NFL football and golf: A look at the courses of the NFC South

Fall, of course, is for football. But it's also terrific for golf. The leaves start to change, the weather cools and the courses generally often look their best. Of course, if you're not a big football fan, game time is often the best time to play, and often green fees are reduced in some cities on game day.

Of course, the ultimate would be following your favorite team to away markets and taking your golf clubs. So with that in mind, we've broken down the NFL by divisions. Here's a look at the NFC South and where our readers are recommending that you play:

Atlanta Falcons

Top rated on Golf Advisor: No doubt, Atlanta has one of the best public-play golf landscapes in the country, which is confirmed by our Golf Advisor raters. Much of it, of course, is in the suburbs, but there are some excellent tracks within the city limits, too. For example, Wolf Creek Golf Club is a 7,028-yard, par-71 course located about 15 miles southwest of downtown. This 2001 Mike Young design has bentgrass greens and rated above four stars on average among the well over 200 readers who reviewed it. But if you head to the suburbs, the choices of high-end courses seem to be endless.

One place to start might be Echelon Golf Club in Alpharetta. This is a former exclusive private club with a golf course designed by Rees Jones that is now open to the public. Also rated better than four stars, the course plays more than 7,400 yards from the tips and features impeccable conditions and bentgrass greens. And even though it's high-end, you can play Echelon for less than $80, which is pretty reasonable considering the quality of the course. And while you're in Alpharetta, check out RiverPines Golf Course, which not only has a terrific championship course (with bentgrass greens) designed by Dennis Griffiths but a nifty par-3 course as well.

Another popular choice is Heritage Golf Links, another Young design, this one located in Tucker just east of the city limits. And just south of Heritage G.L. is Stone Mountain Golf Club with two popular and highly rated courses –- the Lakemont and Stonemont Courses, the latter of which is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. course that's undergone some recent renovations. Other Atlanta-area courses that readers gave thumbs up to include: the Arnold Palmer-Ed Seay-designed Cherokee Run Golf Club in Conyers; Cobblestone Golf Club in Acworth, designed by Finger-Dye-Spann; and Ashton Hills Golf Club in Covington.

Close to the Georgia Dome: One of the most popular public courses and close to the Georgia Dome is Bobby Jones Golf Course, which is about five miles north in the city's Buckhead area. Just under 6,000 yards, this 1932 John Van Kleek design is a par 70 that meanders around Peachtree Battle Creek, offering views of the Atlanta skyline. Green fees top out at around $45 on weekends, when it can get quite busy, and you can play it for far less during the week.

Carolina Panthers

Top rated on Golf Advisor: The Panthers play uptown (what locals call their downtown), so everything in the Charlotte area is certainly in play, and there's plenty of good choices. In Charlotte, you might want to check out Olde Sycamore Golf Plantation, a semi-private Tom Jackson design that plays nearly 7,000 yards and was rated four stars by Golf Advisor raters.

Also, in Charlotte, The Golf Club at Ballantyne at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge is a great choice for pristine golf as well as a nice place to stay if you're in town for a game. Verdict Ridge Golf & Country Club, just north of the city in Denver, is another good choice and also very highly rated. Or check out Monroe Country Club, which can trace its roots back to 1936. The course was originally designed by Donald Ross and renovated by Jackson in 1982.

Another popular and highly rated public course is Tega Cay Golf Club, which is actually in South Carolina but just outside of Charlotte to the southwest. The course has 27 holes and most readers agree that this semi-private facility has some of the best greens and overall conditions in the area. Another popular layout is the Dan Maples-designed Rocky River Golf Club in the northwest suburb of Concord, which is on the opposite side of Charlotte.

Other good choices include the Bill Love-designed Charles T. Myers Public Golf Course and Larkhaven Golf Club, both in Charlotte, and Eagle Chase Golf Club in Marshville.

Close to Bank of America Stadium: Although it's just nine holes, the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park is just two miles from where the Panthers play. It's just 3,000 yards, but readers seem to like this walk in the park that goes back to 1937. If you want a little more challenge, however, Renaissance Park Golf Course is pretty close, too. It's a 7,300-yard Mike Hurdzan design that features bentgrass greens, elevation changes and a few blind shots.

New Orleans Saints

Top rated on Golf Advisor: If you're looking for value golf, just six miles or so north of the Superdome is the Joseph M. Bartholomew Golf Course, which originally opened in 1956 as Ponchatrain Golf Course. It was renovated in 1979, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and rebuilt afterwards, and it's arguably the best muni in New Orleans.

For a little more high-end public golf, however, Pete Dye's TPC Louisiana in Avondale would be a good choice. The host of the PGA Tour's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, it's also one of the most accessible and affordable courses in the TPC network. Like its more famous cousin, the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, there's water and sand everywhere with plenty of doglegs and risk-reward opportunities.

Another good public option is Stonebridge Golf Club, a cool, 27-hole layout located in nearby Gretna. Each nine is named after a jazz great – Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt. Other highly rated choices include Belle Terre Country Club, an enjoyable Dye design cut through the swamps, Colonial Golf & Country Club, Cypress Lakes, LaTour Golf Club, and Riverland Golf and Country Club.

Close to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome: Besides Joseph Bartholomew, just five miles southwest of the Superdome next to the zoo and Tulane University is one of the best executive courses in America. The par-62, 4,200-yard Audubon Park Golf Course rated nearly four and a half stars with good reason. There's the terrific Dennis Griffiths-designed course, which has 12 par 3s, five par 4s and two par 5s that end both nines, plus a clubhouse, restaurant and bar that's popular with golfers and nongolfers alike. Another close option is the North Course at City Park, which was the only course revived after Hurricane Katrina washed out the entire complex. It's not the nicest course in town, but it's worth the price tag of around $25. Besides the 5,737-yard North Course, however, City Park is getting the new Rees Jones-designed Championship Course (construction began in 2015 where the old East and West Courses were), which will eventually host the Zurich Classic.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Top rated on Golf Advisor: Because of climate and topography, going to a Buccaneers' game opens up lots of quality golf and best of all, weather, especially late in the football season where courses are closed in the Northern cities. The golf ranges from terrific resorts such as Innisbrook, with its four championship golf courses (including the highly lauded and recently renovated Copperhead Course) in Palm Harbor, to high-end public courses such as the TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz, to semi-private courses such as Ron Garl's Seven Springs Country Club in New Port Richey. Of course, there are plenty of golf courses in neighboring St. Petersburg and down the coast a little toward Sarasota.

One of the most popular public courses in the Tampa area is Club Renaissance at Sun City Center. With more than 250 reader reviews, it graded out at almost four and a half stars on average. Designed by Chip Powell, one reader said he ranked it among the top three courses overall in the Tampa area, and it apparently drains better than most other courses, according to our reviewers.

Other highly rated courses in the area include: The Eagles Golf Club, which has two layouts -- the Lakes Course and the Forest Course; Dunedin Golf Club, which was originally designed by Donald Ross in 1926; the Steve Smyers-designed Wentworth Golf Club in Tarpon Springs; the Groves Golf and Country Club in Land O' Lakes (a 4,019-yard executive course); and the two courses -- the Palmer Course and Saddlebrook Course at Saddlebrook Resort Tampa.

Close to Raymond James Stadium: The Buccaneers' stadium is just east of the Tampa International Airport, and Rocky Point Golf Course is a cool, little, 18-hole par 71 just west of the airport. Managed by the Tampa Sports Authority, this 6,328-yard par 71 originally opened in 1911 as a Willie Black design and was redesigned in 1983 by Ron Garl. It underwent a renovation in 2015 (scheduled to reopen November 2015).

Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

Related Links

We've broken down the NFL by divisions. Here's a look at the AFC North and where our readers are recommending that you play.
Here's a look at where our readers recommend you play if you are heading to an NFL game this fall at the home of an NFC East team.
Fall, of course, is for football. But if your team is playing the early game on Sunday -- schedule a morning round and watch the game. Here's a look at the AFC East and where Golf Advisor readers recommend you play.
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NFL football and golf: A look at the courses of the NFC South