ATLANTA , GA - Georgia has always been a well-kept secret when it comes to outstanding golf, but state tourism officials are trying to get the word out.
While other states around it, like North and South Carolina, Alabama and Florida, have already seized a piece of the booming golf travel industry with aggressive marketing campaigns, Georgia lagged behind.
By capitalizing on its great southern charm and hospitality, along with outstanding classic and modern courses, Georgia is making a concerted effort to bring golfers in and then wine and dine them to get them back.
Georgia has always been host to great championship golf at private courses, a.k.a. The Masters in Augusta and the PGA Tour's BellSouth Classic at the TPC at Sugarloaf in Duluth, but an influx of top-flight resort and public courses will amaze players who have never visited the Peach state.
The state doesn't have the year-round golf climate of Florida or the tradition of the Sandhills and the Pinehurst area of North Carolina, but its dramatic rolling landscape caters to wondrous up-and-down layouts.
From the state's coastline along the Atlantic Ocean to its mountainous regions and its upscale suburbs, the state offers completely different golf landscapes and experiences. Georgia boasts four courses named on Golf Magazine's list of the "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" and two of Golf Digest's "Top 50 Greatest Golf Destinations."
And visiting Atlanta is always exciting. Chances are in the near future, you'll pass through Atlanta for business or to visit the never-ending stream of elite sporting spectacles - the Final Four, the Super Bowl, the Olympics - so take your clubs to really enjoy yourself.
Here's a look at just a few of the many places to play and stay:
With average temperatures in the 50s from December to February, Atlanta is normally weather-friendly year-round, especially during the spring travel months of March (average 64 degrees), April (72 degrees) and May (79 degrees).
Although staying downtown might force a long drive to golf during the day, it's the ultimate convenience for enjoying the city's nightlife after-hours. Tourist hotspots include Underground Atlanta, a former underground transportation system where six city blocks have been developed into a marketplace of trendy restaurants and specialty shops, and Buckhead, a section of bars and clubs off of Peachtree street for the heartiest partiers and weekend warriors. For families, the Six Flags over Georgia in Mableton and the Zoo Atlanta will keep kids happy.
Atlanta has continued to grow as a convention destination. One of downtown's best hotels for business travelers is the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Peachtree, where more than 1,200 rooms and 180,000 square feet of meeting space is available, the largest in the city. Every possible hotel chain, like Marriott, Holiday Inn and others, are also options.
State tourism and golf officials boast that as many as 50 public courses are within a simple drive (45 minutes) from downtown Atlanta. Of course, remember that Atlanta has some of the nation's worst traffic, so plan accordingly.
In Alpharetta, a well-to-do suburb northeast of the city, the White Columns Golf Club, is a 7,000-yard, Tom Fazio gem. Southeast of the city in Acworth is Cobblestone, which recently made Golf Magazine's "Top 100" list. Stone Bridge Golf Club in Rome, Cherokee Run Golf Course in Conyers and The Heritage Golf Club in Norcross are all among the state's top layouts.
Also of note, seven state park courses feature cabin and lodging accommodations and can be less expensive than the high-end resorts.
But at the heart of Georgia's golf push are many new, or growing, resort destinations.
Reynolds Plantation: With the continuing evolution of this resort in its first 12 years, Reynolds Plantation is sure to become one of the nation's elite stops, once its Ritz-Carlton Lodge is completed by 2002.
Reynolds Plantation, which is 75 miles southeast of Atlanta on the way to Augusta, features some of the state's top public courses, designed by Jack Nicklaus (Great Waters in Eatonton), Rees Jones (the brand new Lodge course) and Tom Fazio (The National), along with the original 18-hole Plantation track, opened in 1988 and designed by Bob Cupp.
Great Waters, a par-72 that plays 7,048 yards from the tips, opened in the fall of 1992 and is widely considered the state's No. 1 public course. The National opened in 1997, while the Jones' masterpiece debuted this year.
Gracing the shores of Lake Oconee, one of the world's largest man-made lakes, the resort also offers great sailing, boating, fishing, swimming and water skiing. Cottages are already available for lodging. For more information, visit www.reynoldsplantation.com.
This golf course and residential community/resort is another up-and-comer alongside Lake Oconee in Eatonton. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed a par-70, 6,847-yard stunner in 1998, which will only get better as it matures.
The development plan calls for a bed and breakfast inn and a limited number of home sites and luxury cottages. Some of these homes and cottages, complete with fireplaces and up to three bedrooms, will be available for rent. For more information, visit www.cuscowilla.com.
About an hour and a half northwest of Atlanta is solitude at its finest. In quaint little Adairsville, the new Barnsley Gardens Inn and Golf Course opened in 1999 and has made an immediate impact in Georgia's golfing scene, ranking as the state's second-best public course in Golf Digest's 2001 ratings. While golf is a draw, the 1,300-acre resort caters (www.barnsleyinn.com) to couples as a romantic getaway with its spa and fitness center, swimming, fishing, horseback riding and walking trails. Thirty-three English-style guest cottages are built for twosomes. Sound like a good place for a wedding? It is.
The property's breathtaking gardens were rejuvenated by Prince Hubertus Fugger, who invested more than $3.5 million in their restoration.
Two coastal islands, St. Simons and Jekyll, are the hometown area of Davis Love III. The Sea Island area, which seems to be eloquently trapped in a time warp of the late 1800s, is just 70 miles south of the Savannah International Airport and about 60 north of the Jacksonville (Fla) airport, but it feels like you've taken a time machine to get here.
Golf on St. Simons is pricey, but an experience of a lifetime with the Sea Island Golf Club's Plantation and Seaside courses, the Hampton Club, the St. Simons Island Club and the 27-hole Sea Palms Resort. The Jekyll Island Golf Club features 63 holes that are less expensive, but still fun. Staying at the Cloister Hotel should be at the top of your list with more than 5,000 guest rooms.
Sixty-three holes, including the nationally recognized Mountain View course, make Callaway Gardens (www.callawaygardens.com) in Pine Mountain, which is south of Atlanta near the Alabama border, a perfect stop for players. Callaway Gardens, a 14,000-acre resort with gardens galore, is nestled in the southernmost foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, making it a natural paradise. With an inn and cottages to choose from and eight restaurants to enjoy, Calloway is self-sustaining.
The Georgian Resort in Villa Rica, about a half-hour west of Atlanta features The Frog, designed by Fazio. An additional 18 holes is scheduled to be finished later this year. For information on Chateau Elan, a top resort in Braselton, about 45 minutes north of Atlanta, see a separate sidebar, or visit www.chateauelan.com.