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Azalea Central

Courtesy of Callaway Gardens Courtesy of Callaway Gardens

Photo: Courtesy of Callaway Gardens

The most affecting part of Mountain View, though, may not be its natural contours or its beguiling greens. Each of the tee markers, as with those on Lake View, serves not only to point you toward the next fairway but also to remind you that golf is about more than knocking a ball into a cup. Notice the Eastern bluebirds and brown thrashers on the par-four ninth, the markers implore; look for the slider turtles sunning themselves by the pond at twelve, a standout par three; watch the great blue heron tiptoeing along the shore of the par-five fifteenth, a picturesque hole whose main flaw is that its fairway slopes toward the water.

Insofar as it emphasizes this vital dynamic between you and your surroundings, golf at Callaway Gardens works alongside the rest of the resort’s enjoyably didactic attractions: the butterfly and horticultural centers; the Birds of Prey show; Cason Callaway’s Vegetable Garden, which for years has been a set of PBS’s Victory Garden; and the Azalea Bowl (paid for by Ely Callaway Jr.), which, with 3,400 varieties of the shrub planted over forty acres, is the world’s largest and densest azalea garden. “We’re not really about big, barnstorming, robust activities,” says Hank Bruno, the director of horticulture. “Our gardens are places for repose, to slow down and breathe deep and understand your relationship to the trees and to this place.”

Despite a recent reduction in the number of golf holes—both the nine-hole Sky View and the eighteen-hole Gardens View closed for budgetary purposes after September 11, 2001—Callaway Gardens is burgeoning. It’s still a family business, but since 2005 day-to-day operations have been run by a luxury-hotel operator charged with modernizing the resort. The Lodge, the most upscale of the accommodations, opened in late 2006, with the attached Spa Prunifolia debuting last March. That building was affixed to the resort’s conference center, which opened in 2002 and was the first of its kind to be LEED-certified, the preeminent seal of eco-friendly design. The twenty-six-acre Twin Oaks practice facility opened in September. The two courses got a combined $3.1 million spruce-up a few years ago, and plans are in the works to raze the A-frame clubhouse and erect a new one.

A half-century on, Callaway Gardens is poised to become the residential resort that Cason and Virginia Callaway envisioned. A 138-lot certified-green development opened in 2003 and is almost completely built out, inhabited mainly by “halfbacks,” Northeasterners who migrate to Florida only to decide it’s a bit too far south. Over the next fifteen years, up to fourteen hundred homes could be built, each fitted with energy-saving features. In fact, as of this spring, all of the energy Callaway Gardens consumes is being offset by wind credits. “We are very conscious of these things,” says Bruno. “The entire concept was to have sustainability at its root.”

It’s a simple premise: Take care of your natural surroundings and your natural surroundings will reward you—with, in this case, the grandest display of golf’s official flower.

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