Thanks to the PGA Tour, Georgia's Sweet Secret is Out

By Vic Williams • 10/08/12

Don’t look now, but there’s a collection of marshy, magical islands way down south that just might be America’s top breeding ground for PGA Tour pros and, by extension, one of the nation’s great under-the-radar golf destinations.

OK, go ahead and look. Slow down, stop, take in the sea breeze and marvel at the happy riot of wildlife flying overhead and leaping from lagoon to pond, and do it all while teeing off, taking dead aim and putting out. Then be prepared to do it again and again, up to 11 rounds straight without playing the same hole.

Looks like you’ll be here on the Georgia coast for a while. Good thing you’ve got a healthy selection of lodging options to lay your head while, during the waking hours, you explore the region Davis Love III and at least 10 other current “big show” pros call home. They even get to ply their trade here thanks to the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic, which returns to Sea Island Golf Club for its third edition Oct. 15-21.

With 198 golf holes draped over a handful of lovely lowland and island locales — New Brunswick, St. Simons, Sea Island and Jekyll Island—plus accommodations ranging from private rental homes to high-end hotels like The Cloister, The King and Prince and the Sea Palms Resort, the destination collectively known as The Golden Isles draws nature-loving golf travelers from as close as Savannah an hour to the north or Jacksonville an hour south and as far away as New York City and the mid-Atlantic. Folks who used to frequent, say, Hilton Head or maybe the Sawgrass-St. Augustine corridor are finding their way to this edenic spot in the state’s southeast corner, and they’re loving what they see, play, eat, breathe and just plain experience.

“On top of all the golf is the setting in which all the courses play out. It’s a rare thing to be seaside, but particularly to have several that are either on the sea, on the marsh, on the riverside … certainly all the courses here on the Golden Isles incorporate much of our natural landscape,” says Scott McQuade, president and CEO of the Golden Isles Convention & Visitors Bureau. It’s a very special setting, and just as important are all the settings off the course. You have a lot of nature, a lot of live oak trees covered in Spanish moss. It takes you back in time and is very inviting, drawing people in not only for the game, but also to enjoy time off the course.”

If you’re in the market for a go-go-go getaway, you’ll probably look elsewhere, but if it’s relaxation you crave, search no more. You’ve arrived, finding a heady mix of Deep South history and teeming nature tempered by full-tilt comfort and service that compares to that found in any big city high-rise hotel.

“We have several acclaimed resorts that have the golf courses right there, along with the natural setting,” says McQuade, who came to Georgia a little over a year ago from the mountain mecca of Telluride, Colo. “One thing we boast is the diversity of courses as well as resorts. There’s truly something for everybody in the golf world.”

Jekyll Island alone boasts four public courses situated along and through a state park — the 18-hole Pine Lakes, Oleander and Indian Mound courses and 9-hole Great Dunes. Joining the Seaside Course at Sea Island are two other full-length tracks, the Plantation and the Retreat, while Heritage Oaks in Brunswick is known for its conditioning.

The word on Golden Isles is spreading. The McGladrey Classic has played a big part in putting the region on golf travelers’ mental marquees, and seems perfectly situated on the tour calendar as viewers start to plan their late fall and winter vacations — or further down the road to summer, where Atlantic breezes can quell the swelter.

“We have been for years a bit of a secret. We’re not necessarily off the beaten path, but a lot of people don’t realize these islands exist off Georgia’s south coast, as well as the caliber of amenities we have in addition to our golf courses. The tournament has been really big for recognition of this area as a golf destination. Davis Love III is really the host, but several pro golfers have been making major accomplishments on tour, and they play our courses and train here.”

While Atlanta remains the Golden Isles’ top market — many make the five-hour drive though there are several 32-minute flights daily from the world’s busiest airport — McQuade says that’s beginning to change. “We’re well on our way to becoming a national destination. We do see a lot of folks traveling from New York, and even if they’re coming through Atlanta, connections are easy to find. And we’re seeing people visiting other nearby resorts, such as Hilton Head, which is just over an hour and a half away, then coming here. There’s crossover.”

And more than enough reason to stop and savor.

[Source: Fairways + Greens]