The best of golf at Georgia's state parks, away from urban hustle
Georgia is home to some great golf courses, the top being, of course, Augusta National. In Atlanta, there are a number of nationally recognized courses, like Peachtree, East Lake and Atlanta Country Club.
But, maybe you don't feel like battling the Atlanta traffic or paying those higher green fees that urban courses can charge. Maybe you want a more laid-back, rural feel, some room to breathe. Maybe you want to combine a little golf with some camping and nature walks.
If so, you're in luck. The Georgia state park system operates a number of golf courses around the state. Here are some of the better ones.
Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course
Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course, about 50 miles east of Athens, is the most scenic of the state park golf courses, if not the most challenging. The park and the course are situated on a peninsula that juts out into 26,500-acre Lake Russell, and architect Bob Walker has made full use of the water: 10 of the 18 holes have lake views, and the back nine in particular is about as close as you can come to a naturally pristine experience and still be on a golf course.
"We started with probably one of the best pieces of ground that I have ever worked on, in 32 years of work," Walker said. "I just couldn't have found a better site, honestly. (The state) pretty much gave me free reign. They said, here's 400 acres, put the golf course wherever you need to.'"
There are no structures of any kind on the lake. Nor are there roads of any consequence nearby. The scenery is so peaceful and quiet, you may be tempted to stop playing and just drink in the surroundings.
Walker said he had the average state park visitor and golfer in mind when he laid out the course.
"My philosophy there was to provide a variety of options to the golfer on every hole," he said. "I tried to design the course in a way that they could take chances and be rewarded with pars and birdies if they were successful, but not to penalize the average golfer with strong carries."
Stay and play: The park has 28 camp sites and 17 cottages that can be rented. The cottages come complete with two bedrooms, all with gorgeous lake views, as well as fireplaces, screened porches and separate barbecue patios. Call (800) 864-7275 for reservations.
Victoria Bryant State Park
When you drive through the little, northeast town of Royston, you'll see larger-than-life paintings of baseball great Ty Cobb on downtown buildings. They look like they were done by an admiring artist from a different time. The problem is, Cobb was born in Tiny Narrows, Ga., though he moved to Royston at an early age and played ball for the semi-pro Royston Reds.
In any case, Cobb -- had he been a golfer -- would certainly have liked the Victoria Bryant State Park Golf Course because of its difficulty. The course is easily the most difficult in the state park system.
Victoria Bryant State Park G.C. is 6,407 yards from the tips, with a slope rating of 131. It's been softened somewhat, including new tee boxes on No. 12 and 17 for ladies and seniors. Long carries aren't the only hurdles. Aside from the 28 sand bunkers and numerous grass bunkers, the fairways are sloping and tend to kick wayward, even accurate, tee shots into deep rough. The greens are difficult to read.
And it's a bargain, if you're looking for a stern test. There are also junior and senior discounts, as well as for state employees.
Stay and play: Victoria Bryant State Park has 25 camp sites. Contact the park at (800) 864-7275.
Georgia Veterans Memorial
Playing the Georgia Veterans Memorial golf course near Cordele may be one of the few opportunities the traveling golfer/Civil War buff will have to indulge both disparate passions.
Cordele is just south, off Interstate-75, of the Andersonville National Historic Site. Andersonville was the notorious Confederate military prison, where nearly 13,000 prisoners died from poor conditions, starvation, malnutrition and exposure.
The course was designed by Dennis Griffiths, and winds through the rich bottom land of south central Georgia. At 7,059 yards, it runs through mature, loblolly pines, water, a lot of sand and mounds, with only a couple holes running parallel to U.S. Highway 280.
It's one of only two courses in the state park system independently operated, and was given a four-star rating by Golf Digest. Veterans Memorial is a very playable course, with greens fees to match. Juniors and seniors get special rates, by the way.
Stay and play: The Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club is on the shores of the lake. It has 88 rooms, bar, restaurant, fitness center, indoor/outdoor pool, boating and fishing. The state park also offers cabins and campsites.
The Lakes at Laura Walker
One of the last things you expect to see as you drive through the seeming monotony of the south Georgia swamplands is a golf course. The Okefenokee Swamp sits burrowed in a bowl-shaped depression roughly 700 square miles spanning south Georgia and north Florida. It's the biggest swamp in the country, 25 miles across and 40 miles long -- a fact you won't dispute as you motor along its unending marshes, bogs, pine forests and thick snarls of vegetation.
The Lakes at Laura Walker State park is only a few miles outside of Waycross, but make no mistake, you're deep in a southern swamp. The sense of splendid isolation is palpable. The Lakes at Laura Walker golf course is short at 6,595 yards and deceptively open.
"It lulls you," said Assistant Professional Matt Peters. "There's a lot of room between those trees, but the trees are very penalizing. If you keep it in the fairway, it can be a very easy course."
Stay and play:The park offers 44 camp sites and local lodging is nearby in Waycross.
If it weren't for lawn mowers, the town of McRae (pronounced locally as MAC-Ray) might have disappeared from the map. Though it's the county seat of Telfair County, west of Savannah between Helena and Lumber City along Highway 341, the town lost 10 percent of its nearly 3,000 residents between 1990 and 2000, while the rest of Georgia was growing.
The front nine of nearby Wallace Adams Golf Course at Little Ocmulgee State park was designed by Southern Engineers and the back by O.C. Jones, a little-known relative of his better known kin, Robert Trent Jones Sr. O.C. was a hard-living, hard-drinking man who was known to be enticed by a bottle of whiskey if you wanted any work out of him. But, he did design several courses in the South, including Houston Lake in Perry.
Wallace Adams was once rated by Golf Digest, given three and a half stars in 1997 and three stars in 2001. But, it hasn't been rated since. It's 6,625 yards from the back tees, and although several holes are too close to Highway 441, the course does have an air of serenity about it. The front and back nines are decidedly different.
"It's like you played two different courses," said General Manager Ray Gentry. "The front is beautiful and scenic with all the foliage and mature pines. It's so peaceful and quiet. There are no houses, there's nothing to do here except play golf. The back nine is a shot-maker's course; it makes you think. You've got to position the ball well."
Stay and play: The park has 55 camping sites for tents, campers and RVs. In addition to the somewhat generic lodge, there are 10 cottages.
November 22, 2005