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Georgia's Callaway Gardens resort takes you beyond golf for a true natural vacation destination

By Tom Spousta, Contributor

PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. - Given the quality of courses at Callaway Gardens, golf would normally headline the marquee at such a vacation destination. But this resort, located about one hour south of Atlanta, offers so many activities and attractions that just playing golf would be selling yourself short.

Callaway Gardens - Azalea Bowl
At 40 acres, the Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl is the world's largest azalea garden and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
Callaway Gardens - Azalea BowlCallaway Gardens - Lake View Golf CourseCallaway Gardens - Lake View Golf CourseCallaway Gardens Lodge and Spa

Callaway Gardens' Mountain View
and Lake View golf courses are as unique from each other as their names imply and should be sampled. Beyond golf, the creation of Cason J. Callaway and wife Virginia Hand Callaway has given generations of visitors so much to do - and learn - since Callaway Gardens opened in 1952.

"The longevity is amazing," said Rachel Crumbley, corporate relations manager for Callaway Gardens. "Families who came here back in the '60s and '70s now bring their children and grandchildren. It's always been about reconnecting yourself with nature and with others."

• The best place to start at Callaway Gardens? The Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center, a 35,000-square-foot facility that covers every inch of what you need to know about activities and attractions, including historical and geographical information about the property and its founding family.

• It's the most popular attraction at Callaway Gardens, and while taking a stroll through the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, you can easily see why. The glass-enclosed tropical conservatory - one of the largest in North America - houses about 1,000 living butterflies from 100 species. The center also earned certification got its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design by the U.S. Green Building Council.

• The Discovery Bicycle Trail would be another way to tour Callaway Gardens. The 10-mile paved trail, annually voted among the top bike destinations in Georgia, has stops at every major attraction.

• With 13 lakes, you'll have a pretty good chance of catching bass or bream. Callaway Gardens puts the odds even more in your favor with guided fishing excursions and a full-service fly shop. A two-day fly fishing school is also offered most months.

• One of the coolest ways to spend an hour is the Birds of Prey program in the outdoor amphitheater at the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center. Falcons, owls, hawks and even a bald eagle fly above the audience as part of the show.

• Modeled after an old English church, the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel sits in the heart of the Gardens. Beautiful stained glass windows depict each of the four seasons and make the chapel - dedicated by Norman Vincent Peale in April 1962 - an ideal setting for weddings and worship.

• Bring your camera to record a visit to the Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl (particularly in March when colors really begin to bloom). At 40 acres, it's the world's largest azalea garden and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Robin Lake Beach becomes the family hub from Memorial Day through mid-August, a place for swimming, miniature golf and paddle boats. A highlight: The Florida State University Flying High Circus performs seven shows a week during the summer.

• Callaway Gardens upgraded its accommodations a couple years ago with the addition of the Lodge and Spa, a 150-room upscale rustic hotel, which is the first business conference center in the world to earn a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Overall, there's 931 rooms, including The Lodge and Spa, Mountain Creek Inn, Southern Pine Cottages and Mountain Creek Villas. For more information, see www.callawaygardens.com.

Tom SpoustaTom Spousta, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tom Spousta keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. He has covered golf and other sports for USA Today and The New York Times. Tom lives on a Donald Ross-designed golf course in Sarasota, Fla.

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