The Lakes at Laura Walker State Park: A lonesome walk on an excellent golf course

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

The Lakes Golf Course at Laura Walker State Park is one of eight golf courses in the Georgia state park golf course system where the conditioning rivals that of most upscale, semi-private clubs.

Lakes Golf Course at Laura Walker State Park
The Lakes Golf Course at Laura Walker State Park is in a state park and plays through the Georgia woods, mainly pines.
Lakes Golf Course at Laura Walker State ParkThe Lakes Golf Course - GreensThe Lakes Golf Course - NatureThe Lakes Golf Course - Hole 5The Lakes Golf Course - Hole 9
If you go

WAYCROSS, Ga. - You can do many of the same things in a Georgia state park that you can do in any other state park in the country - swim, hike, fish, kayak or study bugs.

But, there is one thing the Georgia state park system offers that most other states cannot: Golf courses that are in as good or better condition than many upscale, semi-private golf clubs.

"That's our focus," said Steve Rudd, the head golf professional at The Lakes Golf Course at Laura Walker State Park, one of eight courses on the Peach State's golf course trail. "We really work hard at that."

It shows. The Lakes at Laura Walker is a good example. The golf course is outside of Waycross, deep in the Georgia woods with nothing but you and the lonesome pines. So lonesome, in fact, that you are warned not to drive or walk in the woods, lest you run into one of the more dangerous native species, like rattlesnakes.

Of course, being so close to the vast Okefenokee Swamp, there are also black bears, but you aren't likely to run into any so close to the course. Look for alligators in all the water on the golf course, though.

The course itself is in excellent shape, with lush fairways and nicely trimmed, slightly elevated tees. The greens are in near-pristine condition, and all the bunkers and even the sandy waste areas are in good shape. You'll even get mostly good lies in the primary rough.

The Lakes was designed by Steve Burns, who used to work for Tom Fazio. Burns is responsible for such courses as Dataw Island Golf Course and Wachesaw Plantation, both in South Carolina, and Hammock Dunes Club and Long Point at Amelia Island Plantation, both in Florida.

Burns routed the layout through the south Georgia woods and gave it some variety by building slightly elevated tee boxes and pushed-up greens. As you near the greens, the course picks up movement in the form of bunkers, mounds and some pretty tricky drop-offs. You'll need to be handy with some of your more lofted wedges here.

The Lakes is a very picturesque golf course, with three large lakes and small ponds dotting the landscape throughout. Fairways and landing areas are accentuated by links-style mounds.

The Lakes Golf Course at Laura Walker State Park: The verdict

The Lakes at Laura Walker is an excellent value, with green fees of $33 weekdays and $38 weekends, including cart. Junior and senior discounts are available.

You can play if from the back tees, at 6,595 yards, and not get worn out, even in the summer heat: The slope rating even from the tips is 122.

That doesn't mean it's a pushover.

"It's as tough as you want to make it," Rudd said. "There are some good risk/reward holes out there. If you want to test yourself, you can do it."

You can try to reach the 566-yard fourth in two, for example. It's a dogleg right with bunkers and a waste area guarding the corner. You'll need a good drive to have a shot at the big, sloping, heart-shaped green that drops off back and on the sides.

No. 9 is a long par 4 with a lake left that demands a big drive. No. 6 is a long, tricky par-3, and there are a couple of short par-4s that are drivable but with risks. The seventh hole is only 321 yards from the back tees, and the 12th is only 300 yards: It dares you to go for it, but you'll have to clear the bunkers short of the green or turn this into a bogey or worse hole.

The closing hole is one of the most scenic but treacherous. It's a mid-length par 4 that bends left, and the landing area is squeezed by the lake and fairway bunkers.

Waycross hotels and lodging

There are 44 camp sites available in the park.

If you're not into camping, the Holiday Inn in Waycross is a good place to stay if you want to sample Waycross' small sampling of golf or to play around in the big swamp. It's close to the Ware County airport and only 60 miles from the Jacksonville, Fla., airport.

The motel consists of a two-floor exterior corridor surrounding a pool area, with a good, full-service restaurant and lounge. Kids eat free. There's also a hot continental breakfast. It's right off the interstate, but the pool area is quiet.

It opened in 1963, but the property has had many renovations since. There is a relatively extensive fitness center, and the motel offers guests use of a bigger fitness center a block away. There are laundry facilities and a business center and high-speed Internet service available.

They're country friendly here, which means, for one thing, they allow pets. Also, ask about the Okefenokee Swamp package.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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