As a golf destination, Savannah is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Hilton Head Island. But although the golf complement to this alluring Southern city may lack national acclaim, the area’s top courses resonate with authentic coastal character. Plus, they’re easily accessible and relatively affordable.
Savannah itself—equal parts colonial, antebellum and up to date—is a cultural destination that’s not to be missed. With boutique shopping, galleries, centuries-old architecture and a sense of culinary sophistication, personality drips from Savannah like the loose curtains of Spanish moss hanging from its gothic oaks. The romantic notion of a city shrouded in mystery isn’t a notion at all: It’s what Savannah is.
The city is also the point of departure into a vanishing Lowcountry—specifically, the sparsely populated Daufuskie Island. Traveling down the Savannah River toward Daufuskie Island Resort and its two scenic courses can seem like a trip back in time. It evokes an era when golf in the Lowcountry was about executing shots in idyllic marshland settings, not playing through faceless housing developments. This is a retreat into the heart of a wonderfully preserved area, a journey to the unspoiled South.
Day One Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is well served from most East Coast cities and located just ten miles from downtown. Once in Savannah, head to the historic district and check into the Mansion on Forsyth Park, a two-year-old, 126-room hotel built as a private residence in 1888. The hotel doubles as an art gallery, with more than four hundred pieces of classical and contemporary European and American art hung throughout its hallways. Themed exhibits are often mounted in the Grand Bohemian Gallery, which is just off the lobby.
Once you’ve settled in, drive twenty-five minutes southeast across the Intracoastal channels to the Wilmington Island Club for a smooth indoctrination into Lowcountry golf. Donald Ross designed the course, which opened in 1927, as an amenity to the former Oglethorpe Hotel (now a luxury condominium complex), and though there have been minor alterations to the layout over the years, it retains a charming pre–World War II feel. The routing is folded neatly into an asymmetrical tree-lined property. Although the course’s push-up greens make for challenging targets, its ample fairways allow you to find your swing without unduly impacting your scorecard. This classic theme of wide fairways and demanding greens will be played out under increasingly tight conditions over the coming days.
For dinner, head to Sapphire Grill, tucked into a narrow, multilevel space near River Street. This cozy restaurant offers Southern-inspired entrées as well as à la carte selections of prime beef, lamb, pork and local seafood.
Day Two Cross over the Talmadge Memorial Bridge to Hutchinson Island, the body of land across the river, en route to the Club at Savannah Harbor. Bob Cupp’s low-slung design roams the island’s open ground between pockets of riparian buffers and, by changing directions often, exposes players to wind off the river from a variety of angles. There’s plenty of room to drive the ball aggressively, but at such holes as the 533-yard fourth and the 447-yard sixth, the greens are pinched by diagonal bunker clusters and encroaching wetlands. Cupp’s visual treatment of the design extends to grand, off-course focal points—the looming Westin hotel, the bridge’s towering superstructure and suspension cables, and the golden dome of Savannah’s city hall. The architect skillfully uses these landmarks as targets and dramatic backdrops.
After the round, stop in for lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room on Jones Street, where since the 1940s patrons have gathered at communal tables to be served family-style portions of deliciously rendered Southern fare such as fried chicken and baked ham. Then, either on your own or with a guided group, explore the beloved historic district, which is home to many well-shaded public squares and magnificent porch-wrapped mansions.
In the evening, amble down the paths of Forsyth Park to Local 11 Ten. The frequently changing menu at this hip New American restaurant in a converted bank building celebrates the bounty of the region, including Vidalia onions and Georgia shrimp and redfish.
Day Three Begin the day by seeing what’s happening at the Savannah College of Art and Design in the historic district. The school operates the SCAD Museum of Art as well as ShopSCAD, a gallery store that sells art, jewelry and clothing created by students, alumni, faculty and staff. It also promotes student exhibits and annually hosts the Savannah Film Festival (which is scheduled to run from October 27 to November 3 this year). Have an early lunch at Six Pence Pub, a British-style tavern on Bull Street. Then head back to the hotel, collect your bags and take a taxi to a storefront at 425 East River Street, where you can buy tickets for the Daufuskie Island ferry. The boats depart every three hours between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. The crossing takes roughly an hour, and no cars are allowed on board. But you won’t have to worry about your luggage once you board: Crews deliver it to your destination, Daufuskie Island Resort.
Check in to either the resort’s Melrose Inn or one of its oceanfront cottages, and then take the shuttle to Bloody Point golf course. The first nine holes of this Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf design play through an inland parcel that rewards accurate iron play. The stakes are raised on the more demanding second nine, when the course turns toward the Intracoastal Waterway, beginning at the lovely 310-yard tenth. The final three holes, a potentially back-breaking stretch, play out to the island’s breezy southern point. The pot bunker cut into the center of the eighteenth green punctuates the round.
After three successive days of golf, a rejuvenating massage may be in order. If so, indulge yourself at the resort’s Breathe Spa before having dinner at Jack’s Place in the Melrose clubhouse. Bring an appetite for red meat, because the grilled dishes, especially the New York strip and the Colorado rack of lamb, are the strong suit of the house.
Day Four Load up on the hearty breakfast buffet at the inn’s second-floor restaurant, the Stoddard Bistro, which overlooks the ocean, and then walk across Easter Beach Lane to Daufuskie’s Melrose course, a 1987 Jack Nicklaus design. The specimen trees frequently influence the line of play, not unlike those at Harbour Town Golf Links (which Nicklaus helped Pete Dye design in 1969) on the other side of Calibogue Sound. With small greens, deep bunkers and several jumps across ponds and canals, the course demands precision above all else.
The game turns even more serious at the 525-yard par-five twelfth, where waste areas cut across sections of the fairway. It’s the beginning of a series of muscular holes that culminates in a climactic stretch along the Atlantic shore. The eighteenth features a double fairway and plays to an elevated peninsula green that’s suspended over the beach. After putting out, soak it all in—the shoreline, the ocean, the serenity—before catching the ferry back to Savannah.
But prior to departing, make sure you’ve built in enough time and appetite for one last indulgence: lunch at Walls’ Barbecue. The flavor of the smoky, luscious ribs at this out-of-the-way hut on York Lane will linger, a savory coda to a perfect long weekend in Savannah and the Lowcountry.
Club at Savannah Harbor
Architect: Bob Cupp, 1999. Yardage: 7,288. Par: 72. Slope: 137. Greens Fees: $110–$155. Contact: 912-201-2007, theclubatsavannahharbor.com.
Daufuskie Island Resort
Architects: Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, 1991. Yardage: 6,900. Par: 72. Slope: 134. Greens Fees: $79–$109. Contact: 888-909-4653, daufuskieislandresort.com.
Daufuskie Island Resort
Architect: Jack Nicklaus, 1987. Yardage: 7,081. Par: 72. Slope: 138. Greens Fees: $99–$119. Contact: 888-909-4653, daufuskieislandresort.com.
Wilmington Island Club
Architect: Donald Ross, 1927. Yardage: 6,715. Par: 71. Slope: 133. Greens Fee: $69. Contact: 912-897-1615, wilmingtonplantation.com.
Daufuskie Island Resort Rooms: from $119. Contact: 800-648-6778, daufuskieislandresort.com.
Mansion on Forsyth Park, Savannah Rooms: $219–$379. Contact: 912-238-5158, mansiononforsythpark.com.
Jack’s Place (New American), Daufuskie Island Resort; 843-341-4816. $$$$
Local 11 Ten (New American), Savannah; 912-790-9000. $$$$
Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room (Southern), Savannah; 912-232-5997. $$
Sapphire Grill (New American), Savannah; 912-443-9962. $$$$
Six Pence Pub (English), Savannah; 912-233-3156. $
Walls’ Barbecue, Savannah; 912-232-9754. $
Daufuskie Island Ferry, 843-341-4870
Savannah Walks, savannahwalks.com
SCAD Museum of Art, scad.edu