Georgia's Golden Isles golf: munis, masterpieces - and everything in between

By Joel Zuckerman,

The Golden Isles of coastal Georgia might not get the same press as Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island or Orlando. But if you're looking for great Southeast golf, few destinations can compare to the isle's offering of world-class golf courses.

There are at least a dozen world-class golf destinations throughout the Southeast, but the Golden Isles of coastal Georgia, located just north of the Florida state line, might well be the most distinguished.

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Just as discussions of golf on California's Monterey Peninsula begin with Pebble Beach, discussions of golf in the Golden Isles begin with the Sea Island Golf Club. There are few club entrances more dramatic and inviting than the drive down the stately Avenue of the Oaks. The heart rate and anticipation factor of any avid player will rise as they make their way down the tree-lined corridor and view the sparkling guest lodge and golf complex with its colossal American flag whipping in the ever-present ocean breeze.

There you'll find three excellent tests of the game. First and foremost is the Seaside Course, a 1999 Tom Fazio reconfiguration of the original separate nines designed by Charles Colt, Hugh Alison and Joe Lee. Rees Jones reshaped the work of Walter Travis and Dick Wilson into the Plantation Course in 1998, and brothers Mark and Davis Love III, longtime area residents, have reinterpreted Joe Lee's original 1970s design into the refurbished Retreat Course, which opened in 2001.

The Monterey analogy continues a bit further along the isles. Both regions are home to a world-class private club in addition to some fabulous resort golf. Ocean Forest may not be in the same category as Cypress Point, but it is a stylish seaside test nonetheless, and the Rees Jones design played host to the 2001 Walker Cup Matches.

There are more than a dozen courses on Jekyll Island, St. Simon's Island and Sea Island. They run the gamut from munis like the nine-hole Glynco Golf Course to the lovingly maintained fairways at Ocean Forest, which sees far less traffic in a day than most courses see in an hour. The Hampton Club, Sea Palms and Oak Grove are all worthy venues. Coastal Pines opened in 2002 in the nearby city of Brunswick, and was rated as one of the best bargain courses in the region by Golf Digest. After dark the action is found on Mallory Avenue on St. Simon's Island, where a variety of live music venues and restaurants vie for the vacationers who haven't expended all their energy.

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Some folks go to Las Vegas to gorge on buffets and not to gamble, while others vacation in Aspen, not to ski, but to see and be seen. In the same vein there are non-golfers who head to the Golden Isles to enjoy the boating and beaches, tennis and horseback riding, fishing, kayaking and virtually any other recreation where sun meets surf.

One might argue they're missing out on the essence of the Isles, as golf is as much a part of life here as moss-draped oak trees and tidal marshes. Some of the game's greatest names have left their mark over 75-odd years.

These include original Sea Island Golf Club course designer Walter Travis, who in the early days of the last century won the U.S. Amateur three times and the British Amateur as well. Bobby Jones once held the course record there and Sam Snead bettered Jones' mark some 30 years later. There was LPGA pioneer Louise Suggs, who more than 50 years ago won the Sea Island Ladies Open.

Suggs amassed 55 professional wins -- including a pair of U.S. Opens, while concurrently joining the teaching staff where she's employed to this day. There's also local boy Davis Love III, a former PGA champion still hungry to add to his current tally of 19 Tour victories. These world-class golfers encountered the verdant landscape, lush panorama and natural beauty of this unforgettable coastal region, and sought an affiliation with the Golden Isles. We should all be so perceptive.

June 5, 2007

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.

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