SEA ISLAND GOLF CLUB, PLANTATION
100 Retreat Avenue, St. Simons Island; 800-732-4752, seaisland.com. Yardage: 6,549. Par: 72. Slope: 130. Architects: Walter Travis, 1927; H. S. Colt and C. H. Alison, 1929; Dick Wilson, 1960; Rees Jones, 1998. Greens Fees: $145-$185 (includes forecaddie). T&L Golf Rating: ***1/2
The back porch of the Lodge at Sea Island looks out upon the tenth hole of Plantation and, beyond, St. Simons Sound, which shimmers in the morning light like diamonds; I suspect this über-Low Country view (from a rocking chair, no less) creates unrealistic expectations for the course. This isn't the show pony that Seaside is, although its grooming is as flawless and some of its oaks remarkable. It's a solid, very playable parkland design with a good mix of holes. The momentum wanes briefly in the middle of the back nine during a string of rather forgettable par fours before reviving with a strong quartet of finishers, especially the risk-reward 492-yard par-five closer that plays shorter if you try to fly the water for a closing eagle, as well you should, never mind our own miserable cowardice.
BEST OF THE REST
Bear's Best Atlanta ($75-$95; 678-714-2582) is a fun romp through re-creations of some of architect Jack Nicklaus's favorite holes. Set on a quiet property in the Southern Appalachians, the Resort at Callaway's Mountain View course ($95-$110; 800-225-5292) has hosted the PGA Tour's Buick Challenge. Near Reynolds Plantation, Harbor Club ($59-$69; 706-453-4414) is a fine Tom Weiskopf-Jay Morrish collaboration as well as an old Mickey Mantle hangout. Port Armor Country Club & Resort ($95; 706-453-4500) is a quality Bob Cupp design also in the Reynolds area. Don't take Reynolds Plantation's unassuming Plantation ($90-$158; 800-322-1665) lightly: It has on occasion played tougher than Great Waters in the club championship. A sleeper thirty-five minutes from Sea Island is Mark McCumber's pretty Osprey Cove ($37-$55; 912-882-5575). And don't get sloppy on the vast fairways of Sea Island Golf Club's Retreat ($125-$145; 800-732-4752), Davis Love III's very enjoyable remake of the old Island Club.
Atlanta Athletic Club, Duluth. The 2001 PGA Championship was held on its Highlands eighteen, now most famous for its pond-fronted closer and the smartest layup in golf history, courtesy of David Toms.
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta. Love or hate the recent changes, it's still the course you play when granted one wish.
Cherokee Town and Country Club, Atlanta. One of the city's grand old establishment clubs, the few funky holes among the thirty-six, all renovated by Tom Fazio, only add to the considerable charm.
The Club at Jones Creek, Evans. This Augusta-area ex-public Rees Jones design got very good reviews when it opened in 1985; some now argue that it's harder than it is memorable.
East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta. This Tour Championship host is a corporate club that's part of an innovative neighborhood-renewal campaign, and it's where Bobby Jones learned the game.
Hawks Ridge Golf Club, Ball Ground. It's known for the state's best upkeep outside of Augusta National; a friend who played here received an apology for the greens only running thirteen on the Stimp.
Ocean Forest Golf Club, Sea Island. This highly regarded 1995 Rees Jones links-style design hosted the 2001 Walker Cup and is one of golf's toughest tickets.
Peachtree Golf Club, Atlanta. A pure golf club whose Robert Trent Jones design (done in collaboration with Bobby Jones) was his first masterwork; it has fast multilevel greens, plenty of water hazards and one of the game's finest opening holes.
100 First Street, Sea Island; 800-732-4752, seaisland.com. Rooms: $190-$600. Suites: $800-$1,200.
Opened in 1928 and built in classic Mediterranean style by Addison Mizner of Palm Beach fame, the Cloister offers 269 rooms, including thirty-eight suites, located in fifteen buildings, as well as more land and water activities than you could possibly hope to cram into your stay. Rooms in the main hotel are set back from the beach, while the newer Ocean Houses sport Atlantic and nature views.
THE INN AT BARNSLEY GARDENS
597 Barnsley Gardens Road, Adairsville; 877-773-2447, barnsleyresort.com. Suites: $215-$395.
A self-contained universe an hour northwest of Atlanta modeled after a nineteenth-century pedestrian village. There are seventy individually decorated suites in English-style guest cottages, the only Andrew Jackson Downing-inspired formal gardens in the South, sporting clays, fishing and horseback riding, for starters, as well as a Fairy Godmother, who tosses fairy dust on guests and performs other random acts of kindness. Truly, this is a one-of-a-kind, quintessentially Southern experience—except for its Bavarian Beer Garden, which is quintessentially Bavarian.
THE LODGE AT SEA ISLAND
100 Retreat Avenue, St. Simons Island; 800-732-4752, golflodge.com. Rooms: $500-$800. Suites: $800-$1,000.
This past November, the Lodge at Sea Island debuted with five stars in the Mobil Travel Guide, which is not unlike winning an Oscar in your maiden performance. Consider, randomly, the bathroom: heated towel bars, a special safety button needed to start the hot water in the shower, nonfogging mirrors, speakers to hear the TV piped in from the bedroom—no detail is overlooked. Twenty-four-hour butler service, two wonderful restaurants, the Oak Room Bar, patterned after New York's famous Oak Bar, access to the five miles of private beach at the Cloister (as well as its shooting school) and to the stables nearby: For just forty big rooms, including two suites, it adds up to one of the country's best golf-resort experiences.