Mountain golf makes for a two-sports story at Georgia’s Sky Valley

Golf and Golf Croquet thrive together at Sky Valley in Georgia. (Joy Sarver Photos)

SKY VALLEY, Georgia – This is not a report on your traditional golf travel destinations.  Sky Valley Country Club is in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  At an elevation of 3,297 feet it’s the highest and northern- most course in Georgia.

The location is a plus for this Georgia Golf Trail layout, which justifiably bills itself as “Georgia’s Highest and Coolest City’’  and “Georgia’s Summer Retreat.’’

“We’re the only club in our range that’s open to the public and open year-around,’’ said Ryan DeBois, the club’s general manager. “All but two of the others are completely private and are closed between Nov. 1 and April 30. We’ve had people playing in January.’’

Though the temperatures were on the high side for this area during our visit, Sky Valley attracts plenty of visitors anxious to escape the heat of nearby states – particularly Florida. It’s also a 2 ½-hour drive from Atlanta, so that area provides large numbers of visitors as well.

One minor drawback, though.  The location of Sky Valley – the name of the club as well as the city in which it resides – isn’t easy to pinpoint on maps.

“We’re different.  We straddle the North Carolina and Georgia state lines,’’ said DeBois. “Our back nine is in Georgia but a couple of the holes on the front nine are in North Carolina.’’

Anyway, Sky Valley is located between the towns of Clayton, Ga., and Highlands, N.C.  It’s in Rabun County, Ga., and is included in the Highlands Plateau area that includes Cashiers, N.C.

Sky Valley Country Club, with its historic chimney on the third hole (below), holds a special place on the state lines of both Georgia and North Carolina.

Sky Valley is no mystery to people in the know. Two former Georgia governors and a president of Florida State University have had homes in the mountains overlooking the course, and football coaching legend Nick Saban has been a frequent player there.

There’s been a golf course at Sky Valley since the 1980s. A resort course was built on a cattle farm there, and a chimney from those days still adorns the No. 3 fairway.. The facility had an array of problems surviving until a founders group of neighbors banded together to pull it out of bankruptcy in 2010 and took ownership in 2013.

One member of that group was Milt Gillespie, whose family has had roots in the area since 1821. Gillespie and wife Anne have lived in a beautiful – and one of the very highest – homes on the mountain for 17 years but were also residents of the area when a ski area was operated in Sky Valley from 1964 to 2004.

The Chapel of Sky Valley stands out with its mountain setting.

Bill Watts is the designer on record for the original course, but the present one is a creation of Atlanta architect Bill Bergin in 2007. It has challenging elevation and No. 15 was selected as the best par-3 on the Georgia Golf Trail in 2023.   Veteran superintendent Steve Mason has the 6,961, par 72 facility in fine shape, and the course hosted last year’s Georgia Senior Amateur.

Last year the course had 18,000 rounds, which is well above the array of private courses in the area, and 57 percent of Sky Valley’s rounds came from public play.

Traditional golf isn’t the only “golf’’ played seriously at Sky Valley.  Golf Croquet also has its very serious devotees.  The club has two full-length croquet courts, its participants don the sport’s traditional white attire and competition is readily available with 11 of the area’s private clubs also having croquet facilities. They don’t play the casual backyard version of the sport.

Dale Fenwick, who directs the Sky Valley croquet program, called  Golf Croquet  “a modification of Association Croquet….Association Croquet is a very long , very complicated, strategic game. Association Croquet is to chess what Golf Croquet is to checkers.’’

Fenwick did some further research, using the sport’s historical publications, and learned from a British leaflet from 1896 that Golf Croquet was mentioned as “a game for garden parties.”

The golf connection apparently “was designed to utilize the favorite strokes of drives in golf, but on a moderate size lawn.”

You can find waterfalls whenever you venture around the Sky Valley area. This is one of the best. It’s called Mud Creek Falls and it has a 100-foot vertical drop.

Anyway, Sky Valley has a very friendly membership  consisting of about 300.  One-third are full-time local residents but the majority are four- to six-month season residents of Sky Valley.  They enjoy a nice, modern 13,000 square foot clubhouse that has two dining rooms.  Other facilities include a golf simulator.

The Chapel of Sky Valley’s bell tower plays music at regular intervals every day. There are plenty of trails for hiking and other outdoor recreational pursuits include fly-fishing, tennis, pickleball and swimming.

Lodging for 100 people is available in private homes, condos and timeshares within Sky Valley and VRBO contributes another 60 rooms to the Sky Valley inventory. Fine dining and shopping is available in Highlands, 12 miles away, and other nearby communities.  It’s also worthwhile to check out the abundance of waterfalls and wineries throughout the area.

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Sky Valley’s clubhouse is a comfortable place for both the club members and visitors who come to enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.