Atlanta brings best of the South to traveling golfers

By William K. Wolfrum, Contributor

AtlantaAtlanta's symbol is the Phoenix, a legendary bird of Egyptian mythology that rose from its own ashes with renewed strength and beauty. For a city like Atlanta, that had a bad run of it in Civil War times, the symbolism is obvious. For travelers, Atlanta has consistently been a city that pushes the envelope when it comes to taking care of visitors.

With moderate weather (usually averaging in the 50s in the winter months), golf has a strong foothold in Atlanta's thriving sports scene, especially during the travel-rich spring time, when Georgia weather is ideal.

Golf courses and resorts are plentiful in the general Atlanta area, and state tourism officials boast that as many as 50 public courses are within a 45-minute drive from downtown Atlanta. Of course, remember that Atlanta has some of the nation's worst traffic, but some good planning should help keep you tie-up free.

Must plays

If you are looking for a serious challenge, Crooked Creek Golf Club is the place to go.

It should run in the $75 area to get on at Crooked Creek, but the Mike Reilly design is well worth the price. Duffers will love the clear shots off the tee to the fairway, but better be prepared to work the irons, as many of the holes have elevated and well-bunkered greens and other challenges for approach shots on this 6,960-yard, 137-slope course.

While veteran golfer's likely have plenty of experience on Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, Bear's Best offers a golfer's the opportunity to play 18 of Nicklaus's best hole designs. The course showcases some of the great holes from such Nicklaus designs as PGA West, Muirfield Village, Castle Pines and Shoal Creek.

Bear's Best plays 6,850 yards from the tips and is very playable for most levels of golfers, making the $65+ green fees seem more investment than outlay.

Woodmont Golf Club offers Robert Trent Jones, Jr.'s first design in Georgia. The beautiful scenery is complemented by five par-3s and par-5s, giving players ample opportunities to keep down scores.

Tough greens on the back nine will do little to take away from your experience, as the course's upkeep, staff and overall playability over 6,830 yards makes it one of Atlanta's top golf destinations.

Cobblestone Golf Club is as good of value as you may find around Atlanta, though be prepared for a tough round. With fees in the $50s, this 6,759-yard course with a 140-slope rating will challenge golfers of all levels. Despite the fact that Golf Digest gave it a Four-Star rating and Golf Magazine named it as "A Top 100 Course You Can Play," the staff is very welcoming to walk-ins.

Solid seconds

Frog Golf ClubWindermere Golf Course is where you'll find Davis Love III's first foray into course design, and the results make you want more from the 1997 PGA Championship winner.

Winding through a planned community, the course rewards long hitters, especially on the Par-5s, where long hitters should be able to take a shot at getting on in two without being severely punished for mistakes. The par-4 No. 12 offers a beautiful view from a 200-foot elevated tee box. Green fees will run in the $75 area.

The Olde Atlanta Golf Course offers a course that demands accuracy. Water, bunkers and tight tree lines will force some adjustments from golfers just wanting to stay on the fairways. The course measures 6,789 yards and has a slope rating of 137, making it more of a shotmaker's course. Green fees will run from $55-$75, and make sure to make your tee time at least seven days in advance.

Tom Fazio's 7,018-yard, 137-slope Frog Golf Club shows off the legendary designer's playful side, with waste bunkers and false fronts on the greens coming into play. Ironically, not much water on the course, though you'll enjoy keeping dry with green fees in the $50-$75 range.

Orchard Hills Golf Club is a local favorite, with its bow to Scottish links play. As an added plus, designer Don Cottle managed to import some of Scotland's wind to the 27-hole course. Most locals don't seem to mind the extra challenge, however, especially with green fees in the $50 area.

Hamilton Mill Golf Club is 30 miles outside Atlanta and represents Fred Couples' early course design work.

Also playing

CobblestoneNear Hartsfield International Airport are River's Edge and Wolf Creek, which both present good values for players looking to be on the fairways immediately after landing. Another 25 minutes from town will take you to Arnold Palmer's Cherokee Run, one of the King's more adventurous creations.

In Alpharetta, a well-to-do suburb northeast of the city, the White Columns Golf Club, is a 7,000-yard, Tom Fazio gem, while the Trophy Club has been around since 1991. Stone Bridge Golf Club in Rome and Arnold Palmer's Cherokee Run Golf Course in Conyers are all among the state's top layouts.

