GOLF PRESENTS IDEAL OPPORTUNITIES for soaking in spectacular scenic views and spying on natural wildlife while you engage in the futile pursuit of the perfect swing.
And, with Georgia’s weather (and at the discretion of course managers), you can pretty much go swinging year-round.
In fact, when Golf Digest’s editors and readers ranked the 100 best public courses in America for 2014, two Peach State landmarks (Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island and the Golf Club of Cuscowilla in Eatonton) made the list at Nos. 36 and 56, respectively. Both are acclaimed for their idyllic views and vibrant terrain.
In Golf Digest’s roundup of the best places to play on the planet, Augusta National ranked near the top. The members-only home of the Masters and professional golf’s fabled Green Jacket finished No. 3 on the Hot 100 list.
Georgia abounds with esteemed and accessible public courses that celebrate nature and all it offers. Here’s a select list.
CHEROKEE RUN GOLF CLUB
Tucked into woody terrain in Conyers, about an hour east of Atlanta, this course designed by golfing icon Arnold Palmer stretches over 7,016 yards of rolling hills that preserve the serenity of the site that was home to Cherokee Indians for centuries. The narrow Zoysia grass fairways are barely traceable amid the thick pines. Natural outcroppings of granite as well as 96 craftily placed sand traps add to the par 72 course’s degree of difficulty. GolfNow magazine calls Cherokee Run “one of the area’s toughest tests” because of its firm, fast putting surfaces and “startling” changes in elevation. Details HERE or at 770.785.7904.
THE FROG (AT THE GEORGIAN)
This Tom Fazio-designed sanctuary in Villa Rica is endorsed by the Audubon Society because of its respect for preserving natural park land. Golf Digest rates the Frog at 4½ stars (out of 5). The course has welcomed a number of high-profile celebrity, charity and Pro-Am events. Brand-new baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz putts there, as do any number of sports personalities. Playing from the Blue tees, you’ll be challenged by 6,239 yards of high-arching pines, staggered ponds, undulating fairways strewn with sand bunkers, and slick putting greens. Details HERE or at 770.459.4400.
BOBBY JONES GOLF COURSE
On clear days, golfers can scan the Atlanta skyline for a panoramic perspective of this 83-year-old course’s uncontrived charms. Ancient oaks loom wide and low over fairways where Civil War skirmishes once took place. The course was delicately carved out of 36 acres of city-owned land and dedicated to the legendary grace and influence of multiple major-tournament winner Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr. Just 10 minutes northeast of downtown, Bobby Jones takes full advantage of the expansiveness of Peachtree Battle Creek. An 18-hole round on the par 70, 5,888-yard track entails tee shots over the semi-still creeks on the first and final holes. Details HERE or at 404.355.1009.
BEAR’S BEST (SUWANEE)
This course, 37 miles north of Atlanta, combines the design instincts of golf’s all-time major championship leader with the corporate/communal amenities that modern consumers demand. Golf magazine ranks Bear’s Best as Georgia’s 13th-best course. Over 6,857 yards, through winding fairways of varying widths, players are challenged to shoot par (72) on a combination of Jack Nicklaus’ 18 favorite holes in a career of designing 200 courses. Six holes are meant to mimic the look and feel of scenes where the Golden Bear, as Nicklaus is known, sealed a third of his 18 major tournament victories on both U.S. and British soil. Details HERE or at 678.714.2582.
CLUB AT SAVANNAH HARBOR
Don’t let the affiliation with the Westin resort properties fool you into thinking this course is easy. The 7,288-year Savannah Harbor venue has hosted serious competitions like the Legends of Golf for years. Carved along the inlet shores of the Georgia coast, this course presents natural visual challenges like shifting waves from the sea, soggy marshes, the placement of daunting bunkers filled with crushed, bleached-white oyster shells and putting greens that look flat from a distance but roll deviously into the water or thick rough if not approached carefully. Ranked No. 6 on Golf magazine’s “Best Public Courses in Georgia” list, the Savannah Harbor venue is a garden of good and evil tests for your playing skills. Details HERE or at 912.201.2240.
With lodging and amenities by the Ritz-Carlton group, the Reynolds Plantation in Oconee strives for pre-eminence as Georgia’s ultimate “stay-and-play” spot. Regarded as one of the state’s prime locations for luxury hunting, fishing and relaxing, Reynolds’ six distinct courses combine for a ranking of No. 6 on Golf magazine’s list of Georgia’s best. Geniuses of course design and construction — Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Bob Cupp and Jim Engh — combined to create 117 holes of varying length and difficulty. All six courses (6,698 to 7,079 yards) rim the banks of Lake Oconee and its tributaries. The sloping nature of the coastal topography presents players with the highest risks for hazardous shots. Details HERE or at 706.467.3151.