We just witnessed the completion of another major at Bethpage State Park’s Black course in New York. I want to congratulate the USGA and PGA of America for choosing a state park golf course to host our National Championships. Bethpage broke the mold of private country clubs hosting the US Open in 2002, and again in 2009. For the first time, the 2024 Ryder Cup will be contested there.
Many of the states have state park golf clubs that often get overlooked when playing or rating the courses in a state, despite being awesome and affordable places to play. Even my fellow golf writers seem to write about the better-heeled golf clubs in their respective regions rather than these daily-fee hidden gems.
One such state that takes great pride in its offering of places to play for both its citizens and visitors is the State of Georgia, the home of the great Bobby Jones, the Masters and the PGA TOUR Championship. I recently had an opportunity to take a whirlwind tour of some of the Georgia State Park Golf Clubs. If you are living in Georgia or traveling through the Peach State and want an enjoyable round of golf, you need to look no further than the fantastic eight golf clubs spanning the state. Ranging from South to Mid to North Georgia, each of the award-winning layouts are the perfect place to tee it up with relaxed picturesque environments and friendly staff. No two are alike. they all have their own personality and challenge. You can get some ‘Sweet Deals in the Peach State’. No homes, no crowds, just you and nature.
My journey began at the Lakes at Laura S. Walker State Park just east of Waycross and near Okefenokee Swamp Park. PGA Professional David Sikes manages the Golf Club which was designed by Steve Burns in 1995 and had just completed a bunker refurbishing by ASGCA Architect Denis Griffiths. The 6595 yard par 72 layout plays like a links course with grassy mounds, waste areas and the new bunkering detailing the fairways. There are three sizable lakes that come into play, thus the name. Golfweek called the Lakes ‘the 7th best Municipal Course in the Nation’ when it opened while Golf Digest picked it as the best ‘muni’ in Georgia. The club has a large driving range, practice putting surface and short game area. PGA Pro Sikes is available for lessons and runs an extensive junior program. I stayed in one of the six newly built sportman’s cabins overlooking a lake which has two bedrooms, one bath, a full kitchen, living room and screened porch which was very neat and clean. Call 912-285-2154 for tee times.
The next morning I traveled to Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park in the southeast plains town of Reidsville where Griffiths expanded the Brazell’s Creek nine hole layout to a rather unique set of two distinctive nines stretching out to almost 7,000 yards at a par of 71 in 2008. Their is a Foot Golf track on the front. The parkland style outward nine has tree-lined fairways and a lovely rolling terrain. Once you complete the first nine, there is a 1,500 yard winding bridge over ecological sensitive wetlands which brings you to the sprawling links inward nine with wide open fairways, no trees and a lot of fescue rough. It is like playing two different golf courses. The scenic 17th hole, a 200 yard par 3 that plays over a ravine is a mighty test to a medium sized green. Once again I stayed overnight in one of the eight cottages next to the golf course with two bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen, living room with fireplace and outside porch overlooking a golf hole and very comfortable. To book a tee-time call 912-577-7745.
On the third day I drove north for about three hours to reach Hard Labor Creek State Park, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This Peach Park is located between Madison and Covington off I-20 in the historical and quaint town of Rutledge. The Creek Golf Club has been in existence since 1968, with a redo by Griffiths in 2005. It is the toughest of the 8, and the par 4, 10th hole is considered the hardest hole in the parks. The 6431 yards doesn’t sound too bad, but the sound of balls hitting trees makes you think there is a hunt going on instead of golf. The creek comes into play on five of the 18 challenges which have a lot of elevation changes and doglegs. The signature 5th, a 175 yard par 3 piece of serenity comes complete with a working water wheel and a wooden bridge in the background. I birdied this beauty. Golf Digest’s Frugal Golfer named The Creek ‘the 4th Sweetest Deal in the USA’ and I whole-heartily agree. The expanded clubhouse has a meeting space, a well-stocked pro shop and there are sandwiches and beverages for sale. PGA Professional Karl Gross is the Head Golf Pro/ Manager at the Creek and has a great summer junior program and is available for lessons. One thing I found surprising was the Park has 26 miles of horse trails, an entire equestrian center with 3,10 stall barns to keep your horses overnite. There are 20 cabins lakeside with similar furnishings, well maintained to house your golf group. Call 706-557-3006 to make a reservation.
Recently Golf Advisor released its list of the Top 50 golf courses in the US for 2018. Among favorites like Bethpage Black, Harbortown Golf Links, and TPC Sawgrass, one of the Georgia State Parks’ golf courses located in Elberton has made the list-Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course at Richard B. Russell State Park. Not taking anything away from the other courses, this Bob Walker 2004 design playing along Lake Russell and on a peninsula that juts out into the lake is a spectacular visual golf experience. I was really amazed at the beauty of the course and understand fully how it got on the list as a players favorite. The smooth and quick TifEagle greens, daunting doglegs and bunkering on this hilly 6,800 yard, par 72 masterpiece is a true golf challenge. The clubhouse has been remodeled to include a well stocked pro shop and the comfortable Broken Arrow Grill with great service and food choices. I spent two nights in one of the 20 cottages in the park with nice accommodations. For tee time reservations call 706-283-6000.
Less than an hour from Arrowhead, Highland Walk Golf Club in the 500 acre Victoria Bryant State Park is near the town of Royston. Another Denis Griffiths design and the last golf course on my trip, the 6500 yard par 72 course is in the highlands of the upper piedmont area of Georgia and the most difficult of the eight. The steep rolling fairways that tumble down and then turn right back uphill are no walk-more like a hike. A powerful golf cart will save the day on this layout with a rating/slope of 71.6/133. It has majestic views from almost every tee box and the Bermuda greens were in superb condition. Accuracy is a key component to score well with Georgia pines and hardwoods bordering the fairways. Clubhouse Manager Bill Schuster was very welcoming and made sure my golf round was enjoyable. There is a Bluebird Cottage that can sleep 8 for a small golf group, and larger groups can rent cottages at nearby Tugaloo State Park and play here. They have archery, bicycles for rent, a swimming pool and are the only park with platform walk-in campsites. Call 706-245-6770 for reservations.
This fabulous five is operated by the Department of Natural Resources while the other three are managed by Coral Hospitality and all are part of the Georgia Golf Trail, a unique grouping of 27 outstanding golf resorts and courses from the Mountains to the Sea with pure peachy hospitality.
If there is one constant playing all eight of these state park courses, it is the natural beauty surrounding them. The State of Georgia did a great service to its residents and visitors establishing these affordable golf courses. If I was in a golf group and looking for a week of great golf and comfortable accommodations for a reasonable rate, I would definitely choose Georgia’s State Park golf courses. If you are a family group with some non-golfers there are all kinds of activities for them to enjoy in idyllic locations: nature excursions, kayaking or canoeing, swimming, fishing, hiking, camping, RVing,and just hanging out in the pure beauty of nature.