One year later...Long Shadow is all grown up
story by Patrick Yost • photos by Patrick Yost
The prevailing wind is from the north, today.
At one of the highest points in Morgan County, the Long Shadow Golf Course rises into the wind like the bow of a schooner. Tomorrow it may be a south wind, the next day the wind may swirl.
You never know. You just know there is going to be wind.
Owner and developer Paul Donnelly smiles at the notion. The golf course he completed in 2007 has grown faster than the musk thistle that bunches up in the high fescue Donnally saved and transplanted from the former Hilltop Dairy, the original owner of the 1,000 acres. In the wind the hip–high fescue swirls and flashes, ebbs and flows. Today the wind is strong. Today the grass has a liquid feel.
It might as well. A ball that finds that grass is gone. Deep–sixed. Re-tee and hit three.
Long Shadow is all grown up, now.
Skip the trip to Scotland. Drive a couple miles south of Madison and embrace the rugged origins of golf. Donnelly’s dream is all too real.
The first time Donnelly walked the gradual sloping land that encompasses Long Shadow Golf Course he says he saw it. Like most great courses, Long Shadow has been sitting under row crops and hay for years, waiting for the spark of life.
“I saw a great golf course as an integral part of a great development. You can walk around out here, and people do.”
It’s all part of his vision of a heath land or European park land style course. Long Shadow, which was recently rated as the fifth toughest golf course in Georgia by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, meanders through 7,346 yards (from the championship tees) of the former dairy property through valleys and bottom lands out–lined by streams and the shimmering fescue. Donnelly, working with noted golf architect Mike Young, purposefully allowed the routing of the course to flow with the gentle confines of the land. The fairways are wide and fair. Anything off is punished, oftentimes severely. The grass taketh, but doesn’t giveth, much.
Despite the intimidating visual fresco Long Shadow is playable and with five sets of tees with distances ranging from 5,235 to 7,346. With the wide choice of tee boxes, golfers of all skill levels should find a comfort zone on the course.
With a year’s worth of growing it is beginning to blossom. Donnelly says another year, with the right combination of water and sun, things will be right.
“It will get better over the years,” Donnelly says.
This year, the same year it opened, Golfweek magazine named Long Shadow the fourth best course in the state that was available to public play. And still, there’s an upside.
Donnelly is a developer.
His current office shares room with the pro shop at Long Shadow. Inside a pre–manufactured structure that sits in the shadow of the future clubhouse, Donnelly sits behind a spacious desks filled the trappings of a developer. There are maps, world maps, architectural designs, topography maps, files and a steady hum of phone calls. On a shelf behind the developer, wedged between family photos, is a placard marked with a simple mantra.
“Do it now,” it says.
Donnelly is definitely a developer.
But the maps and the files and drawings are spread around. When it comes to talking golf, the phone calls wait. Next to his desk, close enough that you would have to walk around them, is a set of golf clubs. It’s a prominent feature to the man’s work space.
He’s a golfer, too.
When Long Shadow Head Golf Professional John Nordan looks down the fairway of the lengthy 11th hole, a 480–yard uphill test, he embraces the vision. The hole is framed with mounds to the right, enlarged bunkers to the left. The tall fescue defines the generous fairway. That is how it should be, Nordan says.
“As far as shaping the holes… in a links style golf course if you don’t have definition it’s not all it can be.”
Since the course opened, and with the full cycle of a growing season, the firm fairways are knitting together. Occasionally the red clay base of the fairway peeks through a thin spot. Add heat and sparse water and you get a fast track. That too, is by design. “We want the fast, firm links style golf,” Nordan says. Since opening Nordan has watched the course transform. “Now, it’s a totally different golf course.”
Word has spread, Nordan says. The course is hosting players from metro Atlanta and points north and south. And the word is, “it’s still just pure golf,” Nordan says.
For purist, they have found a home, a mecca.
Shhhh. Come closer.
Long Shadow has a secret, of sorts. Despite the hardy 7,346 length from the championship tees, there is another set of boxes that isn’t publicized. In fact, Donnelly doesn’t even know how much longer the course plays from the mystery tees. On five holes there are championship boxes on steroids. They are pushed back into, dark, lonely places where things with no shoulders live. Walk back there and take nourishment with you. The added boxes are marked with bright red tee markers, like buoys in the mist. You can spot them if you look. Play them if you dare. They push the course to more than 7,500 yards.
Donnelly is also adding longer tee boxes on the par 3 eighth hole and the par 4 ninth. The fairway on the par 5 fifth hole is being reshaped to offer another option on the tough approach. “We’re just tweaking it,” Donnelly says.
Late in the afternoon the name becomes apparent. With the sun setting in the west, the course becomes a stark relief in black and green. The large oak and pine trees that also frame fairways and greens cast wide and sharp shadows across the manicured greens.
Nordan can’t walk away. After a long day running the shop chances are you’ll find him out there in the last rays of light. He’s a golfer at heart too. When the siren calls, he answers.
Still, it’s pure golf.