The State of Georgia has led the way in reopening during the covid-19 pandemic. Governor Brian Kemp identified outdoor activity as essential as long as visitors follow the CDC Guidelines. To enjoy fresh air and social distancing in beautiful surroundings 365 days a year, the State Parks of the Peach State cover more than 84,000 acres scattered throughout the state and are the perfect place to visit and play in.
Home to the great Bobby Jones, The Masters and the Tour Championship, Georgia has 8 State Parks with remarkable championship golf courses available for its residents and visitors, known as the “Sweetest Deals in Golf.” With designs that leverage the spectacular and diverse terrain across the state, the Georgia State Park courses compare very favorably to some of the state’s premier venues at great prices.
The state park courses are part of the dynamic Georgia Golf Trail, a collaboration of beautiful golf resorts and outstanding golf courses from the mountains to the plains to the sea with pure peachy hospitality, providing a gracious southern atmosphere with unparalleled conditioning.
Let’s start in the upper piedmont of Georgia, just off Interstate 85 at exit 160, about a 20-minute drive from the interchange, Highland Walk Golf Club located in the 500 acres Victoria Bryant State Park is a Denis Griffiths par 72, 18 hole masterpiece stretching out to 6,600 yards. My group agrees it is the toughest of the eight. This is no walk in a park. It’s a hike. A powerful golf cart will save you from the steep rolling fairways that tumble down and then start right back uphill with a rating of 71.4/131. One thing that comes along with a hilly terrain is the majestic views from almost every tee box hitting to crowned fairways that are bordered by mature native hardwoods and Georgia pines. The undulating and well kept TifEagle greens are no surprise considering Highland Walk has been voted the best State Park Golf Course two years in a row and #11 in the statewide Golf Advisor survey of players in the ‘Best of Georgia.’ Clubhouse Manager Bill Schuster was very welcoming and runs a tight ship to ensure players enjoy their round at Highland Walk. There is a Bluebird Cottage that can sleep 8 golfers, and larger groups can rent cottages at nearby Tugaloo State Park. Call 706-245-6770 for tee times, membership rates and reservations.
Less than an hour from the Walk, near the town of Elberton, is Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course at Richard B. Russell State Park, which is on the list of the ‘Top 50 Golf Courses You Can Play’ in the USA, among favorites like Bethpage Black, Harbortown Golf Links and TPC Sawgrass. Not taking away anything from the other state park venues, this 2004 Bob Walker design plays along the shore of Lake Russell with three holes on a peninsula that juts out into the lake with a spectacular visual experience. I was amazed at the sheer beauty of the layout and understand how it got on the list as a players’ favorite. The daunting doglegs and bunkering on this 6800 yard, par 72 rolling hill terrain give the course its teeth. The clubhouse has been remodeled to include a well-stocked pro shop and the Broken Arrow Grill with great service and food choices. There are 20 cottages available in the park with comfortable accommodations. For tee times, reservations and Greens Pass information call 706-283-6000.
The next location is about an hour’s drive east from downtown Atlanta just off Interstate 20 between Madison and Covington in the historical and quaint town of Rutledge. The Creek Golf Club is inside Hard Labor Creek State Park, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The course has been in existence since 1968, with a redo by ASGCA architect Denis Griffiths in 2005. It is the toughest next to the Walk, with the 10th hole considered the hardest par 4 in the State Parks. The 6431 total yards doesn’t seem too bad, but the constant sound of balls bouncing off of trees makes one think there is a hunt going on. The creek comes into play on five of the 18 challenges that have considerable elevation changes and doglegs. The signature 5th, a 175-yard par 3 complete with a working water wheel and an elevated wooden bridge in the background was birdie time for me. Golf Digest’s Frugal Golfer named the Creek ‘the 4th Sweetest Deal in the USA’ and I heartily agree. The park has 5,804 acres, 26 miles of horseback and hiking trails, an entire equestrian center with 3 10 stall barns, and 20 lakeside cabins. Call 706-557-3006 to make a reservation and learn more about memberships.