While many swear that the best golf in Atlanta is actually outside the city somewhat, you don't have to leave Atlanta for golf. Options range from executive tracks like Candler Park Golf Courseand Alford Tup Holmes Golf Club to historical tracks such as Bobby Jones Golf Course, built in 1934, and North Fulton Golf Course.

One of the more highly regarded in-town public layouts is Brown's Mill. Opened in 1960, it's a well-conditioned yet substantial course located south of downtown. Another attractive offering is Charlie Yates Golf Course, an executive-length 18-hole course designed by Rees Jones and operated by neighboring East Lake Golf Club.The public city courses are fairly priced, with green fees ranging $18-$35.

Resorts

Few cities make staying in a resort more attractive than Atlanta. It just seems like a place where you should stretch out, surround yourself in luxury and sip mint juleps.

Chateau Elan((678) 425-0900) is a superstar resort on 3,500 acres about 45 minutes north of Atlanta. Mixed among acres of vineyards are 54 holes of championship golf, and another executive nine.

The Chateau, Legends and Woodlands courses are all not just playable, but top notch. All three are Dennis Griffiths designs, and the Legends has hosted the Gene Sarazen World Open, though it has made the move to private course recently.

Located in the home of NASCAR driver Bill Elliott, the Gold Creek Resort ((770) 271-0050) in Dawsonville sits in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains 60 miles north of downtown Atlanta.

The Gold Creek Resort originally opened as an 18-hole layout in 1995 and was selected Georgia's "Best New Course" by Golf Digest. The course now offers three distinct, challenging and enjoyable nines - the Nugget, Prospector and El Dorando - with each playing just short of 3,500 yards from the back tees.

If the opportunity presents itself, travel a bit further for a stay at the historical Sea Island Resort ((912) 638-3611). At more than 75 years of age, Sea Island is finishing up a $200 million overhaul of the resort's legendary Cloister Hotel. You'll also have access to a couple great courses in the exclusive Rees Jones-designed Ocean Forest Golf Club, the Davis Love redesign of the Retreat Course and, of course, the Sea Island Golf Club.

Finally, the Renaissance Pineisle Resort & Golf Club((678) 482-3551) is surrounded by the Lake Lanier and located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The nearby Emerald Pointe Golf Club will supply golfers with a 125-slope, Joe Lee design.

Stay and Play

Bear's BestAtlanta has continued to grow as a convention destination. One of downtown's best hotels for business travelers is the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Peachtree, where more than 1,200 rooms and 180,000 square feet of meeting space is available, the largest in the city. Every possible hotel chain, like Marriott, Holiday Inn and others, are also options.

There are plenty of places to stay within city limits, and while staying downtown might force a long drive to golf during the day, it's the ultimate convenience for enjoying the city's nightlife. Tourist hotspots include Underground Atlanta, a former underground transportation system where six city blocks have been developed into a marketplace of trendy restaurants and specialty shops, and Buckhead, a section of bars and clubs off of Peachtree street for the heartiest partiers and weekend warriors. For families, the Six Flags over Georgia and the Zoo Atlanta will keep the kids occupied.

Hyatt Regency Suites
2999 Windy Hill Road
Marietta, GA 30067
(770) 956-1234

Hilton Atlanta Northeast
5993 Peachtree Industrial Blvd.
Norcross, GA 30092-3402
(770) 447-4747

Crowne Plaza Atlanta-Ravinia
4355 Ashford Dunwwody Road
Atlanta, GA 30346
(770) 395-7700

Callaway Gardens - Mountain Creek Inn
U. S. Hwy. 27
Pine Mountain, GA 31822-2000
(800) 225-5292

Eating Out

Like any metropolitan town, Atlanta boasts fine food from around the globe. From trendy to high-class and from American to Thai cuisine, Atlanta offers culinary delights for all varieties of taste buds.

La Tavola Trattoria
992 Virginia Ave., NE
Atlanta, GA 30306
(404) 873-5430

Rathbun's
112 Krog Street
Atlanta, GA 30307
(404) 524.8280

Twist Restaurant & Tapas Bar
3500 Peachtree Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30326
(404) 869-1191

Emeril's Atlanta
3500 Lenox Road
Atlanta, GA 30326
(404) 564-5600

Fast fact

Atlanta is the nation's number one destination for African-American travelers, according to the 2004 Travel Industry Association report.

William K. WolfrumWilliam K. Wolfrum, Contributor

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.


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