Tourists from all points on the compass flock to beautiful Savannah, Georgia every spring and fall, drawn by its rich and colorful past. The ‘Hostess City of the South’ is so lovely that General Sherman first spared it, and then bequeathed it as a gift to President Lincoln during the Civil War. Modern day visitors revel in the timeless beauty of the architecture and the charming individuality of the city squares, each containing fountains, statues, cannonry or the like. The varied nightlife, eclectic restaurants, cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved historic district are all part of the city’s appeal. But golf has been something of an afterthought, as the vast majority of golfers flying into Savannah’s boutique airport are bound for one of two destinations. Hilton Head Island, just a forty minute ride across the South Carolina state line, or down to Georgia’s Golden Isles, little more than an hour to the south. Things are changing though, and now there are several compelling reasons to stay and play in town.
The golf centerpiece of the city is undoubtedly The Club at Savannah Harbor, on Hutchinson Island, a tiny spit of land on the Savannah River located midway between the Georgia and South Carolina state lines. For many years the resort served as the host venue for the Champions Tour’s Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. The majestic Savannah River Bridge serves as a backdrop to the mostly wide open fairways and generous greens. The muted cityscape is plainly visible as well, but the far eastern edge of the property is rather bucolic, nestling close to the Back River. This urban proximity is also an advantage in other ways. After golf, lively River Street, which is Savannah’s corollary to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, is just a five minute water taxi ride from the hotel complex adjacent to the golf course. City Market, the historic district and Savannah’s famous city squares are all just a short walk from there.
The Wilmington Island Club is a semi-private 1927 Donald Ross design, renovated by Willard Byrd in 1966. The course features numerous specimen trees, and a good number of creeks and ponds that bisect mostly parallel fairways. Due to its age and prominence, the golf course has long been the subject of rumor. Undoubtedly the wildest of which is as the unmarked burial grounds of former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, as the course was once a hangout for members of that notorious Union.
Crosswinds Golf Club offers one of the region’s most unusual golf settings, with fairways hard by the runways of Savannah International Airport. The course is a competitively priced, user-friendly facility that compares favorably with some of the public access courses on or near Hilton Head that are almost double the cost. The property features a tree lined front nine, with a back nine reminiscent of a Scottish links, featuring liberal mounding and love grass in place of heather. At just over 6,600 yards from the back tees, Crosswinds doesn’t overwhelm with length, but there’s enough trouble lurking to keep a player’s interest, and as the name implies, the wind is a constant factor.
Off the golf course there are no shortage of worthwhile dining and drinking establishments. Infamous local chef Paula Deen has her signature Lady & Sons Restaurant. Fine dining with genteel southern charm is found at Elizabeth on 37th. On the south side of town, far from the tourist track is eclectic Toucan Cafe, where both the food and whimsical decor attract a loyal clientele. Just around the corner is Sweet Potatoes, famous for banana pudding and fried chicken in a simple, unpretentious atmosphere.
In summation, Savannah will never offer the diversity of golf experiences found on Hilton Head or the Golden Isles. But the game is becoming another attraction for the millions who visit the city every year. Savannah’s burgeoning golf scene complements the history, mystery, enduring architecture, fine dining and nightlife that enchant the millions visiting Georgia’s most beautiful city.