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Classy University of Georgia Golf Course states its case among best college courses

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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The University of Georgia Golf Course has the classic Robert Trent Jones themes. (Courtesy of golfcourse.uga.edu)

ATHENS, Ga. - The University of Georgia Golf Course may not be the best college golf course in the country - you would get strong arguments for Oklahoma State's Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Mount Holyoke's Orchards course or the Tom Fazio design at UNC-Chapel Hill - but it's made some giant strides recently.

The UGA course has some legendary names behind its classy design. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1968 and re-built last year by Davis Love III.

It has great elevation changes up here in these Georgia hills, so that standing in front of the clubhouse, you can see RTJ's master plan spread out before you. And since they've culled a great many trees in the last few months, it's like a big, open canvas for public viewing.

It has the classic RTJ themes, like the strategically placed bunkers perilously close to landing areas. And now it has some of the sweetest, velvety-smooth greens anywhere, on the Cadillac of putting surfaces - bentgrass - courtesy of Love.

"They have made the greens much more challenging," said local resident Don Niepoth. "There are mounds and breaks and everything else going on."

That's pretty much true of the whole course. You're often teeing off sharply downhill only to hit your approach shot back uphill as the fairways buck and roll and sometimes tilt. Most of the greens are elevated and many are multi-tiered.

Almost all have excellent slope and undulation and many are mounded so that firing directly at the pin isn't always the best choice. They are also in excellent shape, rivaling any first-class resort course.

This isn't a course a hot-shot freshman off his high school team is going to bring to its knees. Its old slope rating of 131 from the back tees is certainly much higher now, since the renovation.

For one thing, they lengthened 12 holes, stretching the layout from 6,792 yards to 7,240 yards from the back, or "Bulldog," tees. They also added some wrinkles in the fairways, a cross bunker here, another bunker there. There are some forced carries off the tee, none overwhelming, some blind landing areas, some risky doglegs and no fewer than five forced carries into the tricky greens.

There is also an excellent collection of par 3s: the 194-yard third hole, where you hit up to the green over a deep valley; No. 8, a downhill shot to a green that drops off to eternity on the right; and No. 13, a tricky shot over water to a kidney-shaped green with a mound and high ridge in back that can be used as a sort of backboard.

University of Georgia Golf Course: The Verdict

Along with rebuilding all of the green complexes, Georgia officials also added forward tees on nine holes to go along with the back tees. They replaced about a third of the cart paths and painted the clubhouse in Bulldog black and red.

Smartly, they timed the renovation to coincide with the seeding of the bentgrass, which is best planted in the fall.

This was a good course even before the renovations, having hosted several Southeastern Conference tournaments, for both the men's and women's competitions, as well as holding the women's NCAA championship three times.

It is a public, self-supporting course open to all, and the green fees are reasonable: Students pay $16-$38, alumni $19-$49 and guests $22-$58, all including cart.

Athens lodging

The Foundry Park Inn and Spa may be a fancy boutique hotel, but they don't neglect the basics here - a cooler in your room to take to nearby Sanford Stadium, for the Georgia Bulldog football games. They also have tailgate-to-go menus.

Foundry Park is the first and only boutique property in Athens, on the edge of the active Athens downtown. It was designed as a replica of row houses built in the city back in the 1920s - no heavy-footed clods stomping around over your head.

There are 119 rooms and suites, and the d├ęcor is understated elegance. There is a conference room, a fitness center, an excellent spa and a fitness center. The inn also has the Hoyt House Restaurant.

But the best part is the inn's proximity to the energetic music scene Athens is known for. In fact, all you have to do is walk a few steps from your door; the Melting Point on the grounds hosts a variety of musical acts. It's a great place to see live music, with its intimate setting and good acoustics.

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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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