Traveling south on Interstate 75 from Atlanta for two hours, the Georgia Veterans State Park west of Cordele is home to the Lake Blackshear Resort and Georgia Veterans Memorial Golf Course, commonly known as the “Vet.” The Denis Griffiths design has been recognized as one of
middle Georgia’s finest courses with a four-star rating from Golf Digest. The rolling terrain is replete with mounding and lots of sand bunkers throughout and is a true test to the single-digit handicapper at 6869 yards with a slope/rating of 130/72.1. Luckily, there are four sets of tees for us mere mortals to enjoy the Vet. Lake Blackshear Resort sits on the beautiful 20-mile long lake with a full-service marina, a Hotel with sizable meeting space, great accommodations, and multiple dining options. Georgia Veterans State Park is the perfect venue for large groups to enjoy a golf outing. For more information on golf packages and reservations please call 800-459-1230.
About two hours west of the Vet is the George T. Bagby State Park & Lodge located along the shores of scenic 48,000 acre Walter F. George Lake, an extension of the Chattahoochee River which separates Georgia from Alabama. The Meadow Links golf course, a William Byrd design, that opened in 1998, was ranked as “the nation’s sixth-best new affordable public course.” The folks in southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama would prefer if it didn’t get out, but George T Bagby is one of the ‘Best Kept Secrets’ in these parts. With a great lake for all kinds of water sports, a championship links-style golf course, numerous other recreational amenities, lodging at campsites, lakefront cottages and the 60 room lodge, Bagby is the goto place for outdoor fun, whether by car or boat. The 7,000-yard splendid layout with 5 sets of tees provides 18 different opportunities to play a formidable challenge with lake overlooks and great course conditions. Call 229-768-2571 for reservations.
Going east from the Vet, just over an hour driving time, Little Ocmulgee State Park near McRaeHelena is home to the Wallace Adams Golf Club, commonly known as “Little O.” This delightful classic track surrounded by loblolly pines, magnolias, willows and assorted hardwoods will test your shotmaking on the front nine and allow you to grip it and rip it on the back. After a few holes, I took a moment to check out the layout and found myself reminded of Augusta National. Here if you care to, walking is allowed on the 6625-yard par 72 course. The Tifeagle greens were in great shape and the pine straw rough was another reminder of Augusta. Like Bagby, there is a 60 room Lodge that has gone through a recent remodel, a large campsite area and cabins to enjoy a stay and play. The Lodge has the Fairway dining room and meeting rooms for golf group outings and family reunions. For reservations give them a call at 229-768-2571.
The Georgia Veterans Memorial, George T. Bagby and Little Ocmulgee State Park facilities are managed by Coral Hospitality while the other five are run by the Department of Natural Resources. The common denominator at all of the state park golf courses is the absolutely awesome layouts that you will find when visiting them; no homes just pure nature. The topography at each site defined how the golf architects routed the courses which in of itself is amazing. Then the value- the cost of playing at a state park is so much more affordable than playing at other similar quality properties.
Just over an hour east of Little ‘O’ in Reidsville is Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park, the home of Brazell’s Creek golf course, the most unique of the
eight. Georgia’s own ASGCA golf architect Denis Griffiths worked his magic here. The front nine is similar to the many park layouts with stands of pine trees bordering the fairways and lovely rolling terrain playing into well-maintained Tifeagle greens. With only one par 5, the outward parkland nine is 3200+ yards. Then you take a ride for about 1500 yards on a bridge that stretches across some environmentally protected area, to another world. The back nine is about 3600 yards of pure links golf bordered by fescue rough. I didn’t know that little bridge would land me in Scotland. One of the most challenging par 3s is the signature 207 yard 15th that plays over a ravine to a difficult undulating green. There is a bailout area to the right but where is the challenge? Can you say tweet-tweet- I can. There are eight golf side cabins available for rent. Call 912-557-7745 for reservations.
The last and southernmost golf course is located in Laura S. Walker State Park at the northern edge of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp near Waycross, about a two hour drive from Brazell’s Creek. The Lakes golf course is a Stephen Burns 1995 parkland design with water coming in play more often on the front nine. Both #9 & 18 share a lake to maneuver in order to get home safe. We really enjoyed the routing through the huge stands of Georgia pines throughout and a variety of challenging holes which you are allowed to walk. Our host was PGA Professional David Sikes, a great teacher and mentor for the youth of the area. The park has campsites and lakeside cabins, plenty of watersports and hiking and biking trails. For reservations and more information call 912-285-6154.
No matter what course you choose, you are assured of a great game with challenging holes in a pristine setting in the Georgia State Parks, with pricing that won’t empty your wallet, friendly southern hospitality and comfortable lodging. Go Play!