During a trip to Savannah for the Georgia Open, we managed to get in four days of golf on four different public access courses in the area, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience at each one.
Here is a look at the four courses, in the order of when played:
For visitors flying into Savannah, you can’t beat the location, which directly borders the airport. Those who enjoy watching planes taking off or landing will get plenty of opportunities to gawk at the arrivals and departures, with the club’s logo featuring an airplane.
Located just off I-95 north of the city, it’s one of Savannah’s most convenient courses and also among the more affordable, with modest rates considering the quality of the layout, which is in an otherwise non-developed setting.
Crosswinds is listed at 6750 yards from the back tees, 6131 from the blues and a friendly 5594 from the whites, but the course plays its length, with the shorter and seemingly more inviting back nine not the soft touch you might expect considering the modest yardage totals.
Although Crosswinds is a parkland style layout with generous fairway width, there are ample opportunities to find trouble, with hazards in play on at least half the holes, including three of the five par 3s and four of the five par 5s. Trees are also a key factor on several holes and can impede approach shots if you you’re on the wrong side of the fairway.
The Tifeagle greens have a decent amount of undulation and tend to be on the large side, with only a few holes well-protected by bunkers and some with no sand around the greens. Among the more interesting holes is the par-3 16th, which is surrounded on three sides by a reverse horseshoe-shaped waste area.
The 16th is part of an appealing group of par 3s, four of which are under 170 yards from the blues, but with water very much in play on three of them.
Other than the ninth, which is listed at 590 from the tips, length is not a serious concern on the par 5s, but positioning is vital to avoid the ever-present hazards along the edges. Trouble lurks all the way down the left side on the par-5 sixth and down the right on the 12th, which ends with a touchy third shot over sand and water to one of the smaller targets on the course.
Both nines finish with side-by-side par 5s with hazards on opposite sides of the fairway leading to a shared green fronted by a pond. It’s a challenge to steer around trees along the left edge of the ninth and to stay left on the pond in the lay-up area on the 18th, making the two holes a scenic if perilous way to conclude the two nines.
Only one of the par 4s has much length, with three of them under 330 from the blues, with each of the trio requiring some precision to take advantage of the absence of length. A creek that guards the right side of the fairway and angles in front of the green at the 17th makes it part of a distinctive finishing trio of holes.
The exceptional Bob Cupp design is the most upscale daily fee course in the Savannah area, and served as host of the Champions Tour Legends of Golf, the tournament that gave birth to the tour, from 2003 to 2013.
Savannah Harbor, which ranks among the elite courses in the state accessible to daily fee play, is located on Hutchinson Island just across the Back River from downtown Savannah, and offers a splendid view from above as you driving to the course across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
While Cupp’s layout maxes out at almost 7300 yards and gave golf’s top senior players a battle for more than a decade, it is an eminently playable course from a trio of tees listed at 6627, 6330 and 6048.
The course has not changed significantly since it opened in 1999, with the nines reversed early on to conform to the tournament routing. As a result of the flipping of the nines, you will encounter some of the more dangerous holes on the course on the front nine, along with a finishing trio that includes a pair of lengthy par 4s and the most perilous of the par 3s.
The fairways at Savannah Harbor are on the generous side, but almost every par 4 or 5 has at least one fairway bunker in play, with thin tree lines and marshes that border some of the holes an occasional concern. There are no forced carries of significance, with the marshes that cover much of the property mostly in play around the greens on the front nine, most notably the two par 5s (4 and 7) and the par-4 sixth, which features the most intimidating approach shot on the course.
Holes 4 and 7 are winding par 5s, with marshland bordering both holes all the way down the left side and uncomfortably close as you near the green. Fortunately, Cupp offers some bailout room on the opposite side of the marshes, easing the task of avoiding the danger amid the appealing visuals of the tall marsh grasses.
With the exception of the sixth and the 17th,, a par-3 of some length over water, the par 3s and par 4s are mostly hazard free, with two of the par 3s (8 and 15), and the short par-4 14th offering excellent scoring opportunities.
There are also five par 4s that play 445 or longer from the black tees and a whopper of a par 3 (No. 3), along with two huge par 5s, with the seventh listed at 599 from the member tees and 558 from the senior set. Even the forward tees on both holes exceed 470 yards.
Cupp compensates for the length and danger of the more demanding holes with mostly unimpeded angles to hole locations, with the well-bunkered, short par-4 first, short par-3 eighth and medium-length par-4 ninth the exceptions.
For the most part, Cupp’s greens complexes are on the tame side, with the putting surfaces not particularly large by modern standards. Some of the holes increase in difficulty if the pins are cut in proximity to the bordering marshes, but with many of the greens minimally bunkered and uniformly level terrain throughout, getting up and down from off the putting surface does not require the skill of a Champions Tour player.
With gorgeous views and immaculate course conditions, Savannah Harbor is the most expensive option among the public access courses in Savannah, but its overall quality more than matches the cost.
WILMINGTON ISLAND CLUB
An original Donald Ross design dating back to 1927, the course has undergone several name and design changes since, some of them quite extensive.
Formerly known as Savannah Inn and CC and later the Sheraton Savannah Resort, it became the Wilmington Island Club in the 1990s after the once nationally known resort fell on hard times. Some major renovation work since then and the construction of an attractive clubhouse has restored some of the shine to the old Donald Ross gem, with the first and 18th holes switched and the nines reversed from their original routing.
After a Willard Byrd re-design in the 1960s, the course hosted the GSGA Championship in 1979 and was the annual site of the Georgia Open until the early 1990s. Since the major changes, the GSGA played its 4-Ball Championship at the club in 2006.
Playing to a par of 71, Wilmington Island Club measures 6715 yards from the tips and 6266 from the next set, but is by no means a short course. Almost all the par 4s are of medium length, and with most of the greens well-bunkered, the approach shots are no bargains, particularly if you miss the fairways, which are bordered by a healthy spread of Bermuda rough along with a variety of coastal trees and the occasional spread of pine straw.
A ditch that winds through the course was expanded in several spots and more water added, enhancing the scenic appeal of the course as well as increasing its difficulty. Hazards are in play on about half the holes, including a trio of par 3s that are not particularly long, but can be as perilous as they are aesthetically pleasing. The proximity of the hazards to the greens can produce some testy tee shots to front pins, as well as a potentially uncomfortable bunker shot with the water looming across the green.
Because the ditch extends across the width of much of the course, it comes into play in some different spots, crossing several fairways to cause some concern with tee shots or a lay-up on a par 5.
Although Wilmington Island has been renovated several times, it retains the feel of a traditional course from an earlier era, with its relaxed, coastal setting making for a pleasant round of golf, although your score might not be quite as low as you anticipated after assessing the yardage and course ratings.
Located in the community of Rincon about 25 minutes from downtown Savannah, Lost Plantation is a slightly out-of-the-way venue for visitors to the area, drawing on more of a local base for its play.
The course, which opened for play in the late 1980s, was designed by Ward Northrup, whose other Georgia courses include Summit Chase in Snellville, Oak Mountain in Carrollton and Bull Creek in Columbus.
Northrup put together an interesting layout that varies between rugged, tree-lined holes at the outset of both nines to a more open, residential nature in the middle of the course.
Lost Plantation measures 6833 yards from the back tees and 6388 from the blues with moderate course rating numbers, but if you stray on the holes bordered by thick tree lines, hazards or OB stakes, it will provide more of a challenge than the seemingly friendly numbers.
The opening holes are among the most dangerous on the course, with wetlands areas bordering all three, requiring some precise positioning to avoid trouble. The lengthy par-4 third is a particularly demanding hole, ranking with the 15th, which is guarded by water all the way down the left side, as the most difficult holes on the course.
If you can keep it in play off the tee, Lost Plantation becomes a much more inviting layout, with a mostly accommodating group of par 5s, and a reasonably tame quartet of par 3s lacking both serious length and surrounding danger. Most of the challenge is located on the par 4s, but half of them are 365 or shorter from the blues and offer scoring opportunities following accurate tee shots.
One of the more perilous par 4s is the finishing hole, which requires a testy second shot to a green fronted by sand, with water short and left.
The Bermuda putting surfaces tend to be on the large side with some featuring modest slopes, and the majority of the greens well-guarded by bunkers.
Lost Plantation is one of the best daily fee values in the Savannah area, attracting players from outside the Rincon community with its very affordable fees and enjoyable, moderately challenging layout.