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Ashton Hills named one of the best courses in area

Staff photo: Manny Fils  Golfers test themselves on the opening hole at Ashton Hills Golf Club.

Staff photo: Manny Fils Golfers test themselves on the opening hole at Ashton Hills Golf Club.

COVINGTON -- There's no need to go anywhere to play one of the best golf courses in the Atlanta area after Ashton Hills Golf Club was recently voted one of the top nine courses according to PGA.com.

Ashton Hills, which was ranked the No. 8 course in Georgia, was ahead of Augusta's Forest Hills Golf Club and behind Reynolds Plantation.

"I wasn't even aware that it was going on. They don't contact the golf courses or anything," Ashton Hills Director of Golf Bryan Raines said. "The way I found out, my old assistant sent me a text asking if I had seen it. I read it and was pleased."

Also making the list were Cobbleston Golf Club (Acworth), Chateau Elan (Braselton), The Frog (Villa Rica), Stone Mountain Golf Club (Stone Mountain), Echelon Golf Course (Alpharetta) and Bear's Best (Suwanee).

"We're with a pretty good collection of golf courses. I was pretty pleased and it obviously shows we're heading in the right direction making some progress," Raines said. "It's great, especially being recognized by my association."

The Desmond Muirhead-designed and laid out golf course, which opened for business in 1997, has not been through any drastic changes. Raines said that a lot of small changes have been made to improve course conditions. A couple of the major improvements that have been made since it reopened under the Ashton Hills name have been the removal of more than 300 trees and, more importantly, the greens have been changed, making the course a bit easier to get around.

"Changing conditions of the greens is a major thing," Raines said. "Being able to go through the summer not worrying about the grass dying is a huge plus. With Bermuda, you're getting faster, firmer conditions so the ball rolls better. This time of the year we're normally battling soft, spongy greens with tons of ball marks but now we're not. I guess that's a positive.

"We've widened the fairways in some areas and we've cut down well over 300 trees since we reopened. We're going continue on the path that we're going to make the golf course as player-friendly as possible."

Other changes done to make the course more playable for the average golfer include lowering the height of the rough, increasing the height of the fairway grass and taking some slope off the greens while maintaining a fair and challenging speed for putting.

"There's always room for improvement in quality as well as playability," Raines said. "The nature of the golf course is that it's very shot-oriented. You have to make good shots all the way around. If you go to sleep you could make a double (bogey) in a heartbeat. But that's also a positive. I think the more avid golfers enjoy a true test."

"We have to keep attention to detail. We've brought in a new superintendent and new staff. John Fields, our new superintendent, has done a great job with maintaining the golf course. The maintenance crew is doing a fantastic job. We've changed things around and we're seeing success with it. We want to keep the condition in great shape to keep the players coming out."