easily. He is tall and thin, but not gangly, and plays golf close to scratch. He knows what he enjoys in a golf course and his motivation with the Legacy course was to make it a throw-back to the golf of the 1930s and 40s. The course does not punish players lacking massive distance off the tee, rather it challenges them to keep the ball in play. Because of its location and environment along the lake, the course also gives the feel of an older design since it does not wrap through a planned unit development. It's a golf course, not an exclusive gated community where people must cross streets and trounce through back yards between holes.
Rather than exclusive, the goal of the new course is inclusivity. The public, resort course's greens fees include food, drinks and cart.
"We wanted that inclusive, club feel," said Missy Burgess Director of Golf Sales at Lake Lanier Islands. "To see it come to its full potential is just thrilling."
To realize its real potential, Fuller wants the course to attract not just golfers like him, who birdie more often than bogey. He wants every players to leave the 18th green challenged, but not bored or exhausted.
"Hopefully it will draw the whole spectrum of golf players," Fuller said.