Following the Georgia Golf Trail from the 16th floor of the Westin Savannah to the first level of the Lodge at Callaway Gardens was like night and day. On the four-hour drive we stopped in Warner Robins, home of the little league world champions. Hungry for lunch, Google came up with Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, 10 minutes off our route and worth the detour although, had we known Peachtree Café was coming up, we might have stopped there, all good either way. Pecan groves, peach orchards and solar power panel acreage transitioned us from Savannah’s bustling historic river front to the timbers of Pine Mountain.
While the upper floor balconies of the Lodge obviously have an expansive view of the lake, all we have to do from our first-floor luxury room is slide the glass door to the patio, walk 50 feet and it’s ours. While lounging in the patio chairs in front of the circular rock fountain, the cascades are mesmerizing. Treetops hug the horizon. On a weekend, you are lucky to book any accommodation at Callaway Gardens Lodge and Spa where the rooms have been upgraded to five diamond level, so plan early!
The welcome package includes a map and guide to all of Pine Mountain as well as activities on the Callaway Gardens property where your room key unlocks every gate. Some things are necessarily curtailed due to Covid but in a 40-hour period, we knew we would be left longing for more time in this natural getaway.
We’ve wistfully written about Callaway Gardens several times but to experience it is to know it and to fancy what you will do the next time you return, given a mulligan. To begin with, there are two golf courses. This time we played the Mountain Course, home to the PGA Tour’s Buick Challenge for 14 years in the 90s. Every tee box has a wooden sign with a depiction and description of flora or fauna. Acrobatic squirrels entertained while pileated woodpeckers drilled from one tree to the next. The woodsy layout by the lakes is special. Driving around we noticed the Lakeview Course’s whimsical arched bridge. We look forward to playing it and its island green in the future.
“Jawga” pines like everything else are more diverse. While the gardens part of Callaway is most exquisite in springtime, the early fall introduces colored tree leaves without the northern chill and plenty of florals are strategically blooming throughout including some everlasting azaleas.
Robin’s Lake below the lodge has a one-mile white sand beach which would normally be busy with sun bathers, boaters and paddle boarders. This year it is serene with a few teens in bikinis dipping their toes in the lake while the screams of glee can be heard from a younger group at the Beach Pavilion filled with games and activities. Open for intimate adult or family walks are the trails and mountain lookouts on 2500 acres.
In times of Covid outdoor dining is safest so the Piedmont terrace is an option but takeout to your own Lodge terrace or a picnic site on the expansive grounds is even better. Breakfast at Callaway’s Country Kitchen comes with flaky biscuits and a gift shop. We knew we were in the right spot with a table of five officers being served six feet away. Downtown Pine Mountain has several restaurants and more shopping. We met long lost cousins at the Oyster House for a seafood feast on a picnic table al fresco.
Voted best Georgia attraction in 2018, the Callaway family have shared their natural haven with over 4000 azaleas and hydrangeas, dazzling guests in the Gardens since 1952. Admission includes Birds of Prey, Discovery and Butterfly Centers. Bring your masks, required indoors. Outdoors, Callaway’s natural playground offers a treetop adventure, geocaching, hiking, fishing, boating, tennis, and racing with summer events including hot air ballooning and concerts. https://www.callawaygardens.com/
By Alice & Danny Scott