For some, golf projects a stodgy image. It’s often expensive, requires a dress code and it can feel exclusive. But there’s an option for those looking for affordable championship-caliber courses with no membership requirements: state parks.
“No crowds, no houses, no noise.” That’s an oft-repeated mantra used to describe playing the eight courses within the Georgia State Parks system. These aren’t courses designed to sell real estate or memberships to posh clubs. It’s golfing in nature, pure and simple, open to everyone and easy on the budget. And the courses are better than you might think.
Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course at Richard B. Russell State Park on Lake Russell has received many awards. Last year, it landed on Golf Advisor’s list of the “Top 25 courses rated by value in the U.S.” and was deemed one of the “12 best lakeside courses in America” by the website. Golfweek magazine declared it the No. 3 course in Georgia for 2018, and the Georgia Golf and Travel Awards called hole number 16 at Arrowhead the best par 5 in the state. It also gave Georgia State Parks the “Best Value for Golf Travel in Georgia” award.
I showed up to Arrowhead Pointe on a sunny afternoon to play nine holes before closing time. My intention was to play the front nine in the mid-afternoon and the back nine in the morning. After checking in at the pro shop, I met Joe Ray who was working as the course starter that day. Ray insisted I play the back nine first since there was a chance the weather wouldn’t hold for the morning round. “You’ll see why once you’re out there,” he said as he guided me to the 10th tee. By the time I got to the 13th tee, I could see what Ray was talking about.
The back nine at Arrowhead Pointe is one of the more scenic stretches of golf in Georgia, if not the South. Surrounded by water and the undeveloped, forested shoreline of Lake Russell, the setting matches that of the more famous courses on Georgia’s Lake Oconee. The constant elevation changes allow for sweeping panoramic views of the lake and challenging play. Also challenging are the fast-running Tifeagle Bermuda greens, where the slightest overcalculation will land a simple five-foot putt in the apron or the bunker. There are wide expanses of open water in front of the tee boxes on a few holes.
The signature holes at Arrowhead are 14, 15 and 16, all set on a teardrop-shaped peninsula. It’s scenic, but also where frustration sets in. A party of four playing behind me gave up and headed back to the clubhouse after stopping for a photo opp. I stopped keeping score when I lost the third ball of the day to the uncaring waters of Lake Russell.
The remoteness of Arrowhead, like most state parks courses, is part of the allure. Wildlife sightings are common. The sound of speedboats is a rare thing because there are no lakehouses, only the occasional angler in a bass boat passing by. Private development isn’t allowed on Lake Russell because it’s controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. The only overnight accommodations are the park’s 20 lakeside cottages and a campground. The cottages have all the modern conveniences one would expect and can sleep up to eight people.
For those who prefer more hotel-like accommodations, several state parks with golf courses have lodges, full-service restaurants and swimming pools, among other resort-like amenities. Georgia Veterans State Park & Resort in Cordele is home of the Georgia Veterans Memorial Golf Course, commonly called Vet’s Course, a Golf Digest four-star gem that skirts Lake Blackshear. Accommodations are provided at Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club ($159 and up), a 78-room lodge with 10 cottages, all on the lake. It’s one of the most popular parks in the system and the most easily accessible due to its proximity to I-75.
Other state parks with lodges include George T. Bagby State Park and Lodge in Fort Gaines, home of the Meadow Links Golf Course, and Little Ocmulgee State Park & Lodge, home of the Wallace Adams Golf Course.
Whether you make it a family vacation, a weekend getaway or a day trip, an economical round of golf in a natural setting is only as far away as a state park.
Georgia State Park golf courses
Arrowhead Pointe at Richard B. Russell. 2790 Olympic Rowing Drive, Elberton
Brazell’s Creek at Gordonia-Alatamaha.355 Golf Course Road, Reidsville
Georgia Veterans Memorial at Lake Blackshear. 2459-H U.S. 280 W., Cordele
Highland Walk at Victoria Bryant. 1415 Bryant Park Road, Royston
Meadow Links at George T. Bagby. 110 Meadowlinks Drive, Fort Gaines
The Creek at Hard Labor Creek. 1400 Knox Chapel Road, Social Circle
The Lakes at Laura S. Walker. 5500 Laura Walker Road, Waycross
Wallace Adams at Little Ocmulgee.55 Spanish Moss Road, Helena
Greens fees are $24 and up, including cart and parking fee. 800-864-7275, www.gastateparks.org/Golfing.
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