Ohoopee Match Club Named 2019 Best New Private Course by Golf Digest
Last winter when Ron Whitten gathered the entries for Golf Digests 2019’s Best New course, he did not give much attention to the little match club in south Georgia that entered the private category.
“This is why I don’t Gamble,” laughed Whitten. “I privately handicapped the chances of each course, just for my amusement. I gave long odds to Gil Hanse’s entry in the private category, Ohoopee Match Club, an exclusive course in rural Georgia designed to cater to match play, with a total of 22 holes in two routings. Though it sounded like a fascinating concept, I figured that because our evaluation criteria seems tailored toward stroke-play competition, panelists would struggle to fit our square pegs into Ohoopee’s offbeat golf holes.”
However, Hanse’s unconventional creation won the balloting and the Ohoopee Match Club has been named Golf Digest’s 2019 Best New Course of the year in the private category.
It is rumored that Gil Hanse started looking at the site for the Ohoopee Match Club as early as 2006, and he was enthralled with the rolling hills and perfectly sandy soil deposited by the Ohoopee river. The course is located in Cobbtown, GA, well known for growing onions due to its close proximity to Vidalia GA, world-famous for the Vidalia onion. In tribute, Ohoopee’s logo is a freshly picked onion. If you look closely, the three roots are writhing indigo snakes, a rare breed local to the area.
The golf course at Ohoopee is a 7,325 yard championship course with dramatic visuals built into the sandy rolling hills. The fairways are extremely wide, so that few fairway bunkers eat into any landing area. It would seem that Hanse is encouraging players to swing as hard as they can off the tee in search of birdies and eagles. To add to the unconventionality of the course, the scorecard lists the 2nd, 6th, and 12th holes as par 4 ½. The 14th hole is not considered a drivable par 4; it is a par 3 ½. But remember that par does not matter in a match-play design! The half-pars were added as a simple bit of whimsy to match the drink coasters in the clubhouse that read “No One Cares What You Shot.” To add to the sentiment of removing certain gamesmanship, the landing areas of several holes are obscured from view so that players will not know the fate of the opponent's tee shot, eliminating the desire to automatically play it safe. The idea at the Ohoopee Match Club is to simply have fun.
The fun goes beyond the golf course to the clubhouse which was built by Fraser Construction and designed by Joel Newman with Thomas & Denzinger Architects. The inspiration for all of the buildings at the Ohoopee Match Club was taken from the agricultural landscape of Tattnall County.
“It was very important to everyone working on this project that the feel of the club is that of a classic farmhouse from the onion and peanut counties of Georgia and NOT a plantation house of the bygone era,” said Jay Fraser of Fraser Construction. “We wanted players and their families to feel casual and comfortable in order to enjoy themselves.”
By using reclaimed materials and an aesthetic that blends with the surrounding farms, the designers and builders worked hard to incorporate the natural setting into every detail. When the design-build team became aware that the rare gopher-tortoise is native to the area, they decided to honor the animal by sinking the lower level of the clubhouse into the sand. The section of the club is called “The Burrows” and is designed to make the inhabitants feel as though they are in a gopher-tortoise burrow.
After studying the architecture of south Georgia farmhouses, lead architect Joel Newman added a 3rd floor owner’s quarters with a fire watch-tower that blends in with the native architectural landscape. From the top of the tower, one has a 360 degree view of the countryside for over three miles.
“They thought of everything,” one guest said, matter/of-factly, “simply everything, down to the detail that every sink has a built in water filter in order to cut down on the use of wasteful plastic bottles. Simply put, this is the best club I have ever visited.”