Photos Rob Smith
Since the time of its origins on the windy hills of Scotland in the Middle Ages, golf has grown, evolved, and spread, ultimately securing for itself a permanent and illustrious place in the consciousness of international sporting. Today, this game is not exclusive to either the professional golfer or the wealthy; it is played by a wide range of people of varying backgrounds. It has become as much a lifestyle phenomenon as it has an activity. Golf courses provide a place of escape from the hectoring troubles of life, as well as an opportunity to take part in both competition and companionable conversation.
Golf is a game that combines eye-hand coordination, finesse, patience, and strategic thinking with a love for the wide-open spaces of the great outdoors. Today, whether a person is a pro or attending their very first golf clinic, the widespread availability of golf courses has made this intriguing game accessible to the general public. For many Northwest Georgians, just such a place is conveniently located within easy driving distance: the Cartersville Country Club.
Born to play the game
If the direction of anyone’s career seems preordained, it is that of Jonathan Mattox, general manager of the Cartersville Country Club. There’s never been a time in his life that he wasn’t around golf. Mattox grew up on St. Simons Island, where his father ran a golf course (and still does). “My dad is 72 years old and still works every day,” says Mattox, who was trotting along on the greens at his father’s heels as soon as he was old enough to carry a club. “I’ve played the game my whole life.”
Mattox began his career as an assistant pro at a golf club in the Atlanta area. Since then, he has worked similar jobs around the South. “Our best friends moved to Cartersville three years ago, and when we came to visit them, we fell in love with the area. With my wife being from Marietta, we’ve always wanted to relocate somewhere near there.” In September of last year, when Mattox took up his role at the club, he and his wife made the move to Cartersville, where they are building a new life with their two daughters, three-year-old Madeline and eight-month-old Emily. He adds, “We’re thrilled to be here.”
A home away from home
Founded in 1954 by several members of the local community, the Cartersville Country Club originally created a nine-hole course. According to Golf Course Ranking, a ratings and reviews service, famed golf course architect Arthur Davis and South African golfing great Gary Player designed and added nine new holes and redesigned the existing nine in 1972. In the early 2000s another remodel was done, changing some of the greens and tee boxes.
The original clubhouse is still in use today. The building, which is stylishly traditional without feeling stuffy or ostentatious, was much expanded in the 1980s, and updates have been incorporated in subsequent years. Upon entering the front door of the clubhouse, a visitor will find a full-service golf pro shop offering lots of great apparel for playing golf and for lifestyle use, as well as high-quality clubs and a wide range of other golf paraphernalia.
One great benefit of club membership is the opportunity of having a club fitting, that is, being evaluated and measured to see what types and lengths of golf clubs would work best for the individual. “We highly encourage a club fitting,” says Mattox. “Pete Weber of Cool Clubs Atlanta offers a great club fitting for our members. He can match your clubs to your athletic ability and height.”
Mattox is quick to point out that the Cartersville Country Club is not just about golf; he stresses the importance of their social and dining components. Since it is a full-service private club, it anticipates the needs of its members when they show up hungry or in need of social interaction. For one thing, they employ an award-winning chef.
Mattox says, “We provide not only lighter fare, but also a full-service dining room. Members can come out and have a nice steak in a beautiful setting that overlooks the eighteenth green and our giant old oak trees.” He adds, “And the Founder’s Lounge is a great place to relax and enjoy an adult beverage before after a round of golf.”
Some visits to the club involve different kinds of entertainment. They host Comedy Night, spotlighting standup comedians. Then there’s the Murder Mystery Dinner, where diners can take part in an audience participation version of solving a fictional murder. Recently, the club featured a magician who entertained the children with tricks and slight-of-hand.
The Cartersville Country Club is a fun place for the whole family. “We have our Kids Club,” Mattox says. “That allows members to drop their children off and enjoy our amenities, knowing their children are safe and having a good time with our Kids Club staff, doing fun activities, maybe watching a movie.” (And this Easter there will be an Easter carnival with an egg hunt, rides, and games.)
