Escape the big city with the top golf courses in the north Georgia mountains

Whether it's the springtime, when the hillsides return to life, or the fall, when the color of the changing leaves bring busloads of "leaf-lookers" to town, the Georgia mountains offer an alternative to the hustle of the big city.

The north Georgia mountains can offer a cool alternative in the summer, with temperatures about 10 degrees less than they are two hours away in Atlanta. There's something appealing about lower temperatures and humidity during the Dog Days.

But north Georgia isn't only a place to see the sights and chill out. It's also the home for several good golf courses. If you're itching to play 18, there are some enjoyable options.

Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa in Young Harris

The top golf and travel destination in north Georgia is Brasstown Valley in Young Harris, a little town that boasts a four-year college and is known as the hometown of Zell Miller, a former governor and U.S. Senator.

Brasstown Valley offers horseback trail riding and the top-of-the-line spa activities. The resort is the no. 1 spot in the area for dining, with the chef offering a variety of seasonal dishes. The setting, with a cozy fireplace, has a clear view of the mountains and makes any occasion a special one. It's a great place for meetings and family get-togethers.

The golf is special, too. The course is one of the best, created by Georgia architect Denis Griffiths. It rolls through wildlife preserves, ponds and streams. Griffiths has done a good job avoiding the typical trappings of mountain golf -- the feeling that every hole is either uphill or downhill.

Sky Valley Resort & Country Club

Sky Valley Resort & Country Club is the site of a former ski resort between Clayton, Ga., and Highlands, N.C. It is the highest golf course in the state and is significantly cooler most of the time.

The course went through a major redesign from architect Bill Bergin, a former Georgia Amateur champion and PGA Tour member. He was able to use unused parcels of land to lengthen the course by 500 yards.

Old Union Golf Club in Blairsville

Old Union Golf Club in Blairsville was built by architect Denis Griffiths, who also operates the facility. The course was originally built to serve as a high-end private facility but was caught in a recession nightmare.

It plays a surprisingly long 7,667 yards from the back tees, a lengthy layout for a mountain course. It features generous landing areas and large greens, with Griffiths making good use of bunkers.

Kingwood Resort in Clayton

Kingwood Resort in Clayton was designed by Scott Pool and opened in 2000. The course is a par-71 layout that is only 6,000 yards.

There are plenty of side-hill lies, but it offers lots of birdie chances, too. The Inn has 48 comfortable rooms available to guests.

Butternut Creek Golf Course in Blairsville

Butternut Creek Golf Course in Blairsville isn't a fancy place, but you may be surprised how much you like it.

The course only plays 6,500 yards but features water on 13 holes and offers plenty of elevation changes. Likewise, Apple Mountain Resort and Golf Club in Clarkesville isn't long (6,548 from the back tees) but has the elevation changes and hills that make it seem much longer.

Innsbruck Golf Club in Helen

Innsbruck Golf Club in Helen is a good option for people who come to the little Alpine Village for one of the many special occasions.

Innsbruck was designed by Bill Watts and plays only 6,502 from the back tees. It is one of the most scenic courses in the mountains.

Achasta Golf Club in Dahlonega

While it's actually in the foothills of the north Georgia Mountains, Achasta Golf Club in Dahlonega is a destination that needs to be played. The Jack Nicklaus signature course has hosted a slew of qualifiers.

It plays short of 7,000 yards and has some spectacular holes that run along the Achasta River. A meal served family-style at the world-renowned Smith House in Dahlonega is a perfect way to end the day.

Stan Awtrey spent 25 years as a sports writer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is editor of Golf Georgia, the official magazine of the Georgia State Golf Association, and writes a weekly column for PGATOUR.com. His work has appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and Web sites.
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Escape the big city with the top golf courses in the north Georgia mountains