The History of the Legends Golf Course
Designed with the vision of three golf legends, the Legends Golf Course at Château Élan is draped in a legacy that stretches over three decades.
It was the Friday of the Masters week in 1990. Don Panoz was in his cozy upstairs office in the Château Élan clubhouse when he invited his director of golf for a private meeting. Knowing how often Don was traveling and was rarely in town, Mike Bishop was aware of the private meeting’s importance when he was stepping into the first clubhouse built on the property.
“Mike, we are going to build a second course, and it’s going to be a private club. Now, we need a name for it. Do you have any ideas?”
Mike asked to give it some more thought but only had the luxury of pondering for a minute. Lying on Don’s desk was the Friday Sports section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. On the front page of the Sports was the photo of Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson. The heading read “The Legends of Golf.”
Without hesitation, Don said, “Mike, we are going to name our private club ‘The Legends’.”
Built by Legends, for Legends
Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson had the honor of hitting the ceremonial opening tee shots at the Masters each year. They were the ideal choice for Don’s golf-fantasia. The plan was developing, but a lady Legend would also be added, replacing Byron Nelson.
Both Don and Mike uttered the name “Kathy Whitworth,” as they came up with the idea, followed by laughter. She was the most successful women golfer of all time, winning 88 professional events. It was a no brainer and an honor to have Kathy as one of the original Legends.
But the three seasoned golfers were much more than just an inspiration for the court’s character. Within a matter of months, Gene, Kathy, and Sam signed on to participate in the design of the Legends course, along with architect Denis Griffiths. Each of them contributed by choosing their favorite 6 holes from around the world that they wanted to mimic into the final composition. All three lent their expertise, but according to Don Panoz, Sarazen took a special interest in it.
As a matter of fact, in the years 1991-1993, Sarazen would hit his opening tee shot at the Masters and would come directly to the Legends within hours of the events. He wanted to ride all 18 holes of “his self-proclaimed golf course,” as he would often jokingly claim. One of the ways Don honored Gene for his involvement was by creating an S-Shaped bunker on the left side of #3 green.
The three golfers were all there for the ceremonial groundbreaking of “The Legends golf course” in 1991. The Legends clubhouse opened in 1993 with the Sarazen World Open Championship debuting in 1994.
A Story Rooted in Decades-Long Appreciation
Don Panoz’s impression with the legends, especially with Snead and Sarazen, goes back to the entrepreneur’s early times. Before his days of amassed fortune and dining with Hollywood stars, Don was educated at Greenbriar Military Academy in Lewisburg, West Virginia, before joining the US Army. One of his ways to work off demerits was to gather the golf balls at the neighborhood course where the pro on staff was Sam Snead. It was through this simple service and early association with Snead that Don Panoz fell in love with golf.
But it was Don’s exceptional appreciation for Sarazen, nicknamed “The Squire,” that is probably most notable. What he always admired the most in the prodigy who won two major championships at the age of 20 was the way he embodied the spirit of golf—his devotion, attitude, appearance, and commitment.
The two shared more than a never-ending adoration of golf. For instance, they both had an Italian heritage and a family history that led to abbreviated names. The Panoz family was originally Panunzio, while the Sarazens used to be Saraceni.
The Legends Course Today
Centered around beautiful forestry, the Legends is a private members-only golf club. Slightly detached from the estate’s two public courses, the court stretches across 6,781 yards and 18 holes. Open year-round, players can easily sense its tribute to traditional golf course architecture of the early 1900s.
We invite you to feast on more golf history in the Legend’s Clubhouse dining room with a view on several holes or to enjoy a challenging play for golfers at every skill level. Well-groomed fairways and greens keep the court difficult yet friendly, but the friendly staff is always happy to share their tips and tricks for playing your best round.