More family fun can be found at the swimming complex, with its outdoor pavilion and good dining menu. Maddox says, “It’s a great place to cool off with a swim, relax, and have a great meal with the family.”
Perfecting the swing
While it’s true that golf is a game that constantly challenges players to achieve for themselves a new personal best, it also invites people to play at their own level of skill and experience. Unlike such sports as basketball, football, and track & field, golf doesn’t require players to be extraordinarily tall or strong or fast. “Almost anyone can take the game up,” Mattox says. “It can be a hard game to learn for some; it takes some patience in the beginning process of getting the basics. I often suggest people take up the game with somebody else. It’s hard to learn it by yourself, so have a friend come out with you and take some introductory lessons.”
Fortunately, the Cartersville Country Club has the PGA professionals to help novice players start out on the right track, teaching them the fundamentals. That way, golfers don’t have to unlearn bad habits somewhere down the road. “Our job as PGA professionals is to help you find that proper balance between practice and play,” Mattox says. “To improve your game, you need to make sure you play at least nine holes on a regular basis—at least once per week.” He also suggests golfers make regular use of the club’s driving range, as he puts it: “to keep the rust off.” At the practice facility, golfers can work on their full swing, use the putting green and chipping area. The club’s goal is to help the player learn and improve in every area of the game.
For those who want to learn the game from scratch or improve their present play, the club provides the Scott Hamilton Golf Academy. “Scott is the number one instructor in the state of Georgia and among the top fifty instructors in the nation,” Mattox says. “He’s our long-time professional, and now he focuses on golf instruction full-time. He works with several PGA professionals, too.”
The professionals at the Cartersville Country Club know that there is an intrinsic connection between the improvement of the technical skills of golf and the social aspect of playing the game. As Mattox puts it: “Our PGA staff can help you get to know other players who are at your same playing level—same age, same stage of life. That way, you can enjoy the game, but you can also enjoy all the other aspects of club life.”
“The unique thing about golf,” says Mattox, “is you can participate no matter what phase of life you’re in.” Mattox sees the game as a lifelong pursuit. He adds, “You can start out in a junior golf tournament and then carry on throughout your whole adult life, even into your senior golden years. We have members in their 90s who are still active and out there playing the game.” Mattox goes on to explain how the Cartersville Country Club makes helpful allowances to accommodate players’ changing needs: “You can play different sets of tees at different yardages that will help you enjoy the game more, and people can move up further on different tee boxes as they get older.”
Resurgence and rediscovery
In the last couple of years, golf has gotten a shot in the arm (so to speak) from an unexpected source. The global pandemic. When the lockdowns occurred, people began to try things they had long wanted to do but never had time for. Baking bread. Cooking. Birdwatching. Families began playing boardgames together, doing puzzles. Some took up painting or physical training at home. When social distancing became an enforced part of life, golf became an obvious solution to people’s frustration of being cooped up indoors.
“When the pandemic hit it was a boon for our industry,” Mattox says. “It got people outside, and golf was something they could do safely. We saw huge rounds increases, not just here but worldwide.” Maddox explains that during Covid lots of people who used to play golf took the game back up, and people who had played very little in the past began to play much more. They went to the golf courses and took their friends with them, thus creating new fans of the game. He says, “Because people were working from home, they didn’t have those long commutes, and they found they had time for golf.”
Club life for a new generation
The Cartersville Country Club has now been around long enough to have deep roots in the community in a substantial way. For some families, membership has become a meaningful tradition. “Seeing how our club was formed in 1954—and, thankfully, we still have some of our founding members with us—we are beginning to really see the multigenerational factor here,” Mattox says. “Some of our families now have their third generation involved in the club. We’ve been a big part of this community for a long time now.”
One of the present goals of the Cartersville Country Club is, of course, growth. “People keep moving to the Bartow County and Cartersville area,” Mattox says, “so as this community continues expanding, we’re gearing the club up for the future. We make sure we always offer an amazing golf course and a great lineup of activities and programs for the entire family.”