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On the Road in Atlanta: Golfing here is a peach, dear

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

ATLANTA - Sleepy Galveston, Texas could have been burgeoning Houston if itwasn't for a catastrophic hurricane. Rustic Cheyenne, Wyoming could have been bustling Denver,Colorado if the railroad swings north instead of south.

History is cruel like that.

Around this time each year, Atlanta must feel a jolt of pain from its past. How did a city with its clout allow favorite son Bobby Jones to wander off and build one of the world's greatest golfcourses a half a day's drive east? If only Jones had stayed closer to home to pursue his dream ofdesigning a golf course, Atlanta would not only be the capital of the South; for one week out ofthe year it would be the epicenter of the golfing universe.

Instead, the "ATL" hosts the final Masters warm-up, the BellSouth Classic, contested this weekat the Tournament Players Club at Sugarloaf in nearby Duluth. For Atlanta-bound golfers, at leastthere's the allure of playing where the pros play, right? Not so much. This Greg Norman designedTPC offering, like so many of the great layouts in this New South stronghold, is private.

One local duffer, lamenting the slim pickings of quality public golf around these parts, likenedliving in Atlanta to being trapped in a gourmet pastry shop after swearing by the Atkins diet. Theanalogy has some merit: When compared to Houston, Phoenix and other Sun Belt cities, the high enddaily fee menu in the Capital of the South is fairly limited.

Adding insult to injury, White Columns - a visually stunning Tom Fazio design that was widelyconsidered the city's best semiprivate track - recently closed its gates to John-Q golfer in favorof a (you guessed it) private existence.

Frankly, when it comes to pay-for-play golfers, it could be argued that Atlanta just doesn'tgive a damn.

But like the dogwoods and azaleas down the road, hope springs eternal. Traveling golfers insearch of a major city with some serious synergy and enough quality semiprivate and daily feecourses to scratch the itch won't be shown the door. What's more, the city once known as "Terminus"is a convenient origin for a series of weekend golf getaways that will have you swingingthe sticks at some of the state's best resorts.

But back to Atlanta. The tracks worth the trek are spread from - if viewing the area as a giantclock - eight to one. The terrain is primarily hilly and pine tree packed, and similar to Jones andMacKenzie's jewel down the way, the courses are mostly of the muscular (read: long) variety.

In the Atlanta of 20 years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find a place to hang your spikeswithout a $50,000 initiation fee, a 10-year waiting list and proof of some serious lineage. Sowhile the city's cup doesn't runneth over with public access golf, the land of the free and thehome of the Braves has plenty to be proud of.

The must plays

The Frog Golf Club - Encore please, Tom. After setting eyes on White Columns, itclicked with local developers: Fazio gets Georgia golf. Four years after completing WC, Fazio waskidnapped, blindfolded and whisked 45 minutes west of Atlanta where he was cajoled into designingthe ribit-roaringest daily fee track this side of the Chattahoochee. The Frog toys with a number ofdesign nuances (waste bunkers and false fronts among them), making it slightly less predictablethan Fazio's usual product. To the disappointment of amphibians everywhere, water rarely comes intoplay. For the price - around $50 on weekdays and $80ish on weekends including cart and range balls- it is a steal.

Orchard Hills Golf Club - Most towns have a course all the locals keep underlock and key to protect it from being overrun by carpetbaggers from out of town. Orchard Hills issuch a venue, and it's little wonder why. The course's slogan is "Southern Hospitality with aScottish Links Flavor." This is like introducing kids to pizza flavored ice cream. The 27-holefacility comes courtesy of designer Don Cottle, Jr. (the original 18), and Walter Moody/CraigKetelsen (the Rock Garden Nine). The wind is almost always a factor, especially on the linksy LogoNine. Locals promise the greens are in mint condition year-round, and you are only as good as yourword in these parts. Rates rarely exceed $50 for 18 and a cart.

