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Ranking Georgia's best golf resorts: Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro and Sea Island Resort lead the pack

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Georgia golfers know their state has a wide variety of golf courses and, naturally, golf resorts. TravelGolf.com ranks the best, with kudos going to Sea Island, Reynolds Plantation, Callaway Gardens, Hampton Club and more.

Reynolds Plantation's National Golf Course
Three of the Reynolds Plantation golf courses are among Golf Digest's list of the best in Georgia, including the National, shown here.
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Reynolds Plantation's National Golf CourseSea Island Resort's Seaside CourseCallaway Gardens Golf Resort - Georgia
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SEA ISLAND, Ga. — When it comes to golf, Georgia is usually associated by many outsiders with a little track known as Augusta National.

Forget about it. You'll never be a member. Better to focus on where you can play.

Georgia is a big state with terrain as varied as its variety of peaches and soul singers. Mountains in the north, ocean to the east, swamp to the south.

If you're thinking of traveling to Georgia to slow down a little and get in some golf, we've ranked the state's golf resorts, with emphasis on those multi-course resorts:

• No. 1: Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro leads the pack on the basis of its five - one is members-only - superb golf courses with another on the way.

There are many multi-course resorts around the country that put most of their money and time into one golf course, mainly for publicity purposes. But, three of the courses at Plantation made it into Golf Digest's top 20-ranked golf courses in Georgia: Great Waters (11th), Oconee ranked (16th) and National (19th).

The only unranked golf course, Plantation, isn't exactly a slouch, a Bob Cupp design with input from Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green.

Great Waters is one of Jack Nicklaus' more accessible works, with nine holes lining the shores of Lake Oconee, a man-made lake, the second-largest in Georgia.

The National is a 27-hole, Tom Fazio design, also played along the shores of the lake, though with not as many lake views as Great Waters. Hardwoods, pines and flowering dogwood are throughout the course.

The Oconee, designed by Rees Jones, has dramatic elevation changes, as much as 50 feet on the par 3s.

The members-only Creek course is a spectacular course with wildly undulating greens that is a blast to play.

The plantation is minutes east of Hartsfield International Airport. For more information, call (888) 501-0954 or click here.

• No. 2: Scarlet O'Hara would feel comfortable at the Sea Island Resort's various properties, with their chandeliers, dark, wood-paneled rooms and bright atriums.

The Sea Island company is a fourth-generation, family-owned resort and real estate development company. It operates the Cloister Hotel, the Lodge, the Lodge at Cabin Bluff and Ocean Forest and Frederica Golf Clubs.

The Cloister has won a ton of rewards, and is the centerpiece of the resort. It's undergone a dramatic revitalization, and has 30 luxury, one-bedroom suites and 70 guest rooms. It has 24-hour butler service, and if you've never been checked in by a butler, you may not know what you're missing — that's right, no tedious registration process at a front desk.

Sea Island also rents private homes, known as the Cottages, and the resort includes a Spa, the Beach Club, a five-mile stretch of private beach and a shooting school on nearby Rainbow Island. This is southern hospitality and luxury at its finest.

The resort has three golf courses. Seaside is the class of the joint, which doesn't demean the Plantation and Retreat layouts.

Originally designed by Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison in 1929, Seaside was given a thorough modernization by Tom Fazio in 1999. Golf Digest, among others, liked it so much it provided space in its list of top 100 courses in the U.S., placing it sixth in Georgia — not bad for a state that boasts Augusta National, East Lake, Peachtree and the ultra-exclusive Ocean Forest on Sea Island.

The setting is about as good as it gets this part of the world, with no homes to mar the beautiful setting, and the course manages a perfect combination of wildness, conditioning and immaculate grooming. It's also a very walker-friendly course, with shell pathways provided.

Be advised, this is not your typical player-friendly resort course. If you find long carries off the tee too much, you'd be advised to move up to the middle or forward tees. Pick your tees wisely, and you'll have one of your most memorable rounds here. For more information, call (888) 732-4752.

• No. 3: Callaway Gardens is a 14,000-acre resort, preserve and gardens in the southernmost foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Pine Mountain.

It features two golf courses, including Mountain View, home to the PGA Tour's Buick Open for a dozen years.

It's a Dick Wilson design with tight, tree-lined fairways. USA Today ranked the par-5 15th as the fourth most difficult hole on the PGA Tour. The course has undergone extensive renovations.

The resort also has the Lake View, the facility's original course, designed by Wilson and J.B. McGovern. For more information, call (800) 225-5292.

• No. 4: The Hampton Club golf resort gets No. 4 on the list despite having only one course. Of all the marsh golf courses I've played, the Hampton Club may be the best, in terms of the views.

That's because, at the Hampton Club, the views are from the marsh. Yes, you are literally in the marsh surrounding St. Simons Island, out there with the ospreys, bald eagles, woodpeckers and other marsh critters.

How did they do that? Well, they carved four holes on the islands off the mainland. You get to them via a series of elevated bridges. You are the marsh and the marsh is you.

Situated on the relatively isolated northern-most reaches of the barrier island, the Hampton Club pulses with the kind of raw beauty usually found on these islands of the southeastern coast, with ancient oaks framing the fairways. It's simply one terrific, camera-ready view after another. For more information, call (912) 634-0255.

Georgia golf resorts: Honorable mention

Sea Palms Golf and Tennis Resort
Brasstown Valley Resort
Jekyll Island Club Hotel
King and Prince Golf Resort
Westin Savannah Harbor Resort

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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Dates: January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2014
Wescott Golf Club's Champions Package with Hotel lets you experience one of the Carolina Lowcountry's best golf courses! This stay-and-play vacation deal includes two rounds at The Golf Club at Wescott Plantation, one round at Coosaw Creek C.C., a $30 food-and-beverage card, a $30 pre-paid Visa Gift Card, and logoed gifts.
Price range: $389