Four Southern Georgia hidden gems might comprise North America’s most amazing golf package
From a Georgia resident standpoint, it’s downright inconvenient—all these great golf facilities so far from the population centers. From a Canadian tourist standpoint, it’s heaven on earth: four memorable state park golf courses—no waiting. And if that main course wasn’t already appetizing enough, it’s been paired with a mind-bending package deal starting at $160US pp, including three nights’ accommodations, three rounds, unlimited practice range and daily lunch!
“We wanted to get really aggressive with it, because Southern Georgia is a bit of an unknown destination,” notes Heath Carter, Regional V.P. of Sales and Marketing at Coral Hospitality, which manages multiple golf courses, hotels and resorts in the region, including the four State Park facilities in the aptly named “Too Good to Be True” package: George T. Bagby State Park (Meadow Links GC), Little Ocmulgee State Park and Lodge (Wallace Adams GC), Laura S. Walker State Park (The Lakes GC) and Lake Blackshear Resort at Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park.
“We felt once players see the quality of the courses, they’ll appreciate what a huge value they are,” says Carter. “These State Park courses are really well maintained, they are interesting layouts, and they have a lot of top-grade amenities that you didn’t wouldn’t normally get at a golf course. And then you have the state-park settings, with walking and hiking trails, water activities, fishing…and no homes! There’s nobody eating on their decks and no worries about mis-hitting a shot off someone’s window. It’s a true ‘back to nature’ feeling.”
While three of the parks feature extensive accommodations, Lake Blackshear is the jewel in the crown. Just two hours and 20 minutes south of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is Cordele, but remote enough to feel like you’ve left civilization in your rearview mirror about a week ago, the stately Lake Blackshear Resort comprises 14 charming guest rooms in the lodge, 64 spacious villa guest rooms and 10 scenic lakeside cabins ranging from two to four bedrooms. All Lodge guest rooms include dual high-speed internet work stations, an in-room mini-refrigerator and complimentary coffee service and morning newspaper. There’s even an 18-hole disc golf course, outdoor fitness centre, a model airplane flying field and private kayak and canoe tours for groups—all on one of the best bass-fishing lakes in Southern Georgia.
“There’s a bar, meeting space, marina, swimming beach and a super-nice restaurant,” says Carter, who bypassed such edibles as shrimp & grits and grilled mahi mahi in favour of a 12oz rib eye during his last visit.
“We have kayaks, fishing boats, wave runners—even a private touring boat that you can arrange to have hors d’oeuvres and a bar set up,” notes Carter. There’s also the allure of the SAM Shortline Excursion Train, a vintage 1949 train that makes short pit stops between Cordele and Americus, GA. “You can rent out different cars if you like, you can do dinner tours, and there’s everything from a couple seats and a table to more sumptuously upholstered furnishings.”
Other area attractions include the former home of President Jimmy Carter in nearby Plains, military museums, skeet shooting, archery and hunting.
But as activities go, golf thumps ’em all, taking advantage of a varied natural topography framed by pecan trees, Loblolly pines and weeping willows. Let us begin the tour of uncrowded fairways at Blackshear’s Veterans Memorial GC, or the ’Vet’s Course. Less than 10 minutes off I-75, on the outskirts of Cordele (the town that hails itself as the watermelon capital of the world), this Denis Griffiths design is recognized as one of Central and South Georgia’s best bangs for the buck. Large, sloping Dwarf Bermuda greens await fairways that wind through mounds and stands of tall pines and along the shore of Lake Blackshear.
Ninety minutes due west on Lake Eufaula, which overlaps the George-Alabama border, is Meadow Links at George T. Bagby State Park. Crafted by Willard Byrd, who remodelled and designed more than 100 golf courses, including Atlanta Country Club, the layout was ranked by Golf Digest as “the nation’s sixth-best new affordable public course” upon its 1998 unveiling. Creatively woven into the gently rolling contours of the countryside, the links-style layout is loaded with healthy bunkering and memorable views.
Large greens offer subtle breaks, while lush green fairways are ribboned with long Bahia rough. Two large pecan trees and an old pear tree crown the hill behind the 10th green, where golfers can enjoy one of the finest views in the South.
Eighty minutes to the east of Lake Blackshear lies Wallace Adams GC. Situated in Little Ocmulgee State Park in McRae, the town square of which boasts its own version of the Liberty Bell and Statue of Liberty, the course has been rated four-and-a-half stars by Trip Advisor and Golf Advisor, including five stars for conditioning in this, its 50th anniversary year, the secluded track is adorned with pines, willows and magnolias.
Routed through pine forest, no shortage of shotmaking skills are required to negotiate the tight front nine. Both of the opening par-3s play in excess of 200 yards, with the daunting sixth featuring a sharp drop-off beyond the putting surface.
Providing more breathing space but no less strategy, the original nine—now the back nine—was designed by O.C. Jones, an extended part of the Robert Trent Jones family.
“The course has a Pinehurst feel, with pine needles all around it and new Tif-eagle bermuda greens,” explains Carter, one of his favourite holes being the opening par-4, with its old stone walking bridge across the pond to the green. “Golf writers refer to Wallace Adams Golf Club at Little Ocmulgee as Augusta National’s cousin.”
From there, it’s 90 minutes south to The Lakes at Laura S. Walker State Park in Waycross. Although pancake-flat, as one might expect this far south near the famed Okefenokee Swamp, architect Steve Burnes deftly employed three large lakes and vast waste areas to keep players intrigued and on their toes.
And whether you’re making a few stops en route to Florida or targeting Southern Georgia as your primary destination, Carter says you can play favourites among the “Too Good to Be True” foursome of courses, if you like. “You can mix and match however you want to configure your three courses,” he says. “And it doesn’t have to be a guys’ trip. This is also a great destination for couples looking to unwind. And you don’t have to wait until the spring. I was just there in November and it was 79F.”
Golf Southern Georgia: GolfSoGa.com
Coral Hospitality: coralhospitality.com
SAM Shortline Train: samshortline.com