By Mike Blum
With Summer approaching and the temperatures rising, a round of golf in Georgia during June, July or August is usually accompanied by sweating and sunscreen, and the occasional thundershower.
There aren’t many places you can go in the state to avoid the heat, but it’s a bit more tolerable in the northern regions of Georgia, which include two of the state’s finest resort layouts, along with a few dozen top flight daily fee courses.
Following is a brief look at 18 of the top public access courses across the northern reaches of the state that are not considered to be part of the immediate metro Atlanta area.
Barnsley Gardens (Adairsville): One of the state’s premier resort facilities, Barnsley Gardens has hosted several Georgia Opens in recent years. The superb Jim Fazio design opened in 1999 and has built a strong reputation for its demanding layout and course conditions.
For the most part, Barnsley Gardens is open off the tee, with a modest amount of hazards in play and fewer bunkers than you’ll find on courses designed by Fazio’s brother Tom. But the course has ample length, some large and challenging greens and one of the strongest and most visually appealing groups of par 3s you’ll come across.
Canyon Ridge (Rising Fawn): Located in the extreme northwest corner of the state
south of Chattanooga, the 7-year-old course is still largely unknown to Georgia golfers, and accurately fits the overused description of hidden gem. Designed by Rock Robbins, Canyon Ridge offers the spectacular views of a mountain course but without the severity, with its scenic splendor in evidence from the picturesque first hole.
Only a handful of holes include significant elevation changes, with Robbins doing an excellent job of enhancing the playability of the layout. But there are plenty of natural hazards in play, along with a few sizeable carries from the tee. The greens complexes are on the tame side, but the tee-to-green challenge more than compensates on what is one of the state’s most interesting, if remote, courses.
Fields Ferry (Calhoun): Among north Georgia’s more prominent public courses in the 1990s, the course has been less visible in recent years. The quality Arthur Davis design features two contrasting nines, with the front side significantly longer (especially the par 4s) and more open than the more perilous incoming nine, which includes two interesting par 5s nears the finish. The 16th is one of the state’s most memorable holes, bearing some similarity to the 13th at the UGA course in Athens, with an island green adding to its appeal.
Stonebridge (Rome): A staple of daily fee golf in northwest Georgia for almost two decades, the quality Arthur Davis design offers a nice mix between challenge and playability, with a thoughtful blend of demanding holes along side ones considerably more inviting. The nature of the challenge changes a few times along the way, with Davis offering up several holes where avoiding bunkers is major concern, along with a perilous three-hole stretch (9, 10 and 11) where water is a serious hazard. The ninth is part of an intriguing trio of par 5s and is one of the state’s most distinctive holes, both from a playing and visual standpoint.
JUST OUTSIDE METRO ATLANTA
Achasta (Dahlonega): One of two outstanding daily fee courses along or near the Ga. 400 corridor, the Jack Nicklaus Signature Design offers a unique setting at the foothills of the North Georgia mountains, with the Chestatee River winding through the course. For a course so close to the mountains, Achasta features very little changes in elevation, with the layout on the generous side off the tee.
Thanks to the amount of water in play, Achasta provides plenty of challenge, although its width and modest length also offers sufficient scoring opportunities. The course conditions are consistently among the best you’ll find, and the combination of layout, aesthetic appeal and conditioning matches the best in the state.
Callahan Links (Waleska): One of the newer arrivals on the North Georgia golf scene, Callahan Links opened for play less than five years ago, and has established a niche in its area as an enjoyable, affordable public facility. The course, designed by D.J. DeVictor, blends both mountain and parkland settings into the layout, wits its occasionally open nature adding a bit of a links feel to the mix.
The rolling nature of the layout results in some modest drop-offs outside the fairways, with a number of slightly elevated greens also resulting in some delicate short game shots. Three of the par 5s require carries over hazards at some point on the holes, and there is enough trouble in play to keep things interesting on the modestly challenging layout.
Chestatee (Dawsonville): Along with nearby Achasta, one of the two standouts along the Georgia 400 corridor. The highly-regarded Denis Griffiths design has been an area favorite since it opened in 1999, and has returned to its status as one of the elite courses just outside the Atlanta area since Affiniti Golf Partners took over the club’s management in late 2010.
Thanks to a number of elevated tees, Chestatee is a comfortable course from a distance standpoint, but features a considerable amount of trouble in play off the tee, most of it
down the right side. The interesting and diverse mix of holes includes a short but testy group of par 3s, a wide range of par 4s in both style and difficulty and some par 5s that require both thought and precision.
Lake Arrowhead (Waleska): Following an extensive renovation by D.J. DeVictor, who also re-worked the layout at the nearby Fairways of Canton, Lake Arrowhead re-opened in 2009 as a completely different course from its original design. Gone are the aspects of the course that bore some resemblance to Lake Lanier layouts, with the new Lake Arrowhead now a more traditional mountain-style layout without the severity of many mountain courses.
Some rugged terrain along the way produced a few holes with fairly high degrees of difficulty, but the overall layout is very playable. With five sets of tees, the course offers multiple options for most players, with tee selection a key decision largely due to the challenge of the more demanding holes. The course remains a scenic delight, with DeVictor providing relatively ample landing areas to help offset the trouble that is in play.
