Forget football: Five must-play golf courses near Athens, Georgia

ATHENS, Ga. - Hundreds of thousands of people visit Athens to see University of Georgia football games each year. Instead of just staying a few hours on a handful of Saturdays in the fall, they should think about lingering longer and playing some golf.

There are plenty of good options for those who want to see a golf ball, as well as a football, resting on a tee.

Athens would be an ideal place for a buddy trip. There are plenty of affordable accommodations, loads of good restaurants and a very vibrant music scene, with a genre available for anyone's musical taste.

Here are five good options for golf in the Athens area:

University of Georgia Golf Course, Athens

The University of Georgia Golf Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1968. It was renovated by John LaFoy in 1990, and then renovated by Davis Love III and Mark Love in 2006.

The main change was new green complexes and 21 new tees, which makes it even tougher. Better take your vitamins before playing here, because it's long, with plenty of tree-lined fairways and forced carries on five holes.

The course is home to the UGA men and women teams, both national contenders each year for the NCAA championship, and will host a Nationwide Tour event starting in 2010.

Lane Creek Golf Club, Bishop

Designed by Mike Young and opened in 1992, the Lane Creek Golf Club was recently renovated with more than $1 million in improvements.

All greens and the practice green were redone with Champion Bermuda as part of the master plan established when Medalist Golf took ownership. A good practice area helps set Lane Creek apart, and general partner Butch Foust has created a warm, welcoming atmosphere for guests.

The Georgia Club, Bogart

Denis Griffiths built the original 18 holes at The Georgia Club in 2001 and added nine more in 2006.

The bentgrass greens are typically very large, but Griffiths places his bunkers in areas that can optically fool many golfers. The nine-acre practice area is one of the best, with a special short-game area for chipping and sand play. Warning: Bring some antacid tablets if you don't bleed red and black, because this place is UGA through and through.

Hammers Glen Golf & Country Club, Homer

Managing partner and PGA professional Butch Hansen has helped turn Hammer's Glen Golf & Country Club, a Mark McCumber design, in the right direction since taking over four years ago. The rough edges have been sanded and the course (formerly Scales Creek) is moving toward its goal of becoming a destination spot.

Hansen is one of the best promoters in the state (he hosted an LPGA event and the Georgia Open when he was the professional at Brookfield Country Club in Roswell) and has very high standards.

Long Shadow Golf Club, Madison

Designed by Mike Young and opened in two phases, Long Shadow Golf Club has drawn rave reviews from national magazines.

The golf course was given emphasis over real estate, which led to a course that wasn't shoved into corners that didn't make sense. The recent economic crunch hasn't helped the course blossom as fast as the ownership would like.

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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Forget football: Five must-play golf courses near Athens, Georgia