Highland Walk is a peach of a state course in northeast Georgia

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Highland WalkROYSTON, Ga., - When you drive through this little northeast Georgia town, you'll see faded, larger-than-life paintings of Ty Cobb on downtown buildings. They look like they were done by an admiring artist from a different time.

You may also see the Ty Cobb museum, and other memorabilia involving the famous Georgia peach. You put all this together and you may assume, as most people do, that Royston was the birthplace of the famously ornery baseball great.

The problem is, it isn't true. Cobb was born in Tiny Narrows, Ga., though he moved to Royston at an early age and played ball for the semi-pro Royston Reds.

The people of Royston, mostly a manufacturing and retail town, don't exactly discourage the belief that Cobb was born here. Nor do they easily dredge up the ugly fact that Cobb's mother, Amanda, shot and killed his father, W.H. or the fact she was eventually acquitted of voluntary manslaughter.

Of course, the rumor that she may have been having an affair isn't subject to polite discussion, either.

It may or may not be a good thing that Highland Walk Golf Course wasn't built when Cobb was in his prime; he might have spiked his playing partners if he had loosed his famous temper.

In any case, Cobb - had he been a golfer - would certainly have liked the course because of its difficulty. The course, part of the Victoria Bryant State Park, is easily the most difficult of the eight courses in the Georgia state park system.

Northeast Georgia is home to more famous courses, like Cateechee in Hartwell, but for your average state park visitor, Highland Walk is usually more than they can handle.

"For me it's really hard," said high-handicapper Mike Bailey. "It's tearing my lunch up."

Mark Millard, a state park ranger, plays the course once a week, and said it doesn't get much easier.

Highland Walk"The first two holes are easy," Millard said. "I'm a short-ball hitter, so that makes it even tougher. Some of the par-4s are hard for me to reach. I can play anywhere else and shoot five to eight strokes better."

The first two holes are indeed routine, but the fun begins on the par-4, 413-yard third hole, where a tee shot of 200-plus yards uphill is required to reach the top of the hill. If you don't reach it, your ball could come rolling back toward you and you'll be facing a long, blind shot to the green.

No. 3 isn't the only long carry. The 381-yard 12th requires a long carry over a canyon to a green that slopes to the left, and the 17th, a 317-yard par-4, also requires a canyon carry of 217 yards or your ball disappears into a deep, Georgia pit.

"There are some tests out there," said head pro and general manager Karl Gross. "It's definitely a shot-maker's course. It's not really long, but hitting the fairway is a key. I've had a few folks say they'd prefer an easier facility."

Highland Walk is 6,407 yards from the tips, with a slope rating of 131. It's been softened somewhat, including new tee boxes on No. 12 and 17 for ladies and seniors.

Long carries aren't the only hurdles. Aside from the 28 sand bunkers and numerous grass bunkers, the fairways are sloping and tend to kick wayward, even accurate, tee shots into deep rough. The greens are difficult to read.

A blind, uphill approach on No. 9 can be tricky and No. 11 starts off with a blind tee shot. A tee shot on the uphill 13th that is in the middle or to the left will roll into the rough or woods.

The course averages under 20,000 rounds, catering mostly to locals, RVers and passers-through.

"We would like to be busier than that," Gross said. "Our biggest hurdle is not enough folks know about us yet."

Dennis Griffis designed the course, which was a nine-holer for more than 20 years. The course was closed in 2000 and opened two years later with an additional nine holes. All of the greens were renovated, and some of the original holes were also re-designed.

No. 1, for example, was a dogleg left, and is now straightaway, one of the easy holes on the course, which was built on steep, hilly terrain and features broad, crowned Bermuda fairways leading to big, sloping Bermuda greens.

The verdict

This is easily the hardest course to play in the Georgia state park system, but it can be a ton of fun if you can hit the ball off the tee. If you can't, you may want to consider playing the forward tees or another course.

It's also one of the more aesthetically pleasing; when the early-morning fog clears, it opens up nice views of the surrounding countryside.

And it's a bargain if you're looking for a stern test: $17 weekday green fees and $23 for weekend, plus $13 for cart. There are also junior and senior discounts, as well as for state employees.

Stay and play

Victoria Bryant State Park has 25 camp sites. Contact the park at (800) 864-7275.

If you're not a camper type, there are other lodging options: the Ramada Inn Limited of Royston (706) 246-0256 or the Guest House Inn of Lavonia (706) 356-8848.

Dining out

Try Booty's Fish House as you drive into Royston (706) 245-5441; or the Double Bridges Restaurant and Bar-B-Q (706) 245-7906.

Fast fact

The course offers beginner clinics on Saturdays for $10.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


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