Atlanta golf: Here are 10 courses worthy of your time

Atlanta is a great golf place for golf. There are a ton of great courses and you can play virtually 11 months out of the year. When I have friends come in from out of town, there are a number of excellent courses that are available, most at a pretty reasonable price.

Here are 10 of my go-to places for golf in Atlanta . Next time you find yourself in town for a major sporting event (our little Southern city has hosted the Olympics and a couple of Super Bowls) or a convention (we have one or two), here are some places worth checking out.

Stone Mountain Golf Club

There are two outstanding courses at Stone Mountain Golf Club, which is about 30 minutes east of the city. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed the Stonemont Course , which is long and very difficult but must be experienced. The first hole is a long par 4 that sets the tone for round. "This is a par 4?" is a commonly asked question on the tee. John LaFoy designed the Lakemont Course , which is considerably easier but requires more negotiations around water. It also offers better views of the Big Rock.

Chateau Elan Golf Club

This resort is located about 45 minutes northwest of town and is the site of a winery and three 18-hole golf courses, two open to the public and one private. The most popular is the original Chateau Course , which was designed by underrated Georgia architect Denis Griffiths. It features some interesting elevation changes, an array of excellent par 3s and isn't a place that can be overwhelmed by a big hitter.

The Georgia Club

Located west of Athens, less than an hour from downtown, is The Georgia Club , another excellent Griffiths design. The 27-hole facility was originally built to accommodate the Bulldogs faithful, but it's now a public course that will even serve a Tennessee Volunteers fan. (Florida Gators should still beware.) The greens are huge, which means you might hit a lot of them in regulation but could wind up three-putting. An aside: The staff here, starting with PGA professional Mike O'Malley, is friendly and accommodating, which helps explain why they host so many outings.

The Creek at Hard Labor

This is the only Georgia State Parks golf course within an hour drive of Atlanta. Located off I-20 in Rutledge, The Creek at Hard Labor is a real gem. It's affordable and always interesting. They bill the first hole as the toughest opening hole in Georgia; that much is true, but it's also unfair, penalizing long hitters and short hitters alike. But the other 17 holes are excellent, and the par-3 fifth hole has a water wheel behind the green that makes you want to stop and snap a photo. There aren't a lot of frills here, but the golf is worth it.

Cobblestone Golf Course

Cobblestone Golf Course , located about an hour northwest of the city, could easily host a professional tournament. It's not overly long, but it offers so many different varieties of holes -- doglegs left, doglegs right, long par 4s, risk-reward par 4s and an excellent set of par 3s. Although Cobblestone gets a lot of play, it remains in good condition. And you'll receive great attention from the staff, starting with the pro shop and continuing to the starter and course marshals. If you had to pick one place to play in Atlanta, this would probably be it.

Mystery Valley Golf Course

One of the oldest municipal courses in the Atlanta area, Mystery Valley Golf Course is located about 30 minutes east of the city in Lithonia. There are some hills, but the course is very walkable. The 15th hole is one of the toughest in Atlanta; the par 4 plays 400 yards to a narrow landing area that's pinched by water on both sides. This is a course that you'll love from the moment you plant a tee on the first hole and stare down that big par 5 that doglegs to the left.

Heritage Golf Links

Located in Tucker, about 30 minutes northeast of town, Heritage Golf Links was originally going to be a high-end course. The recession took care of that. The course went through a couple of owners (NBA legend Julius Erving owned it at one point) but wound up being rescued from receivership and brought back to life by the Affiniti Management Group. They've put sand back in the bunkers, done some amazing landscaping and patched up the bare spots. There was never anything wrong with the layout. The ninth and 18th holes may be the most difficult pair of closing holes in Atlanta.

St. Marlo Country Club

This may be the most visually stunning course in the Atlanta area. Many of holes are lined with stacked stones and easy on the eyes. Located in the northern suburbs, the Griffiths design gets plenty of play and conditions sometimes suffer. St. Marlo Country Club is a place you have to play more than once to catch some of the nuances, but it's a lot of fun if you don't mind thinking your way around.

The Frog

People on the west side of town need a place to play, too. This is about an hour toward Alabama, but it's worth the trip. The Tom Fazio design was supposed to be part of a Marriott resort with two golf courses. While that didn't quite work out, The Frog is still worthy of praise. It is one of the shrinking number of Atlanta golf courses that still have bentgrass greens. It's a fun place that isn't too long (7,018 yards from the back), but it's good enough to have hosted the Georgia Open and numerous other qualifiers.

Ashton Hills Golf Club

A personal favorite where I've played many rounds with my son over the years. It's survived numerous name changes (most recently Indian Creek) and a recession, but continues to be a popular place for low-handicap players. Desmond Muirhead designed this course and you can see many of his artistic influences, starting with the sunflower bunkers that surround the par-3 third hole with the elevated tee. The eighth hole is a par 5 that is shaped like a woman's body. Sometimes funky, but always fun, Aston Hills Golf Club , located about 40 miles east of Atlanta in Covington, is worth the drive.

Those are 10 of my favorites. The list is always changing and evolving, but you can't go wrong with any of these.

Stan Awtrey spent 25 years as a sports writer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is editor of Golf Georgia, the official magazine of the Georgia State Golf Association, and writes a weekly column for PGATOUR.com. His work has appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and Web sites.
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Atlanta golf: Here are 10 courses worthy of your time
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