REYNOLDS PLANTATION, THE OCONEE
Lake Oconee Trail, Greensboro; 800-322-1665, reynoldsplantation.com. Yardage: 7,029. Par: 72. Slope: 139. Architect: Rees Jones, 2002. Greens Fees: $115-$250 (includes forecaddie). T&L Golf Rating: ****1/2
Talk about an entrance: Number one is a majestic 579-yard par five that seems to have added a shot to the eleventh at Augusta—as well as, at least in my go-round, a kingfisher presiding on a boulder bestride the greenside pond left. (It looked like a slump-shouldered, mirthless mob boss at the head of a table.) This is a tough act to follow, but for the next eleven holes the Oconee does just fine, providing very pretty, high-quality resort golf, with vast, saddled, pine-lined fairway corridors to slug away toward and big, pure, wiggle-free greens that are a pleasure to putt. Its straightforwardness renders the excellent forecaddies if not superfluous, then friendly companions mostly. On the par-three thirteenth, 260 yards from the tips over a one-acre bunker, the course changes into something different and, needless to say, harder: six gorgeous closers (especially the 192-yard fifteenth, one of the most natural cove par threes anywhere) about as friendly as a supermodel's bodyguard. Your scorecard at day's end thus may well recall your stock portfolio in its boom-to-bust nature.
WHITE COLUMNS COUNTRY CLUB
300 Clubhouse Drive, Alpharetta; 770-343-9025, whitecolumnscountryclub.com. Yardage: 7,053. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1994. Greens Fees: $65-$140. T&L Golf Rating: ****1/2
There's the ineffable sense here that you're in the hands of someone in full control of his art. Each hole flows to the next as if preordained, and all are well proportioned both individually and relative to one another—courses as aesthetically pleasing as this only underscore Fazio's reputation as a master shaper of landscapes. Whenever a dash of spice is called for, it appears, whether in the form of a bunker in the middle of the fairway on the downhill 347-yard par-four seventh or water, most brilliantly at the 358-yard par-four fifteenth. Here the front of the green recedes with the menacing grace of an alligator into the pond that runs all along the left side of the hole. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of the abundance of great golf around Atlanta is that White Columns still hasn't sold out its reasonably priced memberships and gone private, as has been the plan for several years now.
THE FROG GOLF CLUB
1900 Georgian Parkway, Villa Rica; 770-459-4400, thegeorgian.com. Yardage: 7,018. Par: 72. Slope: 140. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1998. Greens Fees: $45-$75. T&L Golf Rating: ****
The course with the best tag line in golf—"Grip it and ribbit"—is a criminally underutilized treat about forty-five minutes west of Atlanta. Chalk it up to the unfashionable backwater location. Four years after completing White Columns, Tom Fazio built another big-scale, upscale, prototypically Georgian course. In some ways, the Frog even leapfrogs its predecessor. There's no housing here (although fourteen homes abutting the course are set to be built and occupied before summer's end). Perhaps there are a few more surprises, too (a waste bunker running all along the right of the par-three eleventh provides a dash of Low Country feel, and the uphill, false-front approach on nine references Augusta's ninth). Perhaps for these flourishes, it doesn't hang together quite as perfectly, but it's still a toad-al blast and a bargain to boot. The most memorable things weren't the namesake amphibians (although the tee markers of a frog in midleap are a fun touch) but rather the birds. Specifically, the majestic great blue heron meditating bestride a pond next to the fourteenth tee as thousands of crows cackled away maniacally in the adjacent forest, auditioning, one supposes, for a Hitchcock remake.
THE GENERAL AT BARNSLEY GARDENS
597 Barnsley Gardens Road, Adairsville; 877-773-2447, barnsleyresort.com. Yardage: 7,180. Par: 72. Slope: 141. Architect: Jim Fazio, 1999. Greens Fees: $75-$105. T&L Golf Rating: ****
First, the name: a little machismo to set off against the rather feminine resort title. And what's in a name?Truth, soldier. Only a handful of golfers have broken par from the General's commanding back tees, and with good reason. The finishing pair in particular are brutal: a 192-yard par three to a crowned, boomerang-shaped green with water skulking right (the only hazard, I'm proud to say, that I've putted into) topped by a 452-yard par four with water along the left and a well-elevated green, a hole that must have escaped from the Bethpage Black chain gang and fled south. From on high, with a pretty view of the Appalachian foothills, its rapid-descent 242-yard par-three eighth will have your nose bleeding and your eyes popping; later, the signature 224-yard fourteenth will cause déjà vu. There's more than enough variety of terrain, design and demands elsewhere, however, to prevent the General from seeming too Pattonesque.
REYNOLDS PLANTATION, THE NATIONAL
100 Linger Longer Road, Greensboro; 800-322-1665, reynoldsplantation.com. Yardage: 3,528 (Bluff); 3,538 (Cove); 3,487 (Ridge). Par: 36 (all nines). Slope: 135 (Bluff/Ridge); 136 (Cove/Ridge); 137 (Bluff/Cove). Architect: Tom Fazio, 1997. Greens Fees: $90-$158. T&L Golf Rating: ****
Here is a course that embraces the big attribute of the modern golfer, challenging the long hitter while often leaving the distance-deprived feeling hopelessly inadequate. Or maybe it's just me. In any case, the hilly terrain presented challenges in incorporating the elevation changes, and the result is huge golf with (unusual for Fazio) some hog-backed fairways that shrink their effective width. Lake Oconee makes only a few cameo appearances, augmented by several ponds and streams; flash bunkers are another defense, especially around the generous, nicely contoured greens. Some insiders here consider the Bluff nine the most testing side on the entire Plantation. Overall, the National is a Bunyanesque, formidable task that may prove the most provocative to low handicappers.
ORCHARD HILLS GOLF CLUB
600 E. Highway 16, Newnan; 770-251-5683, orchardhills.com. Yardage: 3,500 (Logo); 3,512 (Orchard); 3,502 (Rock Garden). Par: 36 (all nines). Slope: 131 (Logo/Orchard); 132 (Orchard/Rock Garden); 134 (Logo/Rock Garden). Architects: Don Cottle Jr., 1990 (original eighteen, Logo/Orchard); Walker Moody and Craig Ketelsen, 1995 (Rock Garden). Greens Fees: $45-$53. T&L Golf Rating: ***1/2
"It's a neat little course—you'll have a blast," said a Georgian golf-writer friend in recommending a visit to this converted pecan orchard. He was spot-on but for that "little" part. This is a strong test. With the wind sweeping across it like a preacher's sermon, the standout, linkslike Logo nine has two consecutive par fours, the 395-yard fifth and 436-yard sixth, which are darn near unreachable. The former is a lovely hole, beginning at a tee box set below the fairway between a narrow stand of pines, recalling the eighteenth at Augusta, followed by a blind approach with a lone sycamore tree as your line. Orchard Hills' slogan is "Southern Hospitality with a Scottish Links Flavor," and indeed much of the charm of the place is in its sense of place. Our rule is that at least once a trip, we play where the locals play, to get a sense of other golfing lives. They seem to be enjoying themselves immensely here.