There is quality, affordable daily fee golf available all over in Georgia, much of it in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find it.
The reason you can play an excellent course in small cities or towns like Cordele, McRae, Waycross and Reidsville is that each of those has a facility that is part of the Georgia State Park Golf Courses family.
The State Park courses serve two purposes. One is to provide daily fee golf at modest cost in areas of the state where courses are few and far between. The other is to offer Georgia residents and visitors to the state an incentive for traveling to slightly out of the way spots and enjoying some of the natural beauty found all over the state.
There are eight State Park golf courses – three in northeast Georgia, one in the southwest corner of the state bordering on Alabama and two each in central and southeast Georgia.
Fore Georgia spotlighted the three State Park courses in northeast Georgia several years ago, and took a recent tour of the four courses in the central and southeast parts of the state. After the four-courses-in-four-days trek, we found the quality of golf at the facilities exceeded expectations, with each of the four offering enjoyable layouts with good to excellent conditions.
The first stop on our trip was the Georgia Veterans course at Lake Blackshear Resort, one of the mostly highly regarded facilities among the State Park Courses and also one of the most geographically accessible.
The course, which was designed by Atlanta-based golf course architect Denis Griffiths and opened in 1990, is located just 10 miles east of I-75, directly off U.S. 280 in Cordele. The course and resort are now managed by Coral Hospitality, which also manages the State Park courses and resorts at Little Ocmulgee in McRae and George S. Bagby in Ft. Gaines, as well as Brasstown Valley, an affiliated facility in Young Harris.
Veteran PGA member Brian Boeling has been brought in from Florida by Coral Hospitality to run the golf operations at Georgia Vets, Meadow Links at George S. Bagby and Wallace Adams at Little Ocmulgee.
Boeling says the company plans to make a number of improvements to Georgia Vets over the next six months that “will bring back the integrity of the course.” Work is scheduled to restore the configuration and speed of the Bermuda putting surfaces and also to clear out some of the areas off the fairways.
Georgia Vets at Lake Blackshear Resort is a parkland-style layout with little in the way of elevation changes. The moderately narrow tree-lined fairways require some accuracy off the tee, with the course having adequate length at 6869 yards from the gold tees, 6483 from the blues, 5978 from the whites and 5205 from the reds.
The course, one of Griffiths’ earlier designs in the state, is rated at 72.8/131 (gold tees), 71.1/127 (blue) and 68.7/122 (white), and has hosted GSGA state tournaments. It is a solid test tee to green, with the putting surfaces on the gentle side. The course is moderately bunkered with a handful of hazards in play, mainly on the incoming nine.
The course features several very strong par 4s, among them a trio averaging 450 from the tips. There are also two of Griffiths’ favored short par 4s, one of which (No. 8) sports grass bunkers set below mounds that can make for some testy short iron shots over bunkers. The other (No. 12) has a little roll in the fairway, which pinches in short of the green and includes an overhanging tree on the right that can obstruct approach shots from that side of the fairway.
The 12th starts an interesting stretch of holes that includes the lengthy par-4 13th, which has a small, semi-peninsula fairway and a lake behind the green that provides a gorgeous backdrop. Water down the right side on the 14th is out of play for all but the longest hitters, but can be a factor if your tee shot finds the trees on either side of the fairway.
The body of water having the greatest physical and visual impact is the lake that covers the entire left side of the scenic par 5 15th, which wraps around the water. There is enough room to comfortably skirt the hazard, but anything left is wet and the third shot also has to deal with greenside bunkers.
Georgia Vets closes with the third of the three hefty par 4s and makes for a strong finish to a layout that provides a decent test without any overwhelming challenges. The par 3s are mostly on the tame side, with the 11th the only one longer than 160 from the blues. The par 5s are also vulnerable, with the two on the front nine both on the narrow side and the 10th playing just a little uphill. The 15th is the only one of the group presenting any serious danger.
The Lake Blackshear Resort offers a variety of accommodations, including 14 guest rooms within the lodge, 64 private villas and 10 lakeside cabins. All offer appealing views of the lake, as does the resort’s restaurant.
Golfers who haven’t played at the Wallace Adams course at Little Ocmulgee for a while will be very pleasantly surprised when they return and experience the course in its current condition. The greens have been converted to a higher quality strain of Bermuda and with the course on temporary greens until just before Labor Day, it is in its best condition ever tee to green.
Measuring 6625 yards from the blue tees (71.5/12), 6312 from the whites 69.5/124) and 6127 from the golds (68.3/123), the venerable Wallace Adams layout appears extremely friendly, but there is a considerable contrast between the two nines.
The front nine is significantly longer than the back, with the yardage gap between the two in the 330-to-370-yard range. The only “short” hole on the front is the opener, which varies from 330 (gold) to 360 (blue), but requires a longer than you’d expect carry over a pond fronting the putting surface.
From the tips, the front nine measures just under 3500 yards, with the whites (3340) and golds (3230) also longer than those who play those tees typically face. Individually, only the sixth (450/435/420) has serious length, but both par 3s top out at 200 yards, the two par 5s exceed 500 from the whites, and the next shortest par 4 is 385 from the whites.
Fortunately, the fairways are reasonably wide and there isn’t much in the way of hazards after you get past the opening hole. The majority of the greens on the front side, the older nine of the two, are guarded by front bunkers right and left, with the new putting surfaces tending to open up near the back.
The sixth is rated as the No. 1 handicap hole thanks to its length, trouble right off the tee and a fairly sharp drop-off around the well-protected green. The ninth is also a test, with a well-struck tee shot required to clear trees at the right corner of the fairly sharp dogleg right.
