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TravelGolf.com On Campus: Georgia-Tennessee still stirs passions in Athens

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Each week this season, TravelGolf.com is highlighting a key college football matchup and looking at the golf around the home team's campus. This Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs host the Tennessee Volunteers. Here's a look at the golf courses in Athens and the surrounding area, including Jennings Mill Country Club, the University of Georgia Golf Course, Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee, Hard Labor Creek and the Georgia Club.

Georgia Bulldogs - Tennessee Volunteers
The Georgia Bulldogs are still on track in the SEC race, but Tennessee is struggling.
Georgia Bulldogs - Tennessee VolunteersCuscowilla on Lake OconeeHard Labor Creek State ParkLe Maison Bleu

ATHENS, Ga. - I doubt Georgia will be wearing its black jerseys again any time soon.

Too bad, because they'd clash nicely with the orange of Tennessee, which visits Athens on Saturday.

The 10th-ranked Bulldogs painted it all black against Alabama two weeks ago - only the third time in modern history Georgia wore all black - and still got crushed, 41-30.

Back to red.

This year's UT-UGA matchup looked like one of those classic SEC brawls before the season started. But Georgia, ranked No. 1 in the preseason, dropped two places in the polls without losing a game, then plummeted after the 'Bama blowout.

And Tennessee, well, what can you say about the poor Volunteers? At 2-3, they're off to their worst start in 14 years, since Peyton Manning was a pup sitting on the bench.

Tennessee Coach Philip Fulmer has taken plenty of heat since the Vols lost big to Florida and then a squeaker to Auburn. Hmmm, maybe it's just the players. "We didn't all of a sudden get stupid as coaches," Fulmer told the media.

Still, CBS thinks enough of this matchup between perennial SEC powers that it will televise the game to a national audience.

It could be a good time to bring your sticks.

Golf courses around Athens

Jennings Mill Country Club is an early Bob Cupp design, built in 1986. Cupp is known for his directional bunkering, so, if you're playing the golf course for the first time, and you're faced with a blind landing area, take a cue from the bunkers; they will point you in the right direction.

Jennings Mills tops out at a tad over 7,000 yards from the back tees, and with the narrowness of the fairways, it can be a handful from back there.

The Jennings Mill golf course has been highly thought of for quite some time. Golf Week has ranked it in the top 25 in the state, and the Georgia State Golf Association ranked it 16th; the same association also ranked No. 13 as the best hole in the state.

It is a bargain with green fees of $49.

• The University of Georgia golf course may not be the best college golf course in the country - you would get strong arguments for Oklahoma State's Karsten Creek, Mount Holyoke's Orchards course or the Tom Fazio Finley Gold Club golf course at the University of North Carolina, for example - but it made some giant strides recently.

The UGA golf course has some legendary names behind its classy design. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1968 and re-built last year by Davis Love III.

It has great elevation changes up here in these Georgia hills, so that standing in front of the clubhouse, you can see RTJ's master plan spread out before you. And since they've culled a great many trees in the last few months, it's like a big, open canvas for public viewing.

It is a public, self-supporting golf course open to all, and the green fees are more than worth the price of this excellent layout: Students pay $16-$38, alumni $19-$49 and guests $22-$58, all including cart.

• The Georgia Club golf course is one of those golf courses that's relatively easy without being boring. It has good length - two par 5s over 600 yards! - excellent movement on the fairways and an eclectic mix of risk/reward holes that can make or break you. One of its strengths is conditioning, which is excellent throughout.

The Georgia Club is a 27-hole facility about 10 minutes from downtown Athens, with a clubhouse and adjacent buildings that look almost magisterial.

Green fees range from $65-$79, and that seems to keep them coming back. For that price, this is an excellent option in the Athens area.

Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee is a beautifully designed layout that's a lovely walk in the park, amongst the indigenous flora and fauna, through the wild grasses blowing in the breeze, under tall pines and with plenty of glimpses of the big Lake Oconee.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw like to take wild pieces of land and sneak in their golf courses, almost as if they don't want it to be noticed. Cuscowilla, a relatively short drive from Athens, is a serene slice of Georgia backcountry, hilly and dotted with water and lake views. The picturesque, Georgia red-clay bunkers contrast nicely with the lush fairways and perimeter greenery.

Resort and sponsored guests pay $125 for green fees, and unaccompanied guest green fees are $135, which includes a forecaddie or cart. It is open for public play only on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Hard Labor Creek State Park is the most difficult of the state park golf courses in Georgia.

The Hard Labor Creek course isn't long at only 6,426 yards from the back tees, but it has awkward angles off the tee that, with all the elevation changes, can get you in a peck of trouble - those sounds you hear in the dense woods aren't hunters blasting their guns, they're the sound of golf balls smacking directly into a birch, sycamore, sweetgum or willow oak.

Many of the approach shots are no piece of cake, either, into difficult greens. I haven't mention the red clay bunkers yet, have I? Or Hard Labor Creek itself, which makes its presence known on five holes.

All this being said, the Creek can be a very enjoyable day on the course, especially with green fees in the $35-$45 range.

Athens restaurants and bars

Although Athens is all about live music - Rolling Stone magazine called the city the top college music scene in the country, and the New York Times called it "Live Music Central" - Tennessee fans shouldn't go expecting to hear "Rocky Top."

Then again, maybe they will. Athens has an extraordinarily eclectic music scene, with hundreds of active bands and 10 recording studios.

It's the home of R.E.M., and bands like the B-52s, Pylon and Widespread Panic have all made their names there.

You have your choice of live music clubs, but the 40-Watt Club (www.40watt.com) and the Georgia Theatre (www.georgiatheatre.com) are known as two of the best, with jazz, classical, blues, rock and country acts performing regularly.

This weekend, for example, Modern Skirts plays at the 40 Watt Club, and the Avett Brothers are at the Georgia Theatre.

To make you Volunteers happy, the Nashville Songwriters in the Round are playing at the Melting Point (www.meltingpointathens.com).

As far as eating, if you want to linger after your golf, there are two nice restaurants at Cuscowilla (www.cuscowilla.com/dining.php): the Golf House Grill, a 14,000-square-foot "Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired" facility, and the Waterside Restaurant, which is open for dinner.

The Georgia Club also has a nice restaurant, a rather formal place that serves Continental American.

Downtown Athens is a very active spot, with more than 50 restaurants and 40 taverns and night spots.

Five and Ten (www.fiveandten.com) is a well-known, casual and moderately priced eatery that has probably the best wine list in Athens.

Le Maison Bleu (www.maison-bleu.com) is another eatery with an excellent wine list, serving European dishes, and The National serves Mediterranean food.

Try On the Border (www.ontheborder.com) for Tex-Mex. It's part of a chain, but the food is good.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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