Photography by Derek Bell

As the sun rises over the hills of Northwest Georgia each and every morning, the sounds of clinking irons and fairway woods, the crunching clatter of cleats on concrete, and the high-pitched buzz of battery-powered carts darting towards the first tee box are reverberating across the landscape. Golf is a sport that is played for a lifetime and, for those who take it seriously, a game that becomes a lifestyle.

Here, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, residents don’t have much of an excuse not to enjoy the great outdoors – and the options to enjoy them are abundant to say the least – but for sporting enthusiasts, golf offers the opportunity to enjoy nature in all of its glory while playing what may seem to be a simple game.

The Southeast boasts some of the nation’s premier courses, but the quality of courses right in our back yard sometimes seem to be overlooked. From high-end, 18-hole offerings such as Barnsley Gardens, Coosa Country Club, and Stonebridge to nine-hole courses such as BEAA and Callier Springs Country Club, there are several local courses that suit all skill levels and budgets.

While golf is as popular as it has ever been, the game so many love has suffered a decline in new players over the last seven years. Those numbers have been on the rise recently and, while there is still room for improvement, it’s guys like Joedy McGraw and Jarratt Bryan, co-founders of golfromega.com, that have gotten the ball rolling in the right direction.

“My son started playing golf fairly young, and that’s really what sparked my interest in the game,” recalls Bryan. “He plays a lot of Atlanta Junior tournaments and played U.S. Kids tournaments when he was younger, so I’ve seen courses all over the State of Georgia. There are certainly a few exceptions to what I’m about to say but, for the most part, I would look at most of those courses and think that Stonebridge