The front nine is the newer of the two, with the back nine opening in the 1960s.While offering more scoring opportunities than the front, the back has a few more narrow tee shots, including some through chutes of trees, and a little more movement on the greens, although there will be changes from the original surfaces.
Other than the 15th, the par 4s on the back are on the short side, most notably the 11th, which features a sizeable bunker looming in the right-center of the fairway and a significantly uphill approach.
The lone exception is the 15th, which is almost as long as the par-5 14th that precedes it. The 14th turns left and uphill after you clear bunkers on either side of the fairway, and is among the best chances on the course to pick up a birdie.
The nine closes with a longer par 5 that winds through thin tree lines and provides a worthwhile finish to an interesting and playable layout that has long been a favorite for golfers in central Georgia, as well as visitors to the park.
Little Ocmulgee State Park is located on U.S. 441 just north of McRae, and has 60 rooms in its lodge, along with 10 cottages and over 50 campsites. The quality on-site restaurant offers a placid view of the golf course after an enjoyable day on the links.
The Lakes at Laura Walker is among the newer State Park courses, and since it opened in 1996 has consistently been one of the busiest among the group. The course, located just outside Waycross, draws visitors with its scenic, playable layout and quality conditioning.
The nicely spaced tees measure 6656 yards from the black tees, 6069 from the whites, 5543 from the golds and 4767 from the reds. The course is rated at 72.2/128 (black), 69.1/123 (white) and 66.6/116 (gold), but is more of a challenge than those numbers would attest.
There is enough water in play to get your attention, along with some waste areas and tree lines that typically are relatively removed from the fairways but are within reach. Other than a handful of holes, mainly the stout par-4 ninth, length is rarely a concern, but some rough off the fairways can be a factor when it gets a little growth. The sizeable and occasionally undulating greens will produce their share of three-putts if you give yourself too many attempts from long range.
The fairways are on the generous side, but many have a little roll to them, which will leave you with slightly uneven lies, adding to the challenge of getting your approach shots reasonably close. The natural feel of the layout is one of its strongest assets, but also accounts for some of the difficulty in the form of hazards and doglegs that place some demands from the tee both in terms of length and positioning.
The par 3s are mostly hazard-free, with the rolling sixth green with a bowl in the middle one of the most notable features. The par 5s offer some scoring opportunities, with two under 500 yards from the tips. The water-guarded, gently rolling eighth presents both risk and reward, with one of the more sloping greens on the course serving as a last line of defense.
The diverse group of par 4s includes a pair of excellent water-lined holes to close out the two nines, with length off the tee a definite asset on the ninth. They are balanced by an entertaining trio of short par 4s (7, 12 and 16) that require some thought and precision to take advantage of their minimal yardages.
There is no lodging on site at Laura Walker, but PGA head pro/general manager Ray Wells says there is a plan to add some cabins near the 11th green in the near future. The course is just down the road from the Okefenokee Swamp Park, with plenty of motel rooms available in Waycross.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip was the unique nature of the Brazell’s Creek course at Gordonia–Alatamaha Park in Reidsville, which is just south of I-16 between Savannah and Macon.
Originally a nine-hole facility, Griffiths designed nine new holes a short cart ride from that nine through a wetlands/forest area. The new nine is a complete contrast to the more traditional original group of holes, having a strong links feel with almost no trees and wide expanses of fairway, much of it bordered by waste areas.
The contrast between the nines goes beyond the design. The front nine, now a par 35 due to the change of the first hole from a short, inviting par 5 to a long and demanding par 4, is significantly shorter than the back, particularly from the gold tees.
Because of the difference in length, golfers may want to move up one set when they make the turn, with the new nine 3441 from the blues, 3227 from the whites and 2958 from the golds.
The tree-lined opening nine has plenty of character, with several holes beginning with tee shots over tall reeds within wetlands that can obscure the views of landing areas or putting surfaces. The opening hole is one of several stout par 4s on the nine, with the short but pesky fifth requiring a very accurate tee shot to avoid getting blocked out on the approach from either side of the fairway, with danger lurking around the green.
The most memorable hole on the outgoing nine is the par-5 seventh, one of the holes with the reeds in front of the tee. A wetlands area within the fairway is very much in play on the second shot if you don’t hit it solidly off the tee, with trouble also in play wide of the green.
There is enough room on the front nine off the tee, but thick tree lines will come into play if you don’t hit it relatively straight.
Trees are no concern on the new nine, which invites you to take a rip with the driver other than the 11th, one of Griffiths’ signature short par 4s that begins with a decision from the tee. The prudent play is to skirt the waste area between the tee and green. leaving a short but testy second from the fairway to a small, angled green with a front bunker and sharp drop-off left.
The 11th is the only remotely short hole on the nine, making tee selection critical. Waste areas line most of the holes, but there are ample amounts of fairway, with the greens of comparable size once you reach them.
The nine also includes a pair of big but open par 5s and two very different but substantial par 3s, with the 17th featuring a daunting tee shot over a scrub area/wetlands to a wide, fairly shallow green, with shorter tees also having to clear the hazard from a different angle.
The most interesting of the par 4s on the nine is the 16th, which includes a scrub area short of the green that makes getting to left pin positions a daunting proposition.
You don’t expect to come across a layout like this in that part of the state, with the new nine having the feel at times of being on St. Simons Island despite the absence of trees. The open nature of the nine makes it more exposed to the wind than almost any course you’ll play, which can make its length an even bigger issue if the wind direction is not favorable.
Brazell’s Creek is among the least known of the State Park courses, but is certainly worth a visit to anyone yet to enjoy its unexpected allure. The park has a small number of cottages on site, with Metter just across I-20.
For information on the State Park courses, visit www.GeorgiaGolf.com or call 800-434-0982.