Best golf courses in the SEC

By Mike BaileyNovember 16, 2010, 12:42 am
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The Great Waters Course at Reynolds Plantation (Reynolds Plantation)

Southeastern Conference football fans will tell you their brand of football is tops in the nation. The last four national champions have come from the SEC, and no other conference has so many highly ranked teams or more passionate fans year in and year out.

But the golf is pretty good in SEC country as well – especially during football season when heat and humidity is replaced by the turning of the leaves and cool morning dew. So if you're thinking about taking a trip to see the Crimson Tide, the Vols, Gators or Tigers, for example, bring your sticks.

From Rocky Top to Baton Rouge, back to Gainesville, here's your guide for where to play golf in the Southeastern Conference. Football on Saturday; golf on Sunday; it can't get any better.

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The home of the Georgia Bulldogs is also the home to several good daily-fee and resort golf courses, starting with the university's home course. Opened in 1968, the UGA Golf Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., a friend of former UGA President Dr. O.C. Aderhold. Site of the 1993 NCAA Women's Championship, this popular public golf course has undergone a number of improvements over the years, including a greens renovation 2006.

About 20 miles south of Athens in Greensboro are several terrific golf courses open to the public. For example, Reynolds Plantation is a resort with layouts designed by some of the best names in the business. Reynolds Landing is a beautiful Bob Cupp design that hosted the 2008 PGA Professional National Championship as did Great Waters at Reynolds Plantation. The latter is a Jack Nicklaus signature design that makes great use of Lake Oconee.

Other courses at Reynolds plantation include the Tom Fazio-designed National Course (27 holes), Oconee Course designed by Rees Jones, and Cupp-designed Plantation Course. The resort is also home of the Reynolds Golf Academy, led by top-100 teacher Charlie King.

Another excellent option in the area is the Golf Club at Cuscowilla, located in Eatonton, Ga. This challenging Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design is an excellent walking course with a real old-school country club feel. You may also want to check out the Harbor Club, a Jay Morrish/Tom Weiskopf design also located on Lake Oconee.

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If you're traveling to an Auburn Tigers home game, there's the Grand National Golf Club, one of the premier stops of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Located in nearby Opelika, RTJ Sr. called the 54-hole complex located on the 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee the greatest site for a golf course he had ever seen. Both Grand National's Lakes Course and Links Course have been honored by Golf Digest near the top of the state rankings.

A little closer is Auburn Links at Mill Creek, which opened in 1992 and plays host to an NGA/Hooters Tour event. Designed by Ward Northrup, this 7,145-yard course winds through narrow, tree-lined fairways to bentgrass greens. Also in Auburn is Moore's Mill Golf Club, a 7,000-yard Alan Blalock/Glen Day design carved through a setting of hardwoods, creeks and rolling hills. And then there's Indian Pines Recreational Authority Golf Course, a local favorite that opened in 1958. Though it's only a little more than 6,200 yards, it may be one of the best values in the state. Those who play it rave about the playing conditions and friendly staff.

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They call the Louisiana State University Tigers' home stadium 'Death Valley,' and the golf in these parts, with the alligators and water hazards, can take on that persona as well. A good starting point is Carter Plantation in nearby Springfield. Designed by LSU alum David Toms and part of the Audubon Golf Trail, Carter Plantation is a strong test that provides enjoyment to all levels.

A little closer to Baton Rouge is The Island, located in Plaquemine. The course, which was laid out on an old sugar plantation, is literally surrounded by water as its name might suggest. Stretching to more than 7,000 yards, it has 54 bunkers.

North of the city you'll find a pair of good public golf options. The Bluffs, in Saint Francisville, is a solid Arnold Palmer design that plays to almost 7,200 yards. And in Zachary, there's Copper Mill Golf Club, an interesting 6-6-6 layout, meaning it has an equal number of par 3s, par 4s and par 5s.

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The home of Steve 'The Old Ball Coach' Spurrier's Gamecocks, the capital city of Columbia has nearly 20 public golf options in a state that specializes in tourist golf. You could start with the heralded Oak Hills Golf Club, a Steve Melnyk/David Love III design that winds through a forest of oaks, pines and dogwoods with no homes on it. Or you can try Cedar Creek Golf Course in nearby Aiken, S.C. This Arthur Hills layout was cut through a natural forest with rolling hills in the heart of the state's thoroughbred country.

Other attractive options include Santee Cooper Country Club, a well conditioned, tree-lined layout with exceptional par 3s; Foxboro Golf Club, which recently underwent a renovation; Legends Oaks G.C., which is laid out along the grounds of an antebellum plantation; the P.B. Dye-designed Northwoods Golf Club; and Crowfield Golf and Country Club, which has earned four stars from Golf Digest magazine's Places to Play list.

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The Florida Gators play in 'The Swamp,' a feature you might find at some of public golf offerings in the area. You can expect plenty of water, trees and sand on courses like Turkey Creek Golf & Country Club (formerly Plantation Oaks), a 30-plus year-old course that's reasonably priced and fun to play. This Ward Northrup 6,600-yard design is an enjoyable parkland layout with lakes, bunkers and trees.

Ironwood Golf Course is a municipal facility that's also Audubon-certified. It's easy to walk and easy on the wallet. And Steve Smyers designed Meadowbrook Golf Club on the rolling Santa Fe Hills just outside of Gainesville. On the site of a former Indian reservation, Meadowbrook has rolling fairways, streams and ponds. It features six par 3s and six par 5s.

