Okefenokee Country Club near Waycross: Georgia swamp golf minus the swamp
BLACKSHEAR, Ga. - Okefenokee Country Club is a private golf club just outside of Waycross, one of the Georgia cities that lays claim to being the gateway to the vast Okefenokee Swamp. With its name, you'd think the golf course would be a swampy thing, all alligators, snakes and mosquitoes, but it isn't. In fact, water isn't really evident until the back nine.
Okefenokee Country Club does have the advantage of having the beautiful Satilla River playing alongside the 15th hole. With its dark waters, high banks and sandy beaches, the narrow waterway is just a tantalizer, though; you wish it made more appearances.
The club opened in 1977 in a different location, closer to people than to alligators. But it was moved to its current location in later years and now winds through a very attractive, upscale neighborhood. Most of the holes have these neighborhood homes set back tastefully along the fairway perimeters.
The golf course is laid out on classic, south Georgia terrain, with gnarled old oaks dripping with Spanish moss, pines, palmettos and other southern flora and fauna - plenty of shade on a sweltering summer day. You can hear the cries of swamp birds occasionally and catch glimpses of hawks and other airborne predators.
Okefenokee Country Club was designed by Joe Lee, the man behind the famed La Quinta and the Blue Monster at Doral, near Miami. Lee is from the old school and likes to place his bunkers strategically, as opposed to some modern designers who use them as eye candy.
Okefenokee Country Club has fairway bunkers on most holes and they are, almost without exception, there for a good reason. Some of them guard doglegs, others guard the best routes to the green. Hit close to them, usually over them, and you'll get extra yardage from the roll. Hit in them and you have, well, a bunker shot.
If you're in the wrong position in the fairway, you're usually hitting soft, high shots over them into the greens.
"I think it's a fair test of golf," Head Professional Drew Pittman said. "It's well-bunkered and has fairly tight driving areas. The greens are well-protected."
The golf course conditioning is excellent throughout, and the Tidwarf greens are a delight. They have some interesting slope, but little undulation; if you're reasonably hot with the flat stick, you can make some putts here.
Okefenokee Country Club: The verdict
The Okefenokee Country Club is an excellent play for its 600 members and those guests who have reciprocal arrangements from other private clubs.
It's a good test from the back tees, at a little less than 6,800 yards, with its slope rating of 134. Lee's designs are usually subtle, and there are subtle challenges here: the sloping greens, the fairway and greenside bunkers and the different angles to the holes on tight, tree-lined fairways.
No. 15 is probably the prettiest hole, where you tee off over the winding Satilla River, but hardly the most challenging. No. 6 is a 434-yard par 4 with fairway bunkers on both sides and a well-protected, slightly elevated green.
The back nine, which also sports the most remote, house-free areas on the layout, has three very challenging holes very early on. No. 10 has a slender fairway, with branches overhanging parts of it, and No. 11 has a great risk/reward tee shot in which you can try to carry a small lake or play like a sissy to the right. No. 13 is a slight dogleg left with water down most of the left side.
No. 18 is also a good closing hole, with its uncharacteristic two-tiered green.
The Holiday Inn in nearby 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 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.
The hotel 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 to wash off the swamp bugs.
It has a business center and high-speed Internet service.
They're country friendly here, which means, for one thing, they allow pets. Also, ask about the Okefenokee Swamp package.
October 2, 2008