Each fall, tourists flock to the "Hostess City of the South," drawn by Savannah's colorful past. The town is so lovely that General Sherman spared it during his Civil War march from Atlanta to the sea, then bequeathed it as a gift to President Abraham Lincoln. Today, visitors take in Savannah's architecture and city squares decorated with fountains, statues and cannonry. But until recently, golf has been an afterthought. Most golfers flying into Savannah's airport are bound for Hilton Head Island, a 40-minute ride across the South Carolina border.
They don't know what they're missing.
Five minutes from the airport you'll find Crosswinds Golf Club (912-966-1909; www.crosswindsgolfclub.com; greens fees: $44 or $37 after 3 p.m.). This well-conditioned track serves up five par 5s and three drivable par 4s. The course is hardly overwhelming -- just 6,512 yards from the tips -- but a Slope Rating of 132 proves it's no pitch-and-putt. Late arrivals can enjoy a lighted par-3 course.
Good eats are but a trolley or water-taxi ride away. Dinner options include the chic Sapphire Grill -- continental cuisine with an urban flair. Classic southern in a more formal setting is on tap at 45 South, The Olde Pink House and Elizabeth's on 37th. For simpler fare, duck into the Sixpence Pub; specialties include Beef Guinness and shepherd's pie.
Savannah's golf centerpiece is the Club at Savannah Harbor (912-201-2240; www.theclubatsavannahharbor.com; greens fee: $115). This resort layout sits on Hutchinson Island, a tiny spit of land in the Savannah River. The resort, which includes a Westin hotel, hosted the 2003 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, a Champions Tour event. You won't find many vacationers tackling this Bob Cupp-Sam Snead design from the tips, a dozen steps shy of 7,300 yards. The majestic Savannah River Bridge and the muted cityscape serve as backdrops, but the far eastern edge of the property nestles close to the Back River. Lively River Street is five minutes away by water taxi; City Market, the area's historic district, and Savannah's famous squares are a short walk from there.
In the afternoon, replay Savannah Harbor ($22) or head to the Wilmington Island Club (912-897-1615; greens fee: $56). Guests are welcome during the week and on weekend afternoons at this semiprivate Donald Ross design built in 1927 and renovated by Willard Byrd in the mid-1960s.
After golf, stroll Tybee Island, the kitschy, counter-culture community east of the city. History buffs will want to visit Fort Pulaski National Monument, a stronghold that was captured by Union troops during the Civil War. At land's end, you'll find funky bars and restaurants, as well as a flat, broad expanse of sand that is every bit the equal of the beaches on Hilton Head.
There's an inexpensive brunch at Huey's on River Street, a pricier one at the Hilton DeSoto. Heading west of town, check out a little-known Rees Jones design called Southbridge Golf Club (912-651-5455; greens fee: $44). There's water on almost every hole, and Jones's narrow playing corridors wend their way through heavy forests.
The Inn Crowd
Fall is the time to visit, and not just because temperatures are falling. The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort (912-201-2000; www.westin.com) offers a one-night stay, double occupancy, and two rounds of golf, taxes included, for $370. Extra nights start at $150.
For those who prefer sultry Savannah to the glass-and-brass Westin, visit the heart of the historic district, where you'll find the Ballastone Inn (912-236-1484; www.ballastone.com). Rooms and suites at the 16-room bed and breakfast range from $215 to $415 per night and include full breakfast, afternoon tea and a tempting selection of evening hors d'oeuvres.