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The University of Tennessee Volunteers football program has a long, storied history. And while the local public golf scene might not be able to match the Volunteers' tradition, there are some pretty good offerings nonetheless.

Designed by Joe Lee, Landmark Golf Club at Avalon sits on a beautiful piece of rolling property, replete with spring-fed lakes and valleys for peaceful, yet challenging golf setting. Elevated tees give golfers great looks of the holes, which are carved through hardwoods. River Islands Golf Club is a gorgeous Arthur Hills design located in Kodak between Knoxville and Smoky Mountains. This links-style course covers more than 7,000 yards, set along the edge of the French Broad River, which has three islands that serve as focal points of the golf course.

And finally, in West Knoxville, there's Dead Horse Lake Golf Course, an 18-hole layout with Bermuda fairways and large undulating bentgrass greens. Very reasonably priced, the course works its way around a large lake.

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Known more for its basketball prowess than its football program, the Kentucky Wildcats have made strides on the gridiron as of late. The university's golf offerings are pretty good as well. The school has two excellent courses, including the heralded Arthur Hills-designed Big Blue Course. Members have weekend priority on Big Blue, but you can get on the rolling 7,100-yard layout with a little effort. Even if you can't, the slightly shorter Wildcat Course isn't a bad second option as both offer excellent bentgrass greens.

In general, the Lexington area offers a pretty good public golf scene. One good option in the area is the Bull at Boone's Trace, named for native son Daniel Boone. This challenging layout is located in the gated community of Richmond and covers over 120 rolling acres of woods, water and wildlife. Featuring bentgrass tees, greens and fairways, the course is always in top condition.

Kearney Hills Golf Links is an excellent Lexington muni designed by Pete and P.B. Dye. Playing to nearly 7,100 yards, the course, not surprisingly, features several difficult holes. And Rees Jones designed Marriott's Griffin Gate G.C., located just minutes from downtown Lexington.

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The Vanderbilt Commodores don't often contend for the SEC football title, but the golf scene in central Tennessee rivals any of the other schools in the SEC.

Perhaps the best place to start is in Old Hickory at the Hermitage, which has 36 holes of excellent public golf. The General's Retreat course, which once hosted the LPGA's Sara Lee Classic, is a challenging but playable layout that offers six sets of tees. The newer and more difficult President's Reserve course winds through 300 acres of natural wetlands. This Denis Griffiths-designed layout is considered one of the best public golf values in the state.

Gaylord Springs in Springhouse is a Scottish links-style design that follows the Cumberland River. Well groomed, the course is routed alongside wetlands and limestone bluffs. Nashboro Golf Club, located in the heart of Nashville is a classic layout that's very popular among locals. The Buford Ellington Golf Course at Henry Horton State Park is another favorite, playing to more than 7,000 yards through a forest of hardwoods and featuring a 249-yard par 3. And Blackberry Ridge offers great views with numerous elevated tees as well some of the best greens in the area.

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Oxford, home of the Ole Miss Rebels, doesn't have much of a golf history, but the golf scene in the area is growing rapidly. Locally, the best option is the Ole Miss Golf Course, overseen by the school's Landscape Services Department. The course was originally designed by Cary Middlecoff and opened in 1973, but Nathan Crace oversaw a renovation in 2008 that has helped make it one of the premier public golf courses in Mississippi.

The best place to play golf, though, is probably about an hour west in Tunica, which has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, mostly because of casinos. Tunica Resorts features three golf courses, often offering terrific stay-and-play packages. The golf facilities include the Mark McCumber-designed Tunica National Golf Club, the Links at Cottonwoods Golf Course at Harrah's Casino (designed by Hale Irwin) and River Bend Links at Casino Strip Resorts, designed by Clyde Johnston.

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Starkville, home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, is located about 30 miles west of Columbus and an hour south of Tupelo, where Elvis Presley was born and raised. The closest public golf offering is the Mississippi State University Golf Course, a 6,926-yard layout designed by Brian T. Ault. The tree-lined course is staffed by students of the university's Professional Golf Management Program.

But the best golf course in the area, and one of the best courses in the South, is Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, a few miles north. Designed by Jerry Pate and Bob Cupp, the course is private, but there are ways to get on, including booking a stay-and-play package. Sometimes drawing comparison to Augusta National with slick, undulating greens, the course hosted the 1999 U.S. Women's Open.

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The home of the Alabama Crimson Tide is situated about an hour southwest of Birmingham, giving visitors to the area a wealth of golf options. Locally, there's Ol' Colony Golf Complex, a beautiful municipal layout designed by Alabama alum Jerry Pate. The course has been lauded by national magazines, operates a local First Tee Chapter and has excellent teaching and clubfitting programs. Hidden Meadows Golf Club, an enjoyable course with a great atmosphere and friendly staff, is another affordable local option.

Perhaps one of the best golf experiences in the state, though, is about an hour east of Tuscaloosa in Sylacauga. FarmLinks Golf Club is a Mike Hurdzan/Dana Fry design that serves as both a living laboratory for turfgrass products and practices, and a high-end, daily-fee course. The 7,400-yard course, which features dramatic elevation changes, has dozens of varieties of turf, although it's not that noticeable since the greens are perfect A-1/A-4 bentgrass greens.
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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.