Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain: The grand old dame of Georgia resorts
PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- Callaway Gardens has been around for a long time. Since it opened in 1952, it has been one of the most popular destinations in Georgia.
Over the years, it may have been nudged aside in the public's consciousness by a series of newer destinations with shinier bells and whistles. But to discount the grand old dame would be a mistake.
Callaway Gardens is probably better now than ever. Renovations and updates over the last decade have helped the resort remain relevant, particular with families and groups.
And its role as a golf destination remains rock solid. It continues to be an excellent spot to book a buddy trip, a church outing or a husband-wife weekend (even if one is a non-golfer).
Golf at Callaway Gardens
Founder Cason Callaway believed golf should be a "pleasant experience in beautiful surroundings" and contracted with James B. McGovern to deliver. McGovern -- who was the supervisor when A.W. Tillinghast built Winged Foot and played a similar role with Donald Ross -- built the original nine holes at Callaway. Those holes remain as part of the Lake View Course. The other nine holes were designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee and completed in 1961.
Callaway Gardens' Lake View Course is the easier of the two at the resort. It plays only 6,158 from the back tees to par 70. Water comes into play on nine of the holes, with five of those following Mountain Creek Lake. It's a fun course to play and mid-to-high handicappers will enjoy it, even if the water seems to pop up at the least opportune time.
The signature hole is the par-3 10th, which features an island tee and a winding bridge over the lake. This is the most photographed hole on the complex. Just make sure you take enough club on the deceptively difficult 163 yarder or you'll get your picture taken while hitting from the drop area.
There are plenty of doglegs to keep your interest. No. 7 is a bender to the right, and no. 8 is a banana to the left. The eighth hole plays only 314 from the back and offers a temptation for big hitters to cut the corner and drive the green.
The back nine is the tougher side, even though it plays to par 34. The 11th hole is bordered by water all the way down the left side, the par-3 13th requires almost a full carry over the 173 yards and the 15th is a narrow par 5. The back nine finishes with mid-length doglegs: the 17th to the left and the 18th to the right with a forced carry over water to the green.
The Mountain View Course at Callaway Gardens was opened in 1965 and designed by Wilson. It plays to par 72 and can be stretched to 7,057 yards. Mountain View is more difficult than its sister course, not only because of the length but also because of the fairways. They're much narrower, and most are lined by pine trees that have grown much taller than Wilson could have imagined when he first put pen to paper. The white tees, which play 6,630 yards, are difficult if you can't put the ball in play off the tee.
Mountain View was good enough to host the PGA Tour event from 1991 to 2002 and won by the likes of David Duval, David Toms, Davis Love III, Fred Funk and twice by Steve Elkington. The tournament was especially popular with the professionals, who found it a good place to bring their families and relax, but the PGA Tour was looking for a bigger market and pulled the plug. It has hosted big-time college events, as well as a leg of the PGA Tour's qualifying school.
The signature hole is no. 6, a par 5, that requires a tee shot over water to a tight landing area. It plays 539 yards from the back and 520 from the white tees. The water runs the length of the fairway on the right side and eventually forces an approach shot to clear the water.
None of the par 5s are cupcakes. Three of the four are 500-plus yards from the middle tees, and each can leave you feeling claustrophobic. The 11th and 16th each dogleg to the right. Don't expect to dominate or overpower these par 5s.
Water isn't really an issue on Mountain View. There's a little bit to the left of the green on no. 3, but if you find the wet stuff at no. 4 or no. 14, you might want to consider tennis.
Conditions on both golf courses remain consistently good. The greens are ample in size, as you might expect from a resort course, with enough undulation to keep them interesting. The fairways and tee boxes are kept in good condition.
The resort also has a large practice area. There are 1 1/2 acres of manicured tees that feature multiple target greens. There are two sand bunkers and a large chipping area for short-game practice, as well as a large putting green.
Accommodations at Callaway Gardens
The majority of overnight visitors stay at the Garden Creek Inn, which was the largest hotel between Chattanooga, Tenn., and Tallahassee, Fla., when it opened in 1956. Some of the rooms offer scenic views, but there's nothing really special about the Inn, although it is a great jumping off point for the resort.
The Southern Pines Cottages are tucked away in the woods on the north end of the resort. There are 155 one- and two-bedroom cottages that feature queen-sized beds, a full kitchen and dining area, a spacious living area, and a screened porch. Southern Pines is an affordable option to the Garden Creek Inn, particular for families with young children, who will have more room to run around than they'd get at a hotel.
The Mountain Creek Villas offer the most luxurious accommodations at the resort. The two- and three-bedroom homes give you a chance to enjoy the quiet but still have the same amenities you'd get at a top-end hotel.
Dining at Callaway Gardens
The most popular dining establishment at the resort is the Country Kitchen, located in the Callaway Gardens Country Store at the southern end of the property. The homey restaurant sits on a ridge that offers a scenic view of the land that Cason Callaway began to develop in the 1940s.
The Country Kitchen serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The portions are plentiful, and breakfast is particularly good. The biscuits are fluffy and are more than inviting to receive that sausage gravy -- if you like that sort of thing. If you're planning to eat at the Country Kitchen, be sure to give yourself plenty of time. It definitely isn't fast food -- but it's worth the wait because you're guaranteed a tasty meal.
The Plant Room restaurant serves a breakfast buffet on most days. It offers a dinner buffet on Friday (a Southern theme) and Saturday (an Italian theme) that will leave you needing to take a calorie-burning walk around one of the many trails.
The Vineyard Green offers casual dining with a wide variety of options. You can order a burger or wings, as well as steaks, seafood and chicken. There's a bar inside if you're just looking for a place to watch a game or simply relax.
The fine dining on property is the Gardens Restaurant, which is located in the original clubhouse. The Gardens is only open for dinner, and reservations are recommended. This is the place to go if you have a taste for local and regionally grown food with a Southern flair. It's worth getting dressed up to eat here at least once on your visit.
If you want to leave the property, the nationally renowned Whistling Pig Café is definitely a place worth visiting. The barbecue pork rules the menu and shouldn't be missed, but the ribs and chicken get high marks, too. The Whistling Pig is about half a mile north of Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain.
Callaway Gardens' attractions
Admission to the 2,500-acre garden includes a series of easy-to-moderate walking trails, miles of bicycle trails, the Day Butterfly Center, the Sibley Horticultural Center and the Discovery Center, which features the popular Birds of Prey show that brings visitors within a wingspan of owls, hawks and eagles. The more adventurous will enjoy the zip line trail.
Robin Lake Beach opens in late spring and hosts the annual Masters Water Ski Tournament on Memorial Day Weekend. Callaway also holds a concert by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on the beach and hosts several concerts by pop and country artists.
Callaway Gardens: The verdict
Callaway Gardens remains a viable destination for many demographics. It's close enough for residents of Atlanta to make the 90-minute trip to play a round of golf. It's diverse enough to host a romantic weekend for a couple -- even if one of them wants to play golf while the other enjoys the flora and fauna. And there's plenty of room to bring a group of buddies for all-you-want golf on quality courses that are kept in good condition.
If you're an Atlantan and have never been to Callaway Gardens -- or haven't been in a while -- you've got to put this place on your bucket list. It's definitely worth the trip.
June 24, 2015