The name Richard B. Russell can be readily found throughout Georgia as roads and schools, even a lake, federal building and an airport bear the name of the long-time governor and U.S. senator
ELBERTON, Ga. – It’s difficult to go just about anywhere in Georgia and not run into something named after the late Richard B. Russell.
Roads, schools, a federal building and an airport are among the many structures that bear his name. Russell, a former governor and New Deal Democrat, served nearly 40 years in the U.S. Senate, until his death in 1971. About two hours east of Atlanta, golfers can revel in another tribute to Russell with a game that he was not known to have played much, if at all: Richard B. Russell State Park and its Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course.
Let the historians grade Russell on his legislative record. He was a segregationist, but he also authored the national school lunch program and advanced agriculture and defense interests. He delivered the pork for Georgians.
Georgia, in turn, paid homage to him. Simply finding his eponymous park is part of the joyful anticipation for golfers.
About 12 miles east of Elberton, as the rolling hills of northeast Georgia begin to level out in the Piedmont, Arrowhead Pointe comes by its name naturally. The course juts, arrowhead-like, into 27,000-acre Russell Lake (named after you-know-who) along the Savannah River, which forms the border with South Carolina. With spotty cellphone service available, golfers don’t find this place by accident. That’s partly why the park’s 20 lakeside cabins – the only structures along the federally protected 540-mile shoreline – stay full during the golf season.
“You do have to go out of the way,” head professional Barry Johnston conceded from his office at Arrowhead Pointe, “but that’s the way we enjoy it out here. There are no houses on the course, no houses on the lake, no through roads on the course, so you’re not going to hear any traffic. You will hear some fishing boats on the lake, especially on Saturdays. It’s just an escape out here.”
On a recent weekend morning, Rick Walker stood over a tee shot on the par-4 14th hole, with the sun shimmering off the lake on three sides of him. At the top of his backswing, a largemouth bass flopped onto the water with a smack just as Walker striped his tee shot down the middle.
“Let’s see if he can follow us around the peninsula,” said a smiling Walker, 70, a retired salesman and Elberton resident. After hitting the green in two, Walker made a splash of his own by sinking a 30-foot birdie putt.
OK, so it was the only birdie of his round, but just like that one big bass on ice in the hold, what’s a sportsman going to remember? The one that he hooked or the many that got away?
Seekers of birdies and bass alike co-exist here.
Walker and two other local Arrowhead Pointe regulars, Wayne Barger and his daughter, Hannah, who guided a visitor around the course, know a good deal when they see one. Rates top out at $45, including a cart, on weekends. After a rolling front nine that winds through the native hardwoods and pines, holes 12-17 play out along Russell Lake, raising the visual thrills and affirming the course’s national acclaim.
Arrowhead Pointe, regarded as the gem of the state-parks system, ranks No. 3 on the Golfweek’s Best list of public-access courses in Georgia. For those who take stock in such scorekeeping, that’s better than two of the three courses at widely acclaimed (and much costlier) resort destinations Reynolds Lake Oconee and Sea Island.
The beauty of golf at Georgia’s park system mirrors the topographical variety in the Peach State. The offerings span from Highland Walk at Victoria Bryant State Park in the Appalachian foothills to The Lakes at Laura S. Walker State Park in the coastal plain.
“We call them the hidden gems because they are so good but they are so hidden,” said Doug Hollandsworth, who handles public relations for the 25-site Georgia Golf Trail, which includes the eight park courses. “We’ve got all of these people driving through the state, not knowing what kind of golf we’ve got as they fly right on by.”
About 25 minutes west of Arrowhead Pointe, a sign along U.S. 29 welcomes visitors to Royston (population 2,563) by saluting the city’s favorite sports sons. Ty Cobb and Tony Jones merit equal billing, leading a wandering visitor to wonder: Is an offensive tackle for two world-champion Broncos teams on a par with one of baseball’s five original Hall of Famers? In football-mad Georgia, two Super Bowl rings apparently matches up pretty well against 4,191 base hits.
For golfers seeking a state-park doubleheader at Arrowhead Pointe and nearby Highland Walk, the Bar-H Barbecue on U.S. Highway 29 in Franklin Springs offers a heaping helping of local flavor. Like the state-parks courses that it bridges, the Bar-H (open only Thursday-Saturday) serves up quality at modest prices. Seat yourself and cool off with the sweet tea from pitchers on the checkered-cloth tables. The watchful servers who make the rounds with pitchers of stew will make sure that your plate stays full of fixins. Eat too much? Don’t fret. A spirited routing at Highland Walk, right around the corner on State Route 327, will help burn off some of that pulled pork.
George Meadows, a retired accountant, spent 8½ years in the Marines in the 1970s. As a volunteer marshal at Highland Walk, he stays with his wife in their recreational vehicle camped nearby in Victoria Bryant State Park after wintering in Florida each year. On the elevated first tee, staring down at the docile 297-yard par 4, he offers a crisp, no-nonsense scouting report worthy of a Parris Island non-com.
“Nos. 1 and 2 will put you asleep,” he said, “and 3 is a rude awakening.”
By then, you’ll be longing for another refill of sweet tea from the Bar-H.
Highland Walk stretches to only 6,503 yards from the tips, but the challenge rests in its heaving topography. Practically every lie seems to be uneven, with assorted uphill, downhill and blind shots. Like Arrowhead Pointe, the Bermudagrass turf coverage is impressive for a low-budget state operation: Tifway 419 on the fairways and TifEagle on the greens.
After two inexpensive and scenic rounds at neighboring Arrowhead Pointe and Highland Walk, you’ll likely want to check the next stop on Georgia’s state parks rotation. Just be sure to map the route in advance. You might even run into another memorial to the late senator.
Steve Harmon is the editor of Morning Read. He lives in Longwood, Fla.