By Bill Bauer
The Georgia Golf Trail (GGT) offers more than two dozen magnificent golf courses. The state that’s home to The Masters, Georgia is emerging as a leading golf destination. For golfers who not only like to tee up locally, but also enjoy a great golf getaway, two GGT member locations within an hour of each other in the north Georgia mountains offer fantastic golf, excellent accommodations, and a host of activities and amenities for golfers and non-golfers alike. Stay, play, rest, and relax, while playing championship golf at both Brasstown Valley and Sky Valley Resorts.
Twenty-six years ago, former Georgia senator Zel Miller made the decision to boost the economy, tourism, and employment of north Georgia and created the funding for what would become not only a premier golf destination, but also the county’s third largest employer: Brasstown Valley Resort. Very little has changed since Denis Griffiths designed the golf course in 1996. Steve Phelps, PGA golf professional and director of golf, says, “The golf course is as it was, and we must be doing something right being continuously ranked in the Golf World’s ‘Best Places to Play in Georgia.’”
Phelps believes Brasstown’s success is linked to its staff, course conditions, and commitment to providing an overall great experience for guests. “We believe in starting off on a good note and our friendly staff goes all out to be sure you do. And our maintenance crew keep the course in immaculate condition.” Nine changing hole locations and five tee boxes make for a different round each day you play. The original bent-grass greens are top-dressed every Tuesday morning, and cut and rolled to perfection. The Bermuda from tee to green is carefully manicured with the rough clearly defining the spacious fairways.
You can expect a remote experience with wildlife included once you tee off on #1, disappearing into the valley that surrounds the entire resort. Water on eight of the holes makes for a challenging round, but there are risks and rewards attached to several holes where water comes into play. Brasstown’s signature hole, the majestic par-5 #15 dogleg right, is a perfect example. “Be patient and take three shots to get to the green,” says Phelps. “Or decide just how much to cut off the water that runs alongside the right from tee to green.” Hole #6 plays the same way with water on the left dogleg. A drive over the water’s edge makes for a short approach to the green—if it stays dry! No matter what tee box you choose, you’ll find generous landing areas, and as Phelps says, “It may be a mountain course, but if you keep it in the fairway you’ll find fairly flat lies.”
The rustic but elegant lodge at The Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa has 102 rooms with a variety of king and queen bedding options, all with an amazing array of amenities. The massive great room, restaurants, and golf shop are just a few steps away. Set back in the woods are eight four-bedroom cottages complete with cooktop stoves, microwave ovens, refrigerators, and all you need to enjoy a little seclusion.
Golfers have several options when it comes to stay-and-play packages, plus can also stay and play a la carte. Brasstown is also open to the public for daily play. There are many ways to enjoy this magnificent golf course and its spectacular surroundings. A trip to the luxurious spa and horseback riding are two of the popular non-golf activities.
Sky Valley Country Club is just north of Clayton, nestled in a community bearing the same name. While Bill Watts designed the course way back in 1969, it went through a re-design by Bill Bergin in 2007-2008. Bergin took Watts’ original design, lengthened it by 500 yards, and turned it into a championship level course. At 3,000+ feet above sea level, it is the highest-altitude golf course in Georgia.
Steve Heher, PGA golf professional and director of golf, describes Sky Valley as being “in the mountains, but not mountainous,” and he is spot on. While there are several elevation changes from tee to green in both directions, you should find yourself on relatively flat land for approach shots. Club selection is key and a driver is not needed on every hole. A good example is the downhill par-4 #12 hole where you stand a good 75-feet above the landing area looking at a small green protected by a creek. Driver will get you into trouble. Heher says, “ Depending on your tee, hit a layup shot on the flat land in front of the creek, then choose enough club to clear it.” (An aerial view of #15 is featured at the top of this article.)
Heher takes pride in the year-round condition of the golf course, due in part to Superintendent Steve Mason and the cooler summer temperatures that not only make for a very comfortable round, but also allow for the bent-grass tees, fairways, and greens to flourish. “Our maintenance staff is excellent and the course is always ready to play. We also pride ourselves in customer service.” Golf Georgia, the official publication of The Georgia State Golf Association, has said, “Sky Valley can consistently make a claim to be not only among the best mountain courses in Georgia, but among the best in the entire Southeast Mountain region.”
Sky Valley is open to the public and also has memberships that give members and guests use of all the club’s facilities, including access to social activities, food and beverages at the spacious clubhouse, use of the croquet, bocce ball, and tennis courts, plus access to the swimming pool, exercise room, and golf simulator. There are many lodging options in Sky Valley, mostly offered via VRBO, Airbnb, and timeshare rentals; packages can be put together for one or multiple round visits.
Sky Valley’s reasonable rates and location to hiking, fishing, zip-lining, vineyards and wineries, dining, and shopping in nearby Dillard and Clayton make it a great destination for a golf vacation and then some.
– Images courtesy Brasstown Valley and Sun Valley
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.