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Check Out the Nose on that Birdie: Golfing and Wine Tasting in the Southeast

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Golf and beer go together like, well, golf and beer. But the 19th hole doesn't have to be all about pitchers and peanuts. Travel data tells us that more and more couples are beginning to take golf trips together. As you can probably surmise, extracurricular activities on these co-ed getaways don't include epic poker games or excursions to the local gentlemen's clubs.

A couple of first class destinations in the Southeast present those in search of the idea couples golf vacation a modest proposal: a morning spent on a posh resort course, an afternoon spent tasting wine, and an evening of fine dining to cap it all off.

If it sounds too French Riviera meets Pinehurst to be true, its not.

"It used to be that one these types of trips, you'd have the men going off to the golf course and the women going off to the winery or the museums and shopping," says Sarah Thomas, public relations coordinator for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. "With all that has happened over the past year, couples want to getaway to spend more time together, not apart."

In fact, Chateau Elan Winery and Resort in Braselton, Ga. is built around this very concept. Located 40 minutes north of Atlanta in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Chateau Elan boasts a 200-acre vineyard, two 18-hole resort courses, a nine hole walking course, and a 276-room Four Star Inn.

Donald and Nancy Panoz founded the 3500-acre winery and resort in 1984 after a career spent in the pharmaceutical and drug delivery product industries. The Panoz's had spent a good chunk of their lives in Ireland where they formed the Elan Corporation and fell in love with the game of golf.

The couple visited Georgia frequently since Elan had a research laboratory in Gainesville. During one of their trips, Don and Nancy tasted Muscadine wine, made from Georgia's indigenous Muscadine grapes. When they asked why no one had ever grown vinifera grapes in the region, they were informed by the local wine experts that, "It couldn't be done."

The Panoz's not only did it, they did it in the biggest way possible.

Today, the Chateau Elan vineyard produces 40,000 cases of wine per year, including white grape based Chardonnay and Riesling, red grape based Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and the hybrids, Chambourcin and Seyval Blanc.

But before embarking on some serious imbibing, consider knocking it around on the resort's Chateau or Woodlands Courses. Dennis Griffiths designed the Chateau Course, which plays to just over 7000 yards and makes its way through three lakes, two creeks, and some of north Georgia's finest terrain. Griffiths also designed the newer Woodlands Course (1996), which is only slightly shorter at 6851 yards, but just as visually stunning.

If you need to breakup a Nassau log jam before supper, the nine-hole par three walking course is conveniently located right behind the inn. Holes range from 100 to 200 yards, and the small bentgrass greens and strategic bunkering create one of the region's better short courses.

With the nation's air travel market still in a bit of a holding pattern, Chateau Elan has capitalized on a strong drive market due to its proximity to Interstate 85 and the Atlanta metro area. The 1.6 million residents of the Charlotte, N.C. metro area are only three hours north, northeast, and even Knoxville, Tenn., Jacksonville, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala. are within a days drive.

Wine and Golf in the Tar Heel State

The bucolic town of Asheville, N.C. sits just a few hours northeast of Chateau Elan, snuggled at the base of the Appalachians where the Smoky Mountains meet the Blue Ridge. Collegiate, Bohemian, artsy - however you want to describe novelist Thomas Wolfe's old home - Asheville remains one of North Carolina's most unique cities.

On the edge of town is the world-famous Biltmore Estate, home to one of the Southeast's most respected wineries. A trip to George Vanderbilt's estate for wine tasting was once considered the perfect day trip, but with a new 213-room luxury inn, Thomas says that wine weekends are becoming the choice of many couples.

"We have packages that include admission to the estate, and that includes the winery, the gardens, and any special events that are going on," she says.

The Biltmore hasn't developed a golf package yet, but the estate has agreements with three top-notch local courses, and will gladly arrange tee time for guests. Reems Creek, the Broadmor Golf Links and Etowah Valley Country Club all come highly recommended by the Biltmore.

Reems Creek is the popular choice of most guests, and the Martin Hawtree-designed mountain course in Weaverville has mad a name for itself among locals with its knee-knocking modern design. With tee boxes that appear to look out over all of creation, it's nearly impossible to get through 18 holes at Reems Creek without a sidehill lie or a nosebleed. The course plays to just over 6400 yards, and a good many players leave their drivers back at the Biltmore.

Broadmor, which opened in 1993, is as flat and wide open as Reems is undulating and tight. The course sits smack in the middle of Asheville airport's flight path and large jets flying just a few hundred feet overhead are seem to synch their departures and arrivals with meaningful three foot putts.

Karl Litten, former protégé of eccentric course architect Robert von Hagge, designed the course to play like a links style track. A stiff mountain breeze and a cool October morning and you might just feel like you are bumping and running across the pond.

Etowah Valley Country Club is the elder statesman of the triumvirate, with its 18-hole South and West Courses having opened in 1969. The North Course opened in 1988, but upholds a similar theme as its siblings - flat fairways, medium sized greens, and an overall playability that is lacking from the mountains' more dastardly courses.

As for the vino, the Biltmore's wine list is redoubtable. Reds include Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Cardinal Crest. White offerings include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris.

The Biltmore's two biggest draws are the holiday season, when thousands of guests flood in to take in the estate's elaborate Christmas decorations and 40 some odd Christmas trees, and the Festival of Flowers in April and May, in which a bed of 50,000 tulips is unveiled in the four-acre walled garden.

For days filled with tee times and tasting, Thomas recommends July or September, two of the Biltmore's slower, more affordable months. Golf courses in and around Asheville typically stay open from April to late October or early November, and with elevations ranging from 2000 to 4000 feet, even the summer months are tolerable.

For more information or reservations at the Biltmore call 800.624.1575. For the Chateau Elan, 800.233.WINE.

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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