CREEK, Ga. – As long as Ken Mangum serves as Atlanta Athletic Club’s director
of golf courses and grounds, he will not allow the club’s Highlands and
Riverside courses to rest on their laurels.
For as well
maintained and well received as the two courses have been during this week’s
114th U.S. Amateur Championship, Mangum knows they can be tweaked and improved.
smack of heresy, considering that in this century alone AAC has hosted two PGA
Championships (2001, 2011), a U.S. Junior Amateur (2002) and this week’s U.S.
Amateur. But Mangum likens himself to the little Mikey character who will eat
anything in the 1970s Life cereal commercials.
always looking for the next best thing,” Mangum said. "I’ve already got
several more zoysiagrasses we’ll look at for the next generation [of green renovations].
There’s always something better out there; we just have to find it.”
pursuit of the ideal turfgrass is one reason why Atlanta Athletic Club has the
only courses featuring a combination of Zeon zoysia and Diamond zoysia fairways,
Tifton 10 rough and Champion ultradwarf bermudagrass greens.
2011 PGA Championship, Golf Digest course reviewer Ron Whitten wrote, “Mangum came
up with the perfect prescription of grasses for a Southern venue championship
setup. … He’s the guy who, history will record, tilted the axis of major-championship
golf distinctly to the South.”
Jones may be noted for his recent reworkings of the Riverside and Highlands
courses, Jones deflects much of the credit to Mangum.
understands turfgrass as well as, if not better, than anyone else I know,”
Jones said. “He is always ahead of the curve and a lot of the courses’ successes
are due to Ken.”
mid-1980s, Mangum was serving as golf course superintendent at Idle Hour Club
in Macon, Ga. The course had two consecutive extremely cold winters that
essentially killed the bermudagrass greens.
them three options,” Mangum said. "We can replant and do what we’ve been
doing; replant and cover and not overseed, which is what people do on the
ultradwarfs now; or put in bentgrass.”
Mangum’s advice, Idle Hour switched to bentgrass, which garnered a great deal
of attention considering that not many courses in the Deep South were using bentgrass
at the time.
put into motion a series of fortuitous encounters that eventually led Mangum to
his current position at Atlanta Athletic Club.
call, you come,” said Mangum, 61, of Anniston, Ala. "When you knew the
history of the athletic club, it was pretty much a no-brainer.”
Mangum received both the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s
Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award and the USGA's Ike Grainger Award,
for 25 years of volunteer service to the USGA Green Section Committee. In
January, he will be inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.
quarter-century at AAC, he has served as the project manager for six major
course renovations. The courses have improved through unintended one-upsmanship.
For instance, after the Riverside Course reopened to acclaim in 2003, focus
turned to upgrading the Highlands Course.
[the Highlands], our championship golf course, we just held the PGA on it and
it’s now our second-best golf course on the property,” he said. “We didn’t see
that coming. We just tried to build the best course we could. So the reason
Highlands is where it is today is because we were forced to go back and rebuild
Highlands to try and make it better than Riverside.”
more notable Highlands changes were fairway bunkers being re-positioned to
challenge today’s longer hitters, greenside bunkers being made deeper and moved
closer to the greens, narrower fairways, and teeing grounds repositioned on
slightly sharper angles to the landing zones.
has continually incorporated cutting-edge turfgrasses, he credits the USGA for its
early 1980s, the USGA funded turfgrass research by Dr. Milt Engelke and Dr.
Jack Murray, who went to Asia and selected plants for their breeding programs. Ultimately
both zoysiagrasses used at AAC came from their work.
grasses around AAC have also had environmental impacts. Fairway and rough grasses
now require 50 percent less mowing – which increases the lifespan of
maintenance equipment and cuts down on fuel consumption – and the fairways need
only 25 percent of the nitrogen inputs that the bermudagrasses required. Also,
AAC has installed an irrigation system that allows the fairways and rough to be
There is little
doubt once this U.S. Amateur concludes that Mangum will be looking for ways to
take Atlanta Athletic Club’s courses to an even higher level.
Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears
on USGA websites.