In the charming, Mayberry-esque town of Pine Mountain, Ga., is Callaway Gardens, a legendary golf experience surrounded by a 13,000-acre, year-round resort, residential community and preserve.
Callaway Gardens offers the perfect mix of championship golf and old-fashioned Southern hospitality in a natural environment where botanical gardens and indigenous wildlife are as much a part of the landscape as Speckled Heart grits and toast layered with muscadine jam.
The property is the vision of founder Cason J. Callaway, a former textile magnate, and his wife, Virginia Hand Callaway, who created a nonprofit family-style golf and tennis resort from dormant cotton fields. Today, thousands of visitors trek to this pristine paradise to breathe in the fresh mountain air, glimpse the wildlife and simply get away.
From the Atlanta airport, I pointed my rental car one hour southwest. As I broke free of the stifling city traffic, the scenic drive through the southernmost foothills of the Appalachian Mountains was vibrantly green even in the heat of summer.
Locating Callaway Gardens’ accommodations proved difficult, and mobile phone service was sketchy. However, once I arrived, the friendly smile and “Hi, y’all!” more than made up for the delay, and I was directed to my cottage.
The one- and two-bedroom Southern Pine cottages include a living and dining area, a kitchen, a fireplace, a screened porch and a deck. Just a five-minute drive to the golf courses, they provide ample space to store your clubs and kick back after your game. Other on-site accommodations include the Mountain Creek Inn and the more upscale one- to four-bedroom Mountain Creek villas.
A rental car is a necessity to navigate the property’s thousands of acres. Most visitors start at the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center, which offers an overview of events and houses the Discovery Café, one of eight dining options at the resort.
Outdoor adventures abound, from water skiing, tennis and skeet shooting to fly fishing, biking, hiking and even a flying circus. The TreeTop Adventure aerial challenge course includes zip lines, swinging bridges and logs. And there’s a birds of prey program, horticultural center and butterfly house, to boot.
To golfers, though, the first call of duty is to play the two distinctly different 18-hole layouts, both ranked among the nation’s top courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. Take some swings at the Twin Oaks practice facility before hitting the fairways.
Mountain View is the 7,057-yard, tree-lined Dick Wilson design and former home of the PGA Tour’s Buick Challenge. It only takes a few swings to realize this course was made for advanced golfers. In the days of the Buick Challenge, the 539-yard 15th hole, with the threat of water from tee to green, held up its reputation as the fourth-toughest par 5.
I prefer Lake View, the Gardens’ original 1951 course. It reminds me of old-school golf — not too complicated but difficult enough to keep you thinking. Lake View was a nine-hole design collaboration of Dick Wilson, J.B. McGovern and Cason Callaway.
“I don’t like to halfway lose a golf ball,” Callaway said of the original course. “I want to find it instantly or know it’s gone forever. If a golfer looks up from his/her shot, I want them to be looking at something beautiful.” He came through with a showering of Mother Nature’s best — azaleas, dogwoods and rhododendrons — and a short course with wide fairways.
Designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee in 1962, an additional nine holes (now Lake View’s front nine) created an 18-hole course enjoyable for young and old alike. It’s short, so big hitters might leave drivers in the bag, but by no means a leisurely lakeside stroll. Lee added tricky, maddening greens, slightly elevated and often tiered. Bump, run and a prayer still works, but most approach shots come from on high to softly roll onto the greens (at least that’s the plan).
Renovated in 2002, Lake View is one of those feel-good, challenging golf outings worth repeating. Water comes into play on nine of the 18 holes of this 6,051-yard, par-70 layout. If your game is on, enjoy the view of the shimmering lake; if not, you might want to tuck a fishing pole in your bag.
Hole 1 (338 yards, par 4)
A deceivingly uncomplicated first hole, and therein lies the rub. Begin by shooting straight down the middle, avoiding the tree-lined fairway. The perfect second iron shot is over bunkers fronting greens. Get used to it.
Hole 3 (337 yards, par 4)
By now, you’re thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad” — short, straight fairways — and then for your second shot, you note the handful of bunkers, deep and intimidating, in front of the green, thwarting your simple approach. You have three choices: lay up with a back spin, hopeful the greens aren’t running fast; lay up short; or approach from the sides to bounce onto the green. Good luck.
Hole 7 (346 yards, par 4)
The first lake hole opens up with nothing but water views, but the water is 300 yards away from a big splash. The green is tucked into the trees on the right. After clearing the water, your approach shot is straight on.
Hole 9 (526 yards, par 5)
One of only two par 5s on the course, this is where a wild turkey distracted my play as it shuffled among the thick scrub and trees bordering the fairway. My first shot bounced into the woods, and a bogey was in my future as I chipped out. The fairway shot was another unfortunate short fall before I chipped onto the green, narrowly missing a bunker, and then three-putted over a super-slow green.
Hole 10 (163 yards, par 3)
One of the most intimidating yet picturesque golf holes in West Georgia, it’s no wonder this is Lake View’s signature hole. You hit from an island tee, but you’ll need at least a 130-yard carry to clear Mountain Creek Lake. Three big bunkers protect the green. Take a moment to enjoy the lake view when crossing the serpentine bridge to the green in front of the original clubhouse, now home to Kingfisher Outfitters and the Gardens Restaurant.
Hole 11 (384 yards, par 4)
Angled along the lake on the left is a stand of trees and brush. Two large pines hover on the right 40 yards from the green, forming a small gap where you need to thread a short iron. Another bunker protects the front of the green, forcing your approach shot to carry to the raised green.
Hole 17 (376 yards, par 4)
Plenty of room for your drive, even with the dogleg left, but beware the creek along the right side of the fairway. The green is shallow and well protected with bunkers. A precise short- to mid-iron approach is a must.
Hole 18 (365 yards, par 4)
On this dogleg right, Wren Lake dominates the scenery. Round the bend, and there it is — the oversized green extends into a pond and makes for a breathtaking finish.
Lake View Golf Course
Intersection of Georgia highways 18 and 354
Pine Mountain, GA 31822
tel 800 225 5292
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