OK, so Gomer Pyle isn’t from Georgia, but if he played golf, I’m sure that’s what he would say about golf at the State Parks. I recently had the opportunity to visit and play several State Park golf courses in South Georgia and I must say, they are not what you would expect. My past experience with anything to do with the state has been that everything goes out to bid, and bids are awarded to the lowest bidder. If that is truly the case and these State Park golf courses were done on the cheap, other clubs around the country need to get their secret!
The Georgia State Park System turned to Naples, Florida-based Coral Hospitality to manage both the golf course operations and hospitality aspects for their South Georgia locations and from all I could see, they have done a tremendous job. The Wallace Adams Golf Course at Little Ocmulgee State Lodge Park (www.littleocmulgeelodge.com) in Helena, GA is anything but municipal. Lush, rolling fairways, towering loblolly pines with lots of pine straw beneath them and firm, fast greens make this a course to remember. There’s a fair amount of elevation changes as well; I found myself on several occasions needing one more or less clubs on several holes. Case in point is Number 12, a short par 3 that plays incredibly less than the stated yardage of 130 yards from the White Tees. The green is small and the front left bunker sees a lot of play. At only 435 yards from the White Tees, the par 5, Number 14 provides a great opportunity to post a low score. What’s more, if you hit your tee shot over the tree line on the left, you can cut the dogleg and possibly leave only a hybrid or long iron to the green. The greens here are smaller than usual and the course provides all players a fitting test of golf.
Lodging is also available at Little Ocmulgee State Park, with 60 rooms in the main lodge and ten lakeside cabins. All lodge rooms, cabins, and campsites are fully air-conditioned; offer Wi-Fi, and full conveniences.
The Georgia Veterans Memorial Golf Course at Lake Blackshear Resort (www.lakeblackshearresort.com) in Cordele, GA also offers some great golf and lodging opportunities. Rolling fairways with peripheral mounding, sparkling water hazards and plenty of sand bunkers await as you make your way down the fairways at Vets Memorial. There’s also plenty of elevation change as you will see on the 6th hole, which is arguably the toughest hole on the course. This 400-yard par 4 plays uphill and requires accuracy off the tee to avoid the bunkers and woods that line the fairway. The toughest hole on the back side is Number 13, a 435-yard (Blue Tees) par 4 that requires a perfect tee shot down a blind fairway. From there, you play an approach shot over a creek that crosses the fairway to a narrow green that cannot be seen from the fairway. Two blind shots that test your mettle; who knows, you may get lucky.
If golf’s not your thing, rent a pontoon boat or jet ski and take off on Lake Blackshear. The lake is massive; it took us nearly an hour to get from one side to the other via pontoon boat. We saw all kinds of people on the lake fishing, tubing and a few swimming – either that or they fell off the tube!
Over the last couple of years, the State of Georgia has done a complete remodel of the lodging quarters at Lake Blackshear Resort. Rooms are updated and modern, with new furniture, large, flat screen TVs and coffee makers. Cordelia’s Restaurant serves up all kinds of good food, from burgers to prime rib and the fully-stocked bar has all your favorite libations.
Meadow Links Golf Club at The George T. Bagby State Park Lodge (http://www.georgetbagbylodge.com/default.aspx?pg=golf) is another fine State Park golf facility. When the course first opened for play in 1998, Meadow Links was ranked as the nation’s “sixth best new affordable public course” by Golf Digest Magazine. This links style layout by Willard Byrd is creatively woven into the gently rolling contours of the countryside and features large greens with subtle breaks, lush, green fairways and long Bahia rough. No matter your skill level, Meadow Links will challenge you and the 10th green offers one of the finest views in the South.
The Lodge at George T. Bagby State Park offers some great stay and play packages and the 60-room lodge and five cabins offer enough space to house a golf outing. All room and cabins are air conditioned and the $5.00 resort fee per room includes a lot of amenities including unlimited use of their bicycles. There’s plenty to do if you’re not a golfer too; fishing, hiking, tennis and canoe rentals are at your disposal. You can always enjoy classic Southern cooking in the Pilot House Grille restaurant.
All of these courses are off the beaten path and offer some great views of the surrounding area. Pick a weekend or two and go out and enjoy all that the golf courses within the State of Georgia Parks system have to offer. These State Park courses offer some pretty inexpensive golf packages. These packages can be booked through The Georgia Golf Trail. Visit their website at www.georgiagolftrail.com or give Doug Hollandsworth a call at 855-388-GOLF. Doug is a Georgia native and longtime golfer. He created the Georgia Golf Trail five years ago in an effort to get the word out about the great golf opportunities in the state. The Trail is made up of over 25 courses and resorts, everything from the State Park courses to 5-star luxury resorts. No matter what your taste in golf and accommodations, you’ll find it on the Georgia Golf Trail.