ATLANTA, Ga. - Southern hospitality is generally associated with ice cold sweet tea, loafing on a warm Sunday after church in a hammock on a historic plantation home - not speeding through one of America's biggest, and hottest cities.
But hospitality is what Atlanta is all about. Yes, a little of the NYC hustle (just give the freeways a spin during rush house) has sunk in with the booming town, but it does bring your dinner a little quicker and squeeze more foursomes onto the links on a Sunday afternoon.
Atlanta is back, baby. It's the new "Motown of the South." The city basically owns pop and urban radio, Hartsfeld-Jackson International Airport is the busiest in America, and herds of people are fleeing the north to 'Hotlanta' and its robust economy.
The storied metropolis is filled with history, including one of the Civil War's most storied battles, charming neighborhoods, and diverse entertainment ranging from "getting crunk" with dirty South rap to soulful jazz for Mom and Dad.
Compared to all Atlanta has to offer, golf it seems should be "voted off the island." Whether it gets lost in the shuffle, or just doesn't even get an invitation to the party, it's afterthought at best. Golf Digest kindly crumples up Atlanta and heaves it into its trash receptacle at No. 271 (out of 314) in city rank.
Atlanta's golf - and by Atlanta we're talking anything within about 40 miles of downtown - is different than other Southern regions. Unlike Pinehurst, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Orlando, Destin, etc., Atlanta doesn't do much to draw the golfing buck. Golf here is more functional than novel. It's set up to cater to those who live in the region and play the courses regularly, not th ose on vacation. Little effort is made to market courses outside the immediate area. But for those who do find themselves in or near Atlanta, a uniquely spectacular brand of golf awaits.
Perks and problems with Atlanta landscape
Atlanta does have two important factors that influence the design and construction of nearly every course: the hilly terrain and the soil.
Those not familiar with North Georgia may be surprised to find it quite hilly and in fact downright mountainous toward the South Carolina and Tennessee state lines. The ever-changing hills and mature trees that make Atlanta's old neighborhoods so charming do the same for its golf courses.
The golf could be described as a roller coaster style - Myrtle Beach and South Florida would kill for a dose of Atlanta's topography. But while the often abrupt elevation changes make for fine scenery and thrilling golf shots, they also create routing and construction difficult. Some courses are graceful and deft in the manner in which they handle the challenges but others, such as Bear Creek west of the city near Douglasville, should have never been built. The extremes and restrictions of that site could not be ameliorated and the result is Atlanta golf gone terribly wrong. Holes are forced awkwardly onto the property resulting in long steep climbs between green and tee and far too many 9-iron drives followed by fairway metals over wetland hazards into the greens.
The second factor architects and engineers must contend with is poor soil quality. The nutrient clay base common throughout the region typically hampers grass growth and more often than not hinders proper drainage. So in addition to the challenges of routing and permitting, the soil plays a determining role in the planting, development, and health of area courses. Nothing short of Augusta National treatment in springtime can keep grass healthy and green.
The most recurring piece of advice regarding daily-fee and semi-private clubs is, "Go north." An overwhelming majority of Atlanta's courses are located 20 to 40 minutes north of Atlanta in towns such as Alpharetta, Woodstock, Duluth, Marietta, Acworth, and around Lake Lanier.
Designs in the north counties have come to carry the mantle of Atlanta golf. Bentwater Golf Club (Mike Dasher), Chestatee Golf Club (Dennis Griffiths), Cobblestone Golf Club (Finger/Dye/Spann), White Columns Country Club (Tom Fazio), Towne Lake Hills (Arthur Hills) - they could all be described as difficult, hilly, courses yet elegant in nature. They share in common routings that are at once lovely and tumultuous, albeit difficult to walk. Ultimately they are scenic, enclosed by woods and marked by defining water hazards, and nearly all have one or two downhill, drop-shot type par 3s.
Yet solid courses exist at other coordinates too. To the west in Villa Rico is Fazio's The Frog at The Georgian Resort. To the south is River's Edge from Bobby Weed, Mike Young's new Wolf Creek just minutes from Hartsfield International Airport, and Griffiths' Georgia National Golf Club. Near Stone Mountain in the east are some wonderful, revived courses by Dick Wilson and Robert Trent Jones, while in Conyers, approximately 25 minutes east of downtown, the Palmer Design Group has built one of its most adventurous offerings, Cherokee Run. Steve Smyers also has a course in the works on the south side.
You don't have to leave Atlanta for golf. Convenient options range from modest nine hole layouts like Candler Park and Alford Tup Holmes to blue collar (and crowded) historical tracks such as Bobby Jones Golf Course, a Works Progress Administration course built in 1934, and North Fulton Golf Course with roots that purportedly can be traced to H. Chandler Egan.
One of the more highly regarded in-town public layouts is Brown's Mill . Opened in 1960 it's a wide, well-conditioned yet substantial course located south of downtown but inside the Perimeter. Another attractive offering is Charlie Yates Golf Course, an executive length 18-hole course designed by Rees Jones and operated by neighboring East Lake Golf Club.
Fair prices in Atlanta exist but generally golf is slightly overpriced for a non-destination type area, especially considering the lack of national-caliber courses and modest reputation. The public city courses are, as expected, fairly priced with green fees ranging $18-$35. The upscale courses in the north, however, will put you back $50 to $90, and several crack the three-digit category on weekends. Nonetheless deals can frequently be found at the daily-fees east, west, and south of Atlanta where good golf can be had for between $35 and $50.
Where to Stay
Marietta Conference Center & Resort: Combines 1850's Georgia - hospitality, luxury and history. Accommodations overlook the City Club Marietta golf course. Along with a spectacular view of the lush Georgia countryside, the quaint shops of historic Marietta at the town square are also close.
Renaissance Pineisle Resort & Golf Club: Surrounded by the beautiful Lake Lanier and located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Reniassance Pineisle Resort & Golf Club is a good choice if you aren't planning on too many trips to the city, since it's close to an hour from downtown. The grounds are very scenic, and the golf's not too shabby either.
Where to Eat
Woodfire Grill: Perennially one of the top-rated restaurants in 'Hot'lanta. Friendly,speedy and knowledgeable wait staff answer any questions gladly. The meats are fire-roasted and organic. The fruits and vegetables don't get any fresher.
Oscar's Atlanta is a music town, and you can find plenty live music anywhere. Oscar's has great live jazz nightly, perfectly set in an old retail building and is close to the airport on Main Street in College Park. As for the grub, there's a little something for everyone, from seafood to spaghetti.