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Golf, eat, sleep: The perfect three-day Atlanta golf weekend

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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Bear's Best golf course
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Bear's Best is among the top public courses in the Atlanta area. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

ATLANTA -- Atlanta is a great golf town, if you're wealthy, privileged and have adequate social standing.

The mega-city of the South has been known for years as a spot where great, private courses thrive, like the Golf Club of Georgia, East Lake, Atlanta Athletic Club, Hawks Ridge, TPC at Sugarloaf and the Atlanta Country Club.

If you're a commoner, the pickings are slimmer. Still, there are some very interesting and challenging courses, though you may have to look in the outlying areas.

Your perfect itinerary for an Atlanta golf weekend will take you into downtown, to see the sights, but also away from the hustle of the of the city to see some of the fine countryside.

Friday

STAY: The Omni Hotel at CNN Center is in the heart of the city with views of the downtown skyline or Centennial Olympic Park.

It's connected to Phillips Arena and the Georgia World Congress Center and it's the closest hotel to the Georgia Dome. From here, it's a short distance to some of Atlanta's burgeoning tourist attractions, like the Georgia Aquarium and the Atlanta zoo. You're also steps away from seeing Wolf Blitzer in action at CNN.

Atlanta, of course, has major league sports teams -- the Braves, Hawks, Falcons and Thrashers -- so there is almost always live sports any time of year.

Also, if you're a golfer, a visit to the PGA Tour Superstore is a must. Patterned after Home Depot, it's a warehouse of everything golf.

PLAY: Bear's Best Atlanta golf course isn't the best golf course in the Atlanta area, but it is the best the public can play. The idea behind it, officials say, is to give the public a private club experience.

Bear's Best has a lot going for it. It's a Jack Nicklaus design, of course, a compilation of 18 of his favorite holes from his more than 200 designs.

This is top-notch golf entertainment here, a big, challenging course that winds through an affluent neighborhood of huge, million-dollar homes, none of them Jack's, but all of them impressive.

The course is laid out on rolling terrain on some of the highest land around: the tee box at the par-3 16th hole is the second-highest point in Gwinnett County, for example.

These aren't exactly the Rockies, but there are some nice, misty views of the countryside around Atlanta. And the elevation gives the course its architectural movement and a great deal of its strategy.

Green fees are $89-$109 at Bear's Best, plus another $20-$25 for the caddie, and that seems to be appropriate for what you get.

It's a touch over 7,000 yards from the back, with a slope of 140, so you can try to be Jack if you want, or you can move up to the blues, at a more manageable 6,447 yards.

EAT: Buckhead Diner has an upscale atmosphere and retro style. The menu includes homemade potato chips with blue cheese, sweet and sour calamari and veal meatloaf with wild mushrooms.

Saturday

STAY: The Chateau Elan is in Braselton, about an hour outside Atlanta, right off Interstate 85, but, as they say, a world away on 3,500 acres of rolling terrain.

Chateau Elan is a resort and winery in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains. It reminded me of some of the resorts/wineries in which I stayed in the wine region of South Africa.

It's pretty odd seeing a 16th century-style French chateau surrounded by lush vineyards from an interstate in Georgia. But, that's what it is, and the full-production winery is the largest producer of premium wines in Georgia.

The inn has more than 250 rooms, 20 suites, 14 spa suites and golf villas. There is a 33,000 square-foot spa with 14 guest suites and 36 treatment rooms. There are impressive conference facilities.

PLAY: There are four golf courses at Chateau Elan, if you include the par-3 executive course, and only one, the Legends, is private.

The Chateau golf course was the first to open, in 1989. At a touch over 7,000 yards, and designed by Atlanta architect Denis Griffiths, it is an atypically difficult resort course.

The Woodlands opened in 1996, to the public and resort guests. The Woodlands is a very picturesque course with the sort of elevation you come to expect in Atlanta-area courses, maybe even a little more so.

EAT: The stars of the show at Chateau Elan, aside from the golf courses, are the eight restaurants, whose menus range from casual to serious eating. Food ranges from classic French, contemporary international to Southern regional and traditional Irish at Paddy's Irish Pub.

All the restaurants can be paired with premium wines from the expansive vineyards.

Sunday

STAY: Callaway Gardens is another, restful respite from hopping Atlanta, and its choking traffic, and is only about an hour's drive away.

It's a beautiful public gardens and resort on 13,000 acres with a variety of lodging options: cottages, villas, the Mountain Creek Inn, and the newer, fancier rooms at the lodge.

It has a luxurious new spa opening soon, and a ton of outdoor activities for the golfer and non-golfer alike. There is tennis, fishing, shooting, bicycle and nature trails and swimming in the lakes.

Fishing in particular has allure for golfers, and you can flyfish here for big bass and even trout in the winter months.

There are also workshops and informational hikes for people wanting to know more about the impressive flora and fauna of the region.

Callaway gets a lot of business people. It has meeting facilities totaling almost 100,000 square feet, with three big ballrooms and smaller break-out rooms.

PLAY: You would expect a golf course located at Callaway Gardens to be beautiful, and you would be right.

The long-time Georgia tourist attraction, has two courses, the Lake View and Mountain View. They have a great deal in common as far as scenery, but could not be more different in terms of strategy.

Lake View is very short and requires finesse. Mountain View is long and requires meat for breakfast.

"You've got to beat the hell out of the ball on just about every tee box," Callaway spokesman Roger Childers said of Mountain View.

There is enough elevation change to give both courses good movement. Lake View in particular is a beautiful course, winding through the azaleas that the gardens were originally formed to protect.

Lakeview is short, measuring only a little more than 6,000 yards from the tips, so you can give your driver a rest if you're a big hitter. But, Joe Lee, its designer, made up for lack of length with some tricky, little greens.

It's one of those old-fashioned, pre-boom-boom technology courses that can be a blast to play if you like a course that tests your iron play, particularly your wedge play.

EAT: Still want some city action? You'll finish back downtown at Ted's Montana Grill. Ted Turner is the co-founder and Montana is the theme. The grill serves bison steaks, bison burgers and "big ol' cookies."

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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.

 
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