Chattahoochee: The course was renovated in 2006, but the essence of the traditional style layout created by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., in 1960 remains. Chattahoochee is a straightforward design that is not overly demanding, but is certainly no pushover. Despite its proximity to Lake Lanier, there are no water hazards on the course, with some thick vegetation off fairways and around some greens the primary trouble areas. Apart from a handful of holes, length is not a serious concern, with Jones’ classic design offering emphasizing greens complexes that can change the nature of many of the holes depending on pin position.
Chicopee Woods: One of the state’s best 27-hole facilities, Denis Griffiths added to his already well-regarded 18 holes with the addition of a newer nine in 2001 that meshes nicely with both of the original nines, which opened for play a decade earlier. The rolling terrain is among the layout’s strongest assets and challenges, with a number of the fairways slightly ascending in nature, with solid tee shots required to clear crests and pick up some downhill roll.
The layout includes a wide variety of holes, with Griffiths including a few of his intriguing short par 4s, along with some par 5s that range from very inviting to potentially perilous. The newer Mill nine is the most comfortable of the three, but also provides a little more short game challenge, with some of the tougher putting surfaces among the 27.
Royal Lakes: The Flowery Branch course underwent an extensive renovation of its Arthur Davis design a decade ago, with several holes getting new tees that changed par 5s to 4s and vice versa. In addition to the new tee boxes, the putting surfaces, known as some of the most demanding in the state, were softened. Water is a very serious factor on about one-third of holes, most notably the par-5, island green 11th, one of several memorable and challenging holes on the back nine.
Apple Mountain (Clarkesville): Among the state’s more enjoyable and affordable layouts, Apple Mountain offers the opportunity to post a score that will bring a smile to your face, even if you tee it up from the tips, which are a little under 6,400 yards.
With mostly ample fairways, minimal length, no water in play and modest bunkering, Apple Mountain is a friendly layout, most notably the drivable ninth, which gives short hitters a rare opportunity to drive the green on a par 4. Course conditions are consistently excellent, and the rolling terrain is gentler than you’d expect from a course in close proximity to nearby mountain ranges.
Brasstown Valley (Young Harris): Located in a mountain setting, Brasstown Valley befits its name with a surprisingly gentle layout from an elevation change standpoint. Apart from the opening hole, the course is much more of a parkland style layout, with some gorgeous backdrops of the mountains and a wonderfully natural setting. Water and environmentally sensitive areas dot the course, but most are avoidable. A number of the hazards are in play of the tee, but designer Denis Griffiths has provided mostly generous landing areas, with the greens complexes largely defined by some large and imposing bunkers that protect them.
Cateechee (Hartwell): A scenic and challenging layout located near the southern edge of Lake Hartwell, Cateechee is a bit out of the way for most of the state’s golfers, but is worth the trip. Designed by Mike Young, the architect for many of the states top daily fee layouts in smaller communities, Cateechee ranks with the best in the state in almost every regard. The layout features a few of the state’s more daunting holes, along with some demanding greens complexes, many of which are carved out of hillsides and feature significant amounts of roll.
Highland Walk (Royston): A North Georgia course where the rolling terrain is most definitely a factor the enjoyable State Parks layout offers a little more of a test than you might expect considering the seemingly friendly yardage numbers (6,500 from the tips, 6,045 from the next set). Some of the uphill holes are seriously uphill, and the terrain will result in a number of uneven lies on the fairways, providing much of the challenge from the entertaining Denis Griffiths layout. A disparate group of par 5s are among Highland Walk’s assets, along with a sizeable number of inviting par 4s that are offset by a smaller group that are not as tame.
Innsbruck (Helen): Once one of the most prominent courses in the northern part of the state, Innsbruck has not been nearly as visible as it was during its early days in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. However, its serene, mountain setting still makes it a popular destination site, with the famous downhill par-3 15th and its 150-foot descent from tee to green remaining a real treasure. Innsbruck is a true mountain-style layout, with some sharp dropoffs off the edges of fairways, but also some friendly bordering mounds. Keep it in the fairway and it’s a playable, enjoyable layout.
Old Union (Blairsville): One of the state’s newer high quality daily fee layouts, Old Union was designed by Denis Griffiths, who is now also the owner. Like the nearby Brasstown Valley, Old Union has a mountain setting but is not a mountain course. It also has a genuinely natural feel, with Griffiths doing an excellent job of utilizing bunkers on a layout without many tree-lined holes.
Old Union was designed as a possible tournament host, with back tees that extend up to 100 yards behind those that golfers of average ability will play from. As is standard for a Griffiths design, Old Union offers a nice variety of holes, with a deft blend of challenge and playability, provided you play from a comfortable set of tees.
Scales CC (Homer): Among North Georgia’s most promising facilities when it opened in 1999, the club has encountered difficulties over the past decade, resulting in changes in ownership and its name. After being known as Hammer’s Glen for several years, the course is back to something close to its original name (Scales Creek), but one thing it has retained is its excellent Mark McCumber-designed layout. The course features a significant disparity in the two nines in both style and yardage, with most of the trouble found on the incoming nine.