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College Towns Offer More than Just Tailgating

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - It came Thursday night, earlier than it has ever come before. There were 300-pound linemen with their bellies hanging out of their untucked shirts. There were running backs and linebackers who looked as if they jumped from the pages of a superhero comic book and into an extra small jersey. And there were cheerleaders, oh were there cheerleaders. And tailgating with barbeque and (as they say it here in the south), cole beer.

The college football season got underway on Aug. 22, the earliest start in the history of the game. Colorado State stole one from Virginia, 35-29 in Charlottesville in front of an announced crowd of over 50,000 orange and navy blue clad maniacs. Diehard Wahoo fans (the unofficial nickname of UVAer's, as based on a fish that allegedly drinks twice its weight each day) were snake bitten. "How could this Mountain West team come into our house, on opening day, and leave with a victory," they wondered out loud, only with considerably more four-letter words.

For the casual, objective observer who snuck into town to play a little golf, take in a little history, and whet an appetite for the college gridiron (you know who you are), it was simply time to hit the sack and get ready for another day on the links. You see, a good college town can offer so much more than voluminous libraries, economically defiant happy hours, and five-dollar symphony tickets. Each year, thousands of amply educated Americans retire to places like Charlottesville, Chapel Hill, NC and Austin, TX, shunning the shuffleboard courts of south Florida for something closer to a normal existence.

So get to your local bookstore and pick up your usual assortment of college football previews. But while you are perusing the depth charts and passing efficiency stats, start thinking about a life of Saturdays in a raucous stadium and weekdays on deserted fairways. Here's a sampling of college towns that blend the best of both.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Golf Digest once rated the surrounding county as the best place in the country to retire and play golf. And don't you think a town founded by Thomas Jefferson, the ultimate American Renaissance man, would have a little bit of everything? If you don't want to commit to one country club, the Keswick Hall and Golf Club has a variety of membership options for Virginia residents. The main guesthouse is something straight out of a European history book, what with its Tuscan architecture and French doors.

The golf course is an Arnold Palmer redesign of a Fred Findlay original, and is recognized as one of the best little resort courses in the Commonwealth. For quality daily fee golf, however, you need not look any further than the University's Birdwood Course, which is perennially ranked as one of the Mid Atlantic's best public tracks. For traditional gated community golf course living, check out Glenmore just a few minutes from campus.

Extra Point The highly regarded courses of Colonial Williamsburg are just a 5-iron away.

Austin, Texas

If spending every Saturday locked in an 80,000 seat stadium with a raging bull named Bevo and enough burnt orange to make you want to hurl doesn't sound like a good time, Austin has plenty of daily fee and resort golf offerings to take the time off your hands. The crown jewel of them all is Barton Creek, home to two Tom Fazio designed courses (Foothills and Canyon) that are ranked among the Lone Star States' best. The Palmer Lakeside and Ben Crenshaw Cliffside courses are also highly touted and worth the price of admission.

If and when Barton Creek's upscale layouts put a safety blitz on your retirement budget, Austin is home to a mess of affordable daily fee courses that will keep you from having to resort to the early bird special every night: Bluebonnet is a linksy layout devoid of housing, Star Ranch is one of Austin's newest courses, designed by Carter Morrish and Roy Bechtol, and Jimmy Clay and Roy Kizer are two respectable municipal courses.

Extra Point: Horseshoe Bay Resort and its three award-winning courses is just 60 miles away.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The "Southern End of Heaven" is what the locals call this quaint college town situated in the rolling hills of the North Carolina Piedmont. Few scenes rival that of historic Franklin Street in the fall. The leaves turning on the trees, the fans making their way down to Keenan Stadium in the valley below, and the beer taps bowing like Japanese businessmen at the college bars on every corner. By day, you'll also find hordes of students making their way to the Finley Golf Course on campus, redesigned by Tom Fazio in 1998.

And what's more, if you don't have a collegiate allegiance, you can make the ten minute drive to the Washington and Duke Golf Club at Duke University. If you are looking for a place to live and play, Davis Love III and his crew just opened a new track at the Preserve at Jordan Lake. The tree-lined course is the centerpiece of a 516-home planned development on the western shores of Jordan Lake.

Extra Point: Pinehurst Resort, the self-anointed Home of American Golf, is just an hour drive from Chapel Hill. The resort houses eight top notch courses designed by the likes of Donald Ross, Tom Fazio, Ellis Maples and Rees Jones.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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