Forget tradition: 10 North Georgia golf courses for the non-purists

By Stan Awtrey, Contributor

Sometimes they move hundreds of truckloads of dirt. Other times they redirect or dam creeks. Trees are often picked up and placed in other places. They use modern methods to alter the terrain they're given and produce a quality golf course.

Reynolds Plantation's Oconee Golf Course - Hole 16
The Rees Jones-designed Oconee Course at Reynolds Plantation has drawn raves for its playable layout and scenic beauty.
Reynolds Plantation's Oconee Golf Course - Hole 16Reynolds Plantation's Creek Golf CourseSky Valley Resort and Country Club - Hole 15Sky Valley Resort and Country Club - Hole 18The Currahee ClubGolf Club of Georgia's Creekside Course - Hole 7Golf Club of Georgia's Creekside Course - Hole 4Golf Club of Georgia's Creekside Course - Hole 18
If you go

Here's a look at 10 such non-traditional golf courses in North Georgia. None are more than two hours away from downtown Atlanta and will provide a fun day of golf for anyone.

Sky Valley Resort and Country Club

This worn-out old course benefited greatly from a facelift given it by architect Bill Bergin in 2007, who somehow lengthened it by nearly 500 yards and reduced the par to 71. Sky Valley Resort and Country Club sits in a valley in the northeast Georgia mountains and offers some incredible scenery, especially in the fall.

Bergin has an extensive background in golf. He played golf at Auburn and competed professionally for six years years before branching into course design. He spent time with noted course architect Bob Cupp before going on his own.

Bergin typically finds a way to create golf courses that can challenge a good player but not overwhelm a poor one. He's done that at Sky Valley, which he somehow stretched by 500 yards (and reduced to par 70) and added a fifth set of tees.

Reynolds Plantation (Oconee Course)

The Oconee Course at Reynolds Plantation, a Rees Jones beauty, opened in 2002 and has drawn raves for its playable layout and scenic beauty.

Jones helped by adding visual touches, such as the wooden bridges that span some of the gaps between holes, as well as man-made streams that emerge seamlessly from some of the rocks along the fairway.

Reynolds Plantation (Creek Club)

Architect Jim Engh built the fifth course at Reynolds Plantation, Creek Club, which opened in June 2007. It has unique bunkering that sets its apart from other courses.

He spots these rolling bunkers in strategic places and asks the player to make a decision, which leads to some interesting risk-reward choices. For example, the par-5 12th hole features a split fairway, with the left choice being the safe play and the option on the right side racheting up the degree of difficulty.

Reynolds Plantation is also home to Reynolds Golf Adademy.

The Currahee Club

The Currahee Club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June, but that won't affect the golf at the spectacular Jim Fazio course in Toccoa, a stone's throw from the South Carolina border.

Fazio took advantage of the mount views. He moved a lot of dirt and had a lot of raised, wooden cart paths built to get golfers around the layout. (This is one you definitely don't want to walk.) The Currahee Club's 17th hole is a par 3 that plays over the site of an old quarry.

Even if you don't play the back tees, you'll be tempted to drop one back there and give it a swat.

Indian Creek Golf Club

Located in Covington, about 45 minutes east of Atlanta, Indian Creek Golf Club was designed by Desmond Muirhead.

The layout is solid, with a couple crazy exceptions. The green at the par-3 fourth hole is surrounded by bunkers, giving it the look of a daisy from the elevated tee. The mounding around the 17th hole, dubbed by some the "Dolly Parton Hole" or the "Mermaid Hole," has the elevation in the right places, with the sand around the green simulating long flowing hair.

It's part of the literal symbolism that the late designer tried to impart in many of his layouts.

Stone Mountain Golf Club (Lakemont)

This is a much better choice for an occasional golfer who is attending a conference at Stone Mountain. Lakemont at Stone Mountain Golf Club, a John LaFoy layout, is much friendlier than the Robert Trent Jones-designed Stonemont Course. Lakemont is shorter (6,444 from the back tees) and doesn't make a player feel like they're being whipped for the final three furlongs.

LaFoy's layout is more scenic. Players can enjoy some nice views of Stone Mountain's famous Confederate Memorial carving, and there are 10 holes where water comes into play. No. 3 is a lovely par 4 that requires an accurate approach between a creek and the lake.

Golf Club of Georgia (Creekside)

The second of two Arthur Hills gems at this private club in Alpharetta is quite different from the original. Creekside at the Golf Club of Georgia, built in 1993, is more inclined toward target golf, as Hills established defined landing areas that require a player to think their way around the course.

Creekside has several holes with difficult, forced carries, some are required by the way the golf course is routed through the wetlands. Creekside isn't as long as its older brother but offers an intense challenge. Good luck getting through a round without being harassed by one of the many hazards.

Reynolds Plantation (Great Waters Course)

It's hard to beat the scenery on the Great Waters Course at Reynolds Plantation, a Jack Nicklaus course in Greensboro, about 90 minutes east of Atlanta.

Nine of the holes require players to deal with the lake, which Nicklaus credited for the difficulty of the course. He also routed the course to include views, but not competition, along part of the lake. This course hosted the PGA Professional National Championship in 2008.

Bear's Best

They took 18 of the favorite holes designed by Jack Nicklaus and replicated them here in the northern Atlanta suburb of Suwanee at Bear's Best.

Somehow the course architects were able to feature holes from such impressive venues as PGA National Resort & Spa, Shoal Creek Golf Club, Castle Pines Golf Club, Gleneagles and Muirfield Village Golf Club. Nicklaus chose the holes from the 200-plus courses he's designed and routed them around this site on the Chattahoochee River.

Royal Lakes Golf & Country Club

Water is a frequent foe on Royal Lakes Golf & Country Club, a popular Gainesville course (an hour north of Atlanta), coming into play on one-third of the holes.

Built by Arthur Davis and opened in 1990, the course has five doglegs cut out of the wooded 180-acre site, and the signature hole, the par-5 11th hole, plays to an island green. Although Royal Lakes Golf & Country Club gets plenty of play (it hosts many fund-raising tournaments) the greens are typically in good condition.

Stan AwtreyStan Awtrey, Contributor

Stan Awtrey spent 25 years as a sports writer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is editor of Golf Georgia, the official magazine of the Georgia State Golf Association, and writes a weekly column for His work has appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and Web sites.

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