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For the living, the Oakridge golf course at The Landings is all about the short game

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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The Oakridge Golf Course at The Landings is a scenic layout, designed by Arthur Hills. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

Oakridge Course, one of six courses at The Landings community on Skidaway Island near Savannah, Georgia, is a shorter course that's among the most popular for club members.

SKIDAWAY ISLAND, Ga. - On the surface, golf courses might not seem like good places to be buried; the juxtaposition between a leisure activity and the grim finality of death seems a little weird. Then again, golf courses are usually quiet, peaceful and, if the dead are lucky, scenic.

The Oakridge Course, one of six courses at the sprawling Landings on Skidaway Island, is such a place: quiet, peaceful and scenic, and with a small, dignified and well-kept cemetery just off the 15th fairway. It's a rectangular burial spot, shaded and enclosed by a low, ancient-looking tabby wall not far from the Intracoastal Waterway flowing serenely on the other side of the trees. The cemetery is the final resting place for two early residents of the barrier island close to Savannah, one who died at a very tender age.

The golf course itself is one of the favorites of the living.

"This is probably our most popular course with the members," said Mike Werneke, who came south nine years ago with his wife from New Jersey. "It's a little shorter, and the older folks like to play it."

Oakridge is only 6,675 yards from the back tees, not that the back of the bus gets much play from members or guests. Many will play from the "tournament" tees at 6,207 yards, and most will play from the "club" tees at only 5,871 yards.

That's probably best because Oakridge isn't about slamming the driver; it's all about the short game here, though there are still some interesting looks off the tees.

The course was designed by Arthur Hills, his second design at the Landings, and it has the graceful contours Hills is known for - the semi-rolling fairways through pine, oak and other coastal island vegetation, as well as the bursts of color from the azaleas around the many homes that line the perimeter of the layout.

The short game is important here because you're usually coming into small, elevated and multi-tiered greens that drop off on one, two or three sides, and most of them have some vexing slope and undulation to deal with. Most of the course's movement picks up around the tricky green complexes. The putter and whatever you use to get up and down are the priority clubs here.

Like on the 14th, a par 4 with an hourglass green that has a devilish decline on the far side of the green.

"If you're over the green here, forget it," Werneke said. "You're looking at a bogey or double. The greens here are as difficult as you'll find on the island."

Oakridge Course at The Landings: The Verdict

Oakridge is a tree-lined parkland course that, despite the abundance of trees, shows off nice marsh views on several holes, like Nos. 6, 7, 15 and 17, the No. 1 handicap hole.

Of course, it isn't only about the greens. There are some excellent risk/reward holes, some short par 4s with danger lurking, and the par 5s can be reached in two with well-placed shots.

Missing the fairway can cost you as well, especially if you land in one of the grass swales.

"They re-grassed with zoysia, and it can be a bear," Werneke said. "When they let that stuff grow to 4 inches, you can't even find the ball."

Oakridge is about 20 years old and slated for a total renovation in 2011, which will include re-doing all the greens, as well as installing new cart paths and irrigation work.

The Landings on Skidaway Island

The Landings on Skidaway Island is an exclusive, gated community on the barrier island, just outside Savannah. Residents here have the advantage of living on their own island while being 15 minutes from downtown Savannah.

They've worked hard here to preserve the natural beauty of the island, and it shows: giant oaks draped with Spanish moss, wide marsh views and hardwood hammocks dot the island.

It's a very active community, with more than 100 groups, including one of the largest ladies golf organizations in the country.

It's a little puzzling why the Landings is not more well-known. It's won some prestigious awards: The Urban Land Institute recognized it as "one of the nation's best residential communities," Live South magazine ranked it as one of the "Fabulous 50 communities in the South" and Where to Retire magazine rated it a "top 100 master-planned community."

There is some dispute over the origin of the island's name, whether it came from Indians or English settlers, but in any case, after the Civil War, freed slaves set up a school with the help of Benedictine monks.

Skidaway Island prospered during prohibition with several stills on the island, and Union Camp eventually took control and used the heavily treed island for pulpwood production in the 1940s, before eventually developing the island for residential use.

The community has plenty of activities to keep residents busy, including six courses designed by some of the biggest names in the business, like Hills, Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer and Willard Byrd.

There are also three tennis centers and 34 courts, two deep-water marinas, a fitness center slated to be doubled in size, four swimming pools, two athletic fields, more than 40 miles of paved walking and biking trails and four clubhouse restaurants.

Then there is the Village, a family-style shopping center so that residents don't even have to leave the island.

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Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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