The vision for the golf course at Old Toccoa Farm and its surrounding housing development began just in time for a financial crisis, and the first nine holes were not opened until 2015. Four years later, the Bunker Hill company of Dave Axland—better known as the longtime shaper and bunker wizard for Coore & Crenshaw—and Dan Proctor finally completed the full 18. Those who visit this scenic region in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia may concur that late is certainly better than never.
That a course is available at all on such terrain is quite miraculous. It features nearly 300 feet of elevation change from its highest to its lowest point, running alongside the scenic Toccoa River, and gravity will have a significant role to play on nearly every hole.
No. 13 may play more than 600 yards, but the descent to the river may still seem reachable. Others will appreciate the eye-candy of the mountain range in the distance at the preceding par three, somewhat a mimic of the famous “Cliffhanger” at Greywolf. Some bunkers are banes, and others are blessings...preventing your ball from screaming into the wilderness.
Still, although this course is open to the general public for six days a week (call ahead), it was built for a membership of retirement age, meaning it maxes out at just 6,700 yards. Expect the majority of the difficulty to come from odd bumps and mounds forcing awkward lies, as well as green undulations from shaper Jack Dredla (now working full-time with the club to see it through its infancy).
Your correspondent had enough on his mind in terms of real mountains, namely the Blue Ridge mountains of North Georgia, and the impact they were having on both his ball and his cart. On the latter note, obey all the warning signs posted along the path. On the former note, I was basking in the warmth of having found the fairway maybe 80 yards short of the green, albeit a green blind upon approach due to a sudden and steep tilt in the slope of this particular mountain. A well-placed wedge would mean a well-earned look at the first score of the day. That well-placed wedge, however, found an all-too-conveniently placed hump at the last patch of fairway prior to the green, which sent my approach to the far end of the putting surface.
The moral of this memoir on mounds: Mountain golf has been, in my experience, a question of gravity and extended yardages to counteract those forces of physics. Old Toccoa Farm has no lack of gravity, and yet it maxes out at 6,700 yards. This relative lack of distance means something is needed to challenge the skilled golfer. This mound was just one example discovered during my day at Old Toccoa. I noted that my playing partner, a member (it’s open to all, just call in advance for tee times) kept a notebook for jotting notes. He had been playing the new route for months and continued to find new facets (during our round, for example, the speed slot your correspondent found over the left fairway hill on No. 6’s downhill tee shot. You’re welcome, sir). This is a testament to the groundwork and shaping handled by Dave Axland (somewhat the face of the Coore & Crenshaw bunker experience), Dan Procter, and lead shaper Jack Dredla. Although this appears to be another case of the modern minimalist trend, I learned that many tons of dirt were moved to create that impression/experience. And, as if to make up for the bitter mound at No. 2, many greens were created with punchbowl characteristics and many bunkers strategically placed so that fewer balls are lost because of the gravitational elements at play. Scores may be high, but at least expensive balls remain in play, and not in the woods.
As for standout holes, there are a few. The aforementioned No. 6 dives down to the idyllic Toccoa River, and the range of bumps and dips in the fairway somewhat simulate a more whitewater experience. What mountain courses often lack in strategy, they almost assuredly deliver in scenery. Old Toccoa has ample replay value in the knowledge accumulated during a round, but it does not cast the player’s more shallow desire for scenic vistas aside. The Par 3 at No. 12 is the highlight of them, with the Blue Ridges continuing in the background. The highlight comes early for the bold match player however, as No. 4 is a very drivable Par 4. Downhill and 313 from the tips, the player must carry a centerline bunker and ride a rightward groove down to the green; short or poorly struck efforts at heroism may ride that slope into a pond, which will encourage the wiser among us to lay up short of the centerline and pitch down to the green. Let us just say, from my round, that I consider wisdom to be code for “lame” (my tip for your little notebook: The mound at the crest of the downslope is an obvious target from the tee, but it’s a trap. Or at least ends with your drive in a deep one, greenside).
The river, while scenic, leads to the only ho-hum holes on the course. The transition from the tumbling terrain that leads down to the plane is simply too dramatic, and—even with friendly quirks like the double green shared between Nos. 14 and 16—the plainness of these four holes is a break in the action. They are not especially poor holes, but rather a break in character from their compatriots. I hate to admit it but...maybe a few more irritating mounds to break my birdie chances would spruce these holes up a bit.