Georgia State Parks golf: Eight diverse courses feature swamps, mountains and more

You'll definitely find diversity when you play one of the eight Georgia State Parks golf courses. Whether you prefer your golf in the mountains, the lake or near a swamp, they've got you covered.

The courses are scattered throughout the state (although there's not one in the Atlanta area) and are typically kept in better-than-average condition. The courses are affordable, playable and suitable for players of all skill level. They're an ideal place to take a kid who's just learning to play.

Most of the courses either have cabins on the property or have hotel accommodations in a nearby town. They're an ideal destination for buddy trips, family vacations or church groups.

"We've been to a lot of the different parks, and they've been very good," said Dale Wilson, activities director for Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Snellville. "We've had some very good experiences there."

One of the easiest-to-reach courses (just off Interstate 75, 40 miles south of Macon) is also one of the most popular. The Denis Griffiths design is a parkland-style course that plays through pine forests and along the shore of Lake Blackshear. Players here will find plenty of water and plenty of sand to challenge them along the way.

Georgia Veterans Memorial only plays 6,483 from the back tees to par 72. The signature hole is the par-5 15th hole, a 551-yard dogleg left that hugs the shore of the lake on the left side. It's a wicked driving hole and requires a strategic layup on the second shot.

One of Griffiths' favorite holes is no. 8, a short part 4 that features grass bunkers that are beneath some mounds. Getting in there will certainly test your short game.

The resort features a lodge, 10 lakeside cabins and 64 private villas, all offering lakeside views.

Designed by Willard Byrd, Meadow Links opened to great reviews in 1998. Other than its remote location in southwest Georgia, there's little to complain about.

The links-style course plays 7,007 yards from the back tees and features wide fairways, with ample bunkering and memorable views. The view from the rear of the 10th hole is spectacular.

The park has a lodge with 60 rooms and five cottages, which makes it ideal for groups of all sizes.

Brazells Creek at Gordonia is really like two-in-one. The original nine is a traditional layout that runs through pine thickets and features some narrow fairways. The new nine, reached by driving along a winding, 1,500-yard bridge, is completely different. The newer nine features an open look, with wider fairways and mounds, and has the definite links feel that Griffiths had in mind when he designed it.

The course plays to par 71 from 6,821 yards. The 11th is a short par 4, which Griffiths enjoys designing, and is a dogleg left that requires a decision whether to challenge a waste area in order to get a short pitch to the green. The signature hole is no. 15, a 227-yard par 3 that plays downhill over a hazard to a narrow green.

There are five cottages at Alatamaha State Park, and there are hotels in Reidsville and nearby Metter.

The Creek at Hard Labor is the closest state park course to Atlanta, little more than an hour away depending on traffic -- and there's always traffic in Atlanta. It gets more play than the others but manages to stay in better-than-average condition.

Since their conversion to Bermuda grass a few years ago, the greens have remained consistently good. The course plays 6,426 yards to par 71 and is a lot of fun. The only bad hole is the first one, a 434-yard par 4 with trees on the left. Regardless of where you hit your tee shot, you'll have a fairway wood or long iron from a downhill lie into an elevated green that's fronted by a hazard. Best bet: Layup, wedge up and take your bogey.

After that monstrosity, the remainder of the course is outstanding. There are a couple of short par 4s that the big hitters could possibly drive. The par 3s are scenic, particularly the signature 14th, a 168-yarder that has a stream with a waterwheel on the left of the green. Don't be surprised if a deer walks past you in the fairway. The place is covered with them.

Another very rural middle Georgia course that's two hours from Savannah and two and a half hours from Atlanta or Augusta. It's nice and quiet once you get there, and the golf course is pretty good, too.

The course plays 6,625 yards from the back and has two distinct nines. Like other courses in timber country, Wallace Adams is routed through pine forests, which makes the longer front nine more of a challenge. Both of the par 3s play more than 200 yards, and the challenging sixth hole features a sharp drop around the green.

The back nine was designed by O.C. Jones, an extended part of the Robert Trent Jones family. The back nine is more open but makes up for it with a variety of doglegs and smaller, more sloping greens. It finishes with a long par 5.

Little Ocmulgee State Park has a 60-room lodge with accommodations and 10 cottages.

This course, about an hour from Athens, opened in 2004 and is generally considered the crown jewel of the Georgia Parks system. It has more of a resort feel than the other state parks, starting with a spacious clubhouse.

This Bob Walker layout, which is located on a peninsula inside the park, plays 6,788 yards. Walker uses a lot of elevated tee boxes, which offers visitors some nice views of the property. The greens here are outstanding, plus they've got enough undulation changes to make them challenging for all.

There are 10 holes where Lake Russell comes into play, including nos. 12-17. The 403-yard 14th hole is in the middle of that stretch and can be considered the signature hole. The par 4 has some breathtaking views and gives the driver little room for error, with water on the left and trees on the right.

Richard B. Russell State Park has 20 cottages that sleep up to six. There are plenty of other things to do here, too, with a swimming beach and a nature trail.

This very fun and challenging course, convenient to the Athens area, features plenty of elevation changes throughout its routing. That makes it one of the more scenic, too, especially in the fall when the leaves change colors.

Highland Walk, another built by Denis Griffiths, plays 6,503 yards. It has sloping greens, with rolling fairways, ensuring a lot of uneven lies. The fourth hole is a par 5 that offers two different paths to the green. But the most difficult hole maybe the 17th, which plays from an elevated tee, down a narrow fairway and requires a long tee shot to carry a hazard to an uphill fairway that never seems to end.

Highland Walk has been a very active player in the junior golf market. It is a very welcoming facility to younger and less-experienced players.

The course is flat as an ironing board, which is what you expect in south Georgia, especially when you're bordering the world-famous Okefenokee Swamp. But architect Steve Burnes has increased the playability of the course by working around three large lakes and using lots of sand bunker and waste areas. The result is outstanding.

The course plays 6,595 from the back tees to par 72. Players are required to keep the ball in play or risk finding the pine trees that border many of the holes. The greens are generous and include some nice undulations.

The 18th hole is a dandy, a 415-yard par 4 that doglegs left around a lake. The landing area off the tee has bunkers and the lake on the left.

The Georgia State Parks golf courses don't have the cache or notoriety as those in neighboring Alabama on the Robert Trent Jones Trail, but they're an interesting assortment of places to play. They're affordable and are generally kept in good condition. It's a shame they aren't closer to the state's major population centers.

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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Georgia State Parks golf: Eight diverse courses feature swamps, mountains and more
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