Bear's Best Atlanta - A collection of 18 of Jack Nicklaus' best holes selectedfrom his 200-plus golf courses around the globe is the official billing for Bear's Best Atlanta.The selections lean heavily towards the Golden Bear's domestic offerings. But it's tough tocomplain when you can sample Muirfield Village, Sherwood Country Club, Castle Pines and theGovernor's Club without leaving HotLanta. Bear's Best is always well-groomed and service levels areamong the tops in town.

Solid Seconds

Hamilton Mill Golf Club - Gene Bates and Fred Couples began their decade longdesign partnership at Hamilton Mill in the early 1990s. Boom Boom was a couple years removed fromhis first and only Green Jacket, and Bates was looking to solidify is solo design career after along stint in Jack Nicklaus' shop. They came together here in Dacula, just 30 minutes north ofdowntown and a chip shot from I-85, to produce one of the region's more popular daily fee courses."The Mill" is 6,825-yard collection of up-and-down holes crisscrossed by meandering creeks themseem to somehow always be in play.

Cobblestone Golf Club - The good news: Cobblestone is an immaculatelyconditioned, award-winning daily fee track located just minutes form downtown. The bad news: It canbe pull-your-hair-out-hard if you don't drive it laser straight and hit the proper green tier onyour approach shots. Throw in some deep bunkering and shimmering lake Allatoona and you have onechallenging, memorable golf experience. The course opened in 1993 and once served as the Mondayqualifier site for the BellSouth. Cobb County holds title to the property and the good folks atcounty hall keep the rates below $70 on the weekends.

Also playing - River's Edge from Bobby Weed, Mike Young's Wolf Creek justminutes from Hartsfield International Airport, and the Georgia National Golf Club are good playsfor the money. Near Stone Mountain are some renovated courses from Dick Wilson and Robert TrentJones. In Conyers, about 25 minutes east of downtown, the Palmer Design Group has built one of itsmost adventurous offerings in Cherokee Run. Closer to town, Candler Park and Alford Tup arenine-holers popular with city dwellers and venerable 18-hole tracks such as the Bobby Jones GolfCourse and Brown's Mill appeal to students of golf history.

Road Trips

Leave for the Masters a couple days early and schedule a stop at Reynolds Plantation, located midway between Atlanta and Augusta. Reynolds Plantation is one of the Southeast's most complete and aesthetically impressive resorts and is alsohome to two of the best tracks in the state - the Great Waters and Oconee courses. Great Waters isa Jack Nicklaus design with six holes playing along the tranquil shores of Lake Oconee. Rees Jonesdesigned the neighboring Oconee Course, which will put you in the mood to stroll the fairways ofAugusta National with its straightforward design and pine-lined fairways.

While in the area, don't miss the Golf Club at Cuscowilla - a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw minimalistdesign that many critics regard as the best pay for play in the state. No Masters tickets? Noproblem. Point the car northeast and head out for a weekend of golf, wine tasting and pampering atChateau Elan. 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. Keeping with the pampering theme, the Inn at Barnsley Gardens is justan hour northwest of the city. Tee it up against Barnsley's General golf course, one of the states'best kept secrets.

Eating out

No trip to Atlanta is complete without a stop in the Varsity. Hamburgers, chili dogs, fries andonions rings served in an atmosphere that is unapologetically Happy-Days-deco. After battling thebreezes at Orchard Hills, test your intestinal fortitude against Sprayberry's down-home Georgia BBQ(tangier than Texas, with more tomato than North Carolina). When at Reynolds, do as the Reynolds.Tip the pinkies southern style at Georgia's at the Ritz Carlton.

Stay and Play

Reynolds Plantation is home to the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, which features a 26,000-square-foot spaand an edgeless pool overlooking Lake Oconee. The Inn at Barnsley Gardens houses 70 suites outfitin 19th century English décor, formal gardens and (more importantly) an authentic BavarianBeer Garden. From English and German to French; the Inn at Chateau Elan features 277 elegant guestrooms draped in pastel color schemes and stocked with country French furnishings.

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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