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|The Plantation Course was originally designed by Willard Byrd with an update by Clyde Johnston. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
Skidaway Island is only 15 minutes from downtown Savannah, Ga., but a world away in terms of peace and serenity.
SKIDAWAY ISLAND, Ga. - When you make the turn on Highway 204 that takes you away from south Savannah onto the narrow marsh road out to Skidaway Island, you're almost immediately thrust out of the order of man and into the pleasant chaos of nature.
Trees have stood for a thousand years on Skidaway Island, home of The Landings, a golf community 15 minutes from the heart of Savannah. Great Blue Heron stalk the flats, alligators sun themselves on the shores of the many inlets fed by the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway and even a few wild boars occasionally roam the pristine woods.
But, little by little, you start to notice order: Every 12th hole on the Landings' six golf courses is a par 3. Maintenance schedules are orderly and planned well in advance - the Oakridge Course for example, is due to go under the knife in 2011.
The people who live here like to organize themselves as well; there are more than 100 groups here of every size and interest. There are dozens of committees and dozens of rules. The Landings Women's Golf Association is among the largest in the country.
It's the natural beauty of Skidaway Island that first attracts newcomers, but it may be the people who seal the deal.
"It's easy to make friends here," said Jim Hazel, the head golf professional at the Marshwood Course. "That's a big plus. Everybody's coming here from somewhere else. I tell people, spend the first year joining groups and volunteering and getting to know people. Spend the next three years trying to get out.'"
It isn't difficult to find a common interest among strangers, and that bond is golf. The Landings has a little fewer than 2,000 golf memberships and about 3,500 residents play the game.
Head out to any of the golf courses on nearly any morning, and you'll see carts clustered around the driving range. The six courses, closed to the public, do a combined 200,000 rounds or so a year.
You'll also notice quite a few of the golfers are well past the turn, heading for the back stretch.
"This is not a retirement community, but most of the golfers are older, though there are still quite a few younger families," said Brian Sams, head golf professional at the Plantation Course.
The Landings, which takes up 4,500 acres of the island's 6,500 acres, is a golfer's paradise to anyone looking for a laid-back, golf-intense retreat in a gorgeous setting.
All of the six courses are very good - not a dud among them - with similarities like tree-lined fairways and beautiful marsh views. But the residents like to think each also has its own distinctive flavor.
• The Oakridge Course is probably the most popular course among the members.
"It's a little shorter and the older folks like to play it," said resident Mike Werneke, who came south nine years ago with his wife from New Jersey.
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 architect 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 Palmetto Course is where members of The Landings go when they're due for a whipping.
It isn't as though this is the most difficult golf course in Georgia, although if you want to take it on from the back tees at a tad under 7,000 yards, you're looking at a considerable slope rating of 141.
But few members at The Landings play any of the courses from that far back; the yardages move down to 6,457 from the tournament tees to 6,174 for the club tees.
"It's the length," said member Bob Longueria, explaining why the course is generally considered the toughest. "The finishing holes are some of the toughest on the island. There's a lot of trouble everywhere. You pretty much have to carry everything on to the green; you can't be running them up."
Deep traps and high embankments guard greens that are contoured in the way of some pretty harsh slope and undulation; some of the multi-tiered greens have three-putt written all over them.
• The Plantation Course is known for being tough off the tee, a bit narrow in the fairway department, and so it lacks a certain appeal for many of the members.
That's a shame, because it is a very scenic course, maybe the most scenic on the island.
The wide-open views of the marshes, all the way out to the Atlantic Ocean, are never far from any of the golf courses on Skidaway, but the Plantation certainly knows how to use them.
The heart of the course is the middle part, holes 8, 9 and 10. in which the golf almost becomes secondary to the wide vistas. No. 8, a picturesque little par 3, is framed by Adams Creek, while the par-5 ninth hole has a gorgeous, wide view of the creek and the big waters beyond.
• The Deer Creek Course is another member favorite.
"First of all, it's very forgiving off the tee," said Head Professional Ty Weller.
Architect Tom Fazio designed the course, and his architectural firm will oversee the renovation scheduled for next year.
Like Oakridge, Deer Creek is about more than just the short game. There are a number of outstanding holes, like No. 5, a drivable par 4 - if you dare try to carry the water that runs all the way to the green - No. 8, a picturesque par 3 framed by the marsh in back, and No. 9, with a substantial water carry off the tee.
Deer Creek is a beautifully treed course now, playing through pine, moss-draped oak and weeping willow. It also gets more than its fair share of wildlife; wild boar are sometimes still spotted.
• The Marshwood Course combines many of the best elements of the other five courses.
First of all, aesthetically, it has some of the better views of the marshes that envelop much of Skidaway Island, like on No. 2, where the green at the par 5 is framed beautifully by the ever-changing marsh colors.
The greens are some of the best on the island, and some are huge and multi-tiered, with well-crafted slope and undulation.
What sets Marshwood apart are the mounds that border and influence many of the green surrounds. You don't have to fire at the flag repeatedly; you can use the mounds and humps around the greens to funnel your approach shots toward the hole. It can be a blast when you wield your 7-iron like a pool cue.
"Marshwood is a fun golf course to play," Head Professional Jim Hazel said. "It's got a good mixture of long and short holes and it gets you out by the marsh. To me, it's one of my favorites."
• The Magnolia Course was designed by Arnold Palmer, his second at The Landings, with help from Ed Seay. It's known as one of the more difficult courses on the island, though not as difficult at Palmetto.
Many residents think the front nine is the best on Skidaway. The course recently underwent a significant renovation of tees, greens and bunkers.
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