Beautiful Savannah & Its Great Courses

By: Joel Zuckerman


Scenic Savannah, Ga., has had many nicknames in its long and notable history. Among others, it's been known as "Georgia's First City," and has occasionally been referred to as "The Beautiful Lady with the Dirty Face," owing to urban blight that has thankfully been rectified in recent decades. But its best known moniker is the "Hostess City of the South."

Tourists from all points on the compass flock to the area come spring and fall, drawn by its rich and colorful past. It's a town so lovely that General Sherman first spared it, and then bequeathed it as a gift to President Lincoln on his devastating march from Atlanta to the sea during the Civil War. Modern-day visitors revel in the timeless beauty of the architecture and the charming individuality of the city squares, each containing fountains, statues, cannonry or the like.

Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa

But until quite recently golf has been something of an afterthought. The vast majority of golfers flying into Savannah's boutique airport are bound for one of two destinations. Hilton Head Island - just a 40-minute ride across the South Carolina state line, or down to Georgia's Golden Isles - St. Simon, Jekyll, and others, little more than an hour to the south. Things are changing though, and now there are several compelling reasons to stay and play within Georgia's borders.

The golf centerpiece of the city is undoubtedly The Club at Savannah Harbor, a fine resort layout in a truly unique location. Savannah Harbor (www.theclubatsavannahharbor.com) is part of the full-service Westin Resort on Hutchinson Island, a tiny spit of land on the Savannah River located midway between the Georgia-South Carolina border. The resort came to prominence several years ago as the host venue of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, one of the most enduring and prestigious titles on the Champions Tour. But you won't find too many Tour pros - not to mention vacationers - tackling this Bob Cupp-Sam Snead co-design from the championship markers, just a dozen steps shy of 7,300 yards. The middle boxes - stretching over 6,600 yards - are more than enough for most players.

Aerial View of Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa

This Troon golf facility is a dichotomy of sorts. The majestic Savannah River Bridge serves as a backdrop to the mostly wide-open fairways and generous greens. The muted cityscape is plainly visible as well, but the far eastern edge of the property is rather bucolic, nestling close to the Back River.

This urban proximity is an advantage in other ways. After golf, lively River Street, Savannah's corollary to New Orleans' Bourbon Street, is just a five-minute water-taxi ride from the hotel complex. City Market, the historic district and Savannah's famous city squares are all just a short walk from there. While the downtown scene beckons, the resort property is all-inclusive. There's swimming, tennis, fine dining, conference facilities and a bona fide Greenbrier Spa, the first of its kind found outside of the original in West Virginia.

Wilmington Island Club is a semiprivate 1927 Donald Ross design, renovated by Willard Byrd in 1966. Guests are welcome anytime during the week, and after noon on weekends. This attractive layout (www.wilmingtonislandclub.com) features numerous specimen trees, and a good number of creeks and ponds that bisect mostly parallel fairways.

Due to its age and prominence, the golf course has long been the subject of rumor. Undoubtedly the wildest is as the unmarked burial grounds of former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, as the course was once a hangout for members of that notorious union. Far from the fairways, beach bums will adore Tybee Island, the kitschy, counterculture community due east from the city. History buffs will enjoy Fort Pulaski National Monument, on the road to Tybee. This fort was a stop on the Underground Railroad and was fired upon by Union troops in the Civil War. Once you reach land's end there are some funky bars and restaurants waiting to be discovered, and a flat, broad expanse of sand every bit the equal of the famed beaches on Hilton Head, just a few miles north as the crow flies.

Henderson Golf Club is a challenging Mike Young design that can be found well south of downtown Savannah, not far from I-95. There's plenty of water and marshland to be found, so be sure to bring extra ammunition. Henderson (www.hendersongolfclub.com) was built on a large wetland site that had originally been purchased for the nearby Savannah mall.

According to the Athens, Ga.-based architect, "Because of the amount of wetlands on the property many of the holes were surrounded by water or had to have a narrower corridor than normal, which makes it a course that requires real tee-shot accuracy. It's not overly long, but it is difficult to score well due to the lateral hazards. The greens are a combination of large and small, and I introduced some pretty good contours and chipping areas."

Crosswinds Golf Club offers one of the region's most unusual golf settings, as its fairways are hard by the runways of Savannah International Airport. This 18-hole championship track and nine-hole par-3 (www.crosswindsgolfclub.com) lit for nighttime play have gained great popularity in a tough economy, as the course is a competitively priced, user-friendly facility that compares favorably with some of the public-access courses on U.S. 278 near Hilton Head that are almost double the cost.

The property features a tree-lined front nine, with a back side reminiscent of a Scottish links, featuring liberal mounding and lovegrass in place of heather. At just over 6,600 yards from the tips, Crosswinds doesn't overwhelm with length, but there's enough trouble lurking to keep a player's interest, and as the name implies, wind is a constant factor.

In summation, Savannah will never offer the diversity of golf experiences found on Hilton Head or the Golden Isles. But the game is becoming another attraction for the millions who visit the city each year. Savannah's burgeoning golf scene complements the history, mystery, enduring architecture, fine-dining and nightlife that enchant so many who visit Georgia's most beautiful city.

Joel Zuckerman, called "One of the Southeast's most respected and sought-after golf writers" by Golfer's Guide Magazine, is an award-winning travel writer based in Savannah, Ga., and Park City, Utah. He has written five books, including the epic "Pete Dye Golf Courses" in 2008. Joel's course reviews, player profiles, essays and features have appeared in more that 100 publications internationally, including Sports Illustrated, Golf, Continental Magazine, Travel & Leisure Golf, Sky Magazine, Golf Connoisseur, Golfweek, Estates West, Millionaire and Golf International. For more of Joel, visit www.vagabondgolfer.com.


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