By Roger Cox, Editor
The road through Callaway winds through dense forests of longleaf pine, oaks, maples and magnolias, their understories splashed with woodland flowers like azaleas and pink and white dogwood. All in all its 6,000 acres harbor more than 700 varieties of hybrid azaleas, endless varieties of wildflowers, and the world's largest display of hollies. Bike paths and narrow roadways circle past the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center with its vast greenhouse and seasonally changing display of outdoor flowers and then on to a vegetable garden, a glass-enclosed butterfly conservatory, a 40-acre azalea bowl, the Callaway Discovery Center, a pioneer log cabin, and a woodland chapel modeled on those typical of rural life in the 16th and 17th centuries. Wound through all of this is a 2,500-acre tennis and golf resort, a spa, lakes, and even a white-sand beach.
Pro Shop: 706-663-5032
At the Mountain Creek Tennis Center, a raised, weathered-wood pro shop with a covered deck anchors a complex of 10 clay and hard tennis courts laid out in pairs. It's a handsome complex, generously laid out, with lawns and colorful crape myrtle bordering the courts and stands of pines and maples around the perimeter. There are benches and water at each of the courts (but no shade), and a shingled pavilion with a picnic table in one of the open areas. The pro shop carries a complete line of clothing and equipment and also handles bookings for the two indoor racquetball courts in the building just behind.
Tennis Staff. Head pro Steve Difeliciantonio graduated from Penn State and taught under the legendary Rod Laver and later Stan Smith on Hilton Head Island. He's been at Callaway for more than a decade.
Tennis Programs. Activity at Callaway reaches a zenith in June, July, and August. During a typical week in summer there are one or more clinics daily as well as adult and junior mixers, including a parent/child doubles event with beginner and intermediate divisions. There are also one or more adult or junior tournaments scheduled every month of the year. During the spring and fall when family business subsides, the focus shifts of special programs for teams and groups. Although winters are chilly it's usually possible to play every day.
Courts & Fees. The tennis complex comprises 8 Rubico (a kind of clay) and 2 hard courts, all with lights (though courts are lighted in pairs rather than individually). Fees: $8-$9/person/hour for singles, $6-$7/person/hour for doubles, but included in tennis packages.
Beach. In the middle of the gardens is 65-acre Robin Lake, which has, the literature claims, "the largest, inland, man-made white-sand beach in the world." All of that imported sand forms a ribbon of beach around roughly half of the lake, with several areas roped off to afford protected swimming (the lake is also used for waterskiing). There is a pavilion at one end with a snack bar and lots of tables beneath what looks like a giant concrete martini glass (no alcohol served, however). There is also a kids' playground, shuffleboard courts, and beach chair and umbrella rentals. From June through August, this is also the home to the Florida State University "Flying High" Circus, which gives performances beneath a big top (except Wednesdays).
Golf Courses. Callaway has three 18-hole courses—which Golf Digest ranks No. 56 on its list of America's 75 Best Resort Courses. There Golf Digest ranks it 56th in America's 75 Best Resort Courses. It also has the 26-acre Twin Oaks Golf Practice Facility, which allows golfers to sharpen their games using every club in their bags.
Lake View: This original course at Callaway Gardens, it winds along lakes and streams through a landscape of azaleas, dogwood, and seasonal flowers. Water comes into play on nine of its holes, the best known of them No. 10, which features an island tee and a serpentine bridge over Mountain Creek Lake to the green in front of the Gardens Restaurant. Par: 70. Length: 5,452-6,051 yards.
Mountain View Course: As designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee, this most demanding of the Callaway courses poses any number of challenges, including tight, tree-lined fairways, four waterholes, 24 fairway bunkers, and two lakes looming as lateral hazards. It is the former home of the PGA's Buick Challenge. Par: 72. Length: 5,848-7,057 yards.
Fitness Center. Located on the 2nd floor of the Inn, this small sunlit fitness center has about 10 pieces of cardiovascular equipment plus another half dozen or so Cybex and Nautilus circuit trainers, with staff to help utilize the equipment properly and develop a program. There are lockers and saunas in the dressing room.
And ... An excellent bicycle trail runs for 10 miles through the woods, passing all of the major garden landmarks. Midway along, there is a ferry to transport riders across Mountain Creek Lake, and there are half a dozen strategically placed rest stops. Bikes are available for rent at the Virginia Callaway Discovery Center. Also at Robin Lake is a 20-station "Fit Trail," waterskiing, a children's playground, miniature golf, badminton, and the Chickadee Choo Choo miniature railroad. Callaway also has a fly-fishing program with instruction, guides, and access to more than a dozen private lakes, the largest of them the 175-acre Mountain Creek Lake, which is stocked with several varieties of game fish. At its boathouse, you can pick up fully equipped tackle bags, rods and reel, and fishing boats with trolling motors. The Callaway Gun Club offers trap, skeet and other types of shooting.
During the summer, Callaway runs an award-winning day camp for children from potty trained to 18 years. Performers from the Florida State University Circus keep kids entertained from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday. They teach circus tricks, supervise arts and crafts, or take kids on miniature train rides, hikes, bike rides, and more.
Lodging options at the Resort at Callaway consist of the Mountain Creek Inn, 155 two-bedroom units called Southern Pine Cottages, and 2-to-4-bedroom Mountain Creek Villas.
Some other low-key resorts with good children's programs to consider are:
Lodging consists of rooms at the inn, cottages and one- to four-bedroom villas. Tennis packages add unlimited court time, use of the fitness center, and admission to the Gardens and to Robin Lake Beach (open seasonally).
Visit the website for current rates
Seasons. Although the resort is open all year, and it's possible to play tennis during the chilly but not really cold winters, most of the social tennis activity takes place in the summer, with teams, tennis groups, and conventions prevalent in spring and fall.
Travel Instructions. By Air: The nearest airport is Atlanta Hartsfield International, 65 miles away. By Car: From Atlanta, take I-85 south to I-185 and continue south to Exit 42. From there, go south on U.S. 27 and follow the signs to the resort.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Georgia Department of Tourism website or contact them at 285 Peachtree Center Avenue, NE, Marquis Two Tower, Suite 1000, Atlanta, GA 30303-1230 or phone them at 1-800-VISITGA (1-800-847-4842).
©2016 Roger Cox