The State of Georgia has led the way in reopening during the covid-19 pandemic. Governor Brian Kemp identified outdoor activity as essential as long as visitors and golfers follow the CDC guidelines. To enjoy fresh air and social distancing in beautiful surroundings 365 days a year, the State Parks cover more than 84,000 acres scattered throughout the Peach State and are the perfect place to visit and play golf.
Home to the great Bobby Jones, The Masters and the PGA Tour Championship, Georgia has eight state parks with awesome golf courses available for its residents and visitors, known as the “Sweetest Deals in Golf.” With designs that leverage the spectacular and diverse terrain across the state, the Georgia State Park golf courses compare favorably to some of the state’s premier venues at affordable prices. You can play in pristine settings with no homes, no highways and little noise-just the occasional scream from players and balls bouncing off the Georgia woods.
The state park courses are part of the dynamic Georgia Golf Trail, a collaboration of 26 beautiful golf resorts and outstanding golf clubs throughout the state, from the mountains to the plains to the sea with pure peachy hospitality providing a gracious southern atmosphere with unparalleled conditioning.
Let’s start in the upper piedmont of the state, just off Interstate 85 at exit 160, about a 20-minute drive from the interchange. Victoria Bryant State Park is home to Highland Walk Golf Course, a Denis Griffiths par 72, 18-hole masterpiece stretching out to 6,600 yards. My foursome agrees it is the toughest of the eight. This is no walk in a park. It’s a highland hike. A powerful golf cart will save you from the steep rolling fairways that tumble down and then start right back uphill with a slope/rating of 131/71.4. One thing that comes along with a hilly terrain is the majestic vistas from almost every tee box hitting to crowned fairways that are bordered by mature native hardwoods and huge Georgia pines. The undulating and well-kept TifEagle Bermuda greens are no surprise considering Highland Walk has been voted the best State Park Golf Course two years in a row and #11 in the statewide Golf Advisor survey of players in the “Best of Georgia.” Clubhouse Manager Bill Schuster was very welcoming and runs a tight ship to ensure players enjoy their round at Highland Walk. There is a Bluebird Cottage that can sleep 8 golfers comfortably, and larger groups can rent cottages at nearby Tugaloo State Park.
Less than an hour from the Walk, near the town of Elberton, is Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course, which is on the list of the “Top 50 Golf Courses You Can Play” in the USA, among favorites like Bethpage Black, Harbour Town Golf Links and TPC Sawgrass, in Richard B. Russell State Park. Not taking anything from the other state park venues, this 2004 Bob Walker design plays along the shore of Lake Russell with three holes on a peninsula that juts out into the lake with a spectacular visual experience. I was amazed at the sheer beauty of the layout and understand how it got on the list as a players’ favorite. The daunting doglegs and bunkering on this 6,800-yard, par-72 rolling hill challenge give the course its teeth. The clubhouse has been remodeled to include a well-stocked pro shop and the Broken Arrow Grill with great service and food choices. There are 20 cottages available in the park that sleep 4 players each in comfortable accommodations.
The Creek Golf Club
The next location is about an hour’s drive east of Atlanta, the state capital, just off of Interstate 20 in the historical and quaint little town of Rutledge. The Creek Golf Club is inside the Hard Labor Creek State Park, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The layout has been in existence since 1968, with a redo by ASGCA architect Griffiths in 2005. It is the toughest next to the Walk, with the downhill 10th hole considered the hardest par 4 in the Parks. The 6,431 total yards don’t seem too bad, but the constant sound of balls bouncing off trees makes one think there is a hunt going on. The creek comes into play on five of the 18 challenges that have considerable elevation changes and doglegs. The signature 5th, a 175-yard par 3 complete with a working water wheel and an elevated wooden bridge in the background was birdie time for me. Golf Digest’s Frugal Golfer named the Creek ‘the 4th Sweetest Deal in the USA’ and I heartily agree. The park covers 5,804 acres with 26 miles of horseback and hiking trails, an entire equestrian center with three 10-stall barns, 20 lakeside cabins and a lakeside beach for swimming.
Georgia Veterans Memorial Golf Course
Traveling south on Interstate 75 for two hours from Atlanta, the Georgia Veterans State Park, just west of the interchange at Cordele, is home to the Georgia Veterans Memorial Golf Course and Lake Blackshear Resort. Another Denis Griffiths design beauty, commonly known as “The Vet”, has been recognized as one of middle Georgia’s finest courses with a four-star rating from Golf Digest. The rolling terrain is replete with mounding and a slew of sand bunkers throughout and is a true test to the single-digit handicap player at 6,869 yards with a slope/rating of 130/72.1. Luckily, there are four sets of tees for us mere mortals to enjoy the Vet. Lake Blackshear Resort sits on the beautiful 20-mile-long lake with a full-service marina, a hotel with sizable meeting space, great accommodations, and multiple dining options. The Georgia Veterans State Park is the perfect venue for large groups to enjoy a golf outing.
About two hours west of the Vet is the George T. Bagby State Park & Lodge located along the shores of scenic 48,000-acre Walter F. George Lake, an extension of the Chattahoochee River which separates Georgia from Alabama. Within the confines of the park lies Meadow Links Golf Course, a William Byrd design that opened in 1998 and was ranked as “the nation’s sixth-best new affordable public course.” The folks in southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama would prefer if it didn’t get out, but George T. Bagby is one of the ‘Best Kept Secrets’ in these parts. With a great lake for all kinds of water sports and leisure, a championship golf course, numerous recreational amenities, lodging at campsites, lakefront cottages and the 60-room lodge, Bagby is the go-to place for safe outdoor fun whether by car or boat. The 7,000-yard splendid layout has 5 sets of tees and provides 18 formidable challenges with lake overlooks and great conditions.
Wallace Adams Golf Club
Going east from the Vet about an hour’s driving time, Little Ocmulgee State Park & Lodge near McRae/Helena is home to the Wallace Adams Golf Club, commonly known as ‘Little O’. This delightful classic track surrounded by loblolly pines, magnolias, and assorted hardwoods will test your shot-making on the front nine and allow you to grip it and rip on the back. After a few holes, I took a moment to check out the layout and found myself reminded of Augusta National, home of the Masters. Here, if you care to, walking is allowed on the 6,625-yard par 72 design. The TifEagle greens were in great shape and the pine straw rough was another reminder of Augusta. Like Bagby, there is a 60-room lodge that has gone through a recent $2.5 million remodel, a large campsite and cabins to enjoy a stay and play. The Lodge has the Fairway dining room and meeting rooms for golf group outings and family get-togethers.
Georgia Veterans Memorial, George T. Bagby and Little Ocmulgee State Parks are managed by Coral Hospitality while the other five are run by the Department of Natural Resources. The common denominator at all the state park golf courses is the absolutely awesome conditions that you will enjoy; also, no homes, just pure nature. The topography at each location defined how the golf architects routed the designs which in itself is amazing. Then the value: the cost of a round at the parks is so much more affordable than similar quality clubs.
Just an hour east of ‘Little O’ in Reidsville is Gordonia-Altamaha State Park, the home of Brazell’s Creek Golf Course, the most unique of the eight. Georgia’s own ASGCA architect Denis Griffiths worked his unique magic here. The front nine is similar to the many park layouts with stands of pines bordering the fairways and lovely rolling terrain playing into well-maintained TifEagle greens. With only one par 5, the outward parkland nine is 3,200-yards. Then you take a ride for about 1500 yards on a bridge that stretches across some environmentally protected area, to another world. The back nine is about 3,600 yards of pure links golf bordered by fescue rough. I didn’t know that little bridge would transport me to Scotland. It also has the toughest par 3 in the parks, the 207-yard 15th that plays over a ravine to a difficult undulating green. There is a bailout area to the right but where is the fun or challenge in that? Can you say tweet-tweet? I can. There are eight golf side cabins available for rent at Brazell’s Creek too.
The Lakes Golf Course
The last and southernmost golf course is located in Laura S. Walker State Park at the northern edge of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp near Waycross, about a two-hour drive from Brazell’s Creek. The Lakes Golf Course is a Stephen Burns 1995 parkland design with water coming into play more often on the front. Both the 9th and 18th share a lake to maneuver around to get home safe. We really enjoyed the routing through the huge stands of Georgia pines and the variety of challenges we faced on such a pleasant walk. Our host was PGA Professional David Sikes, a great teacher and mentor for young golfers in the area. The park has campsites and lakeside cabins, plenty of watersports, hiking and biking trails.
In 2021, the state has inaugurated the Georgia State Parks Golf Cup, a series of 4-person scramble tournaments from now through April 30 at each park, with the 8 winning teams playing for the Cup at Arrowhead Pointe and a free 3-day/2-night stay at the beautiful Brasstown Valley Golf Resort & Spa.
Contact any of the parks for more information. And Go Play Georgia’s Best!
For more information on the Georgia Golf Trail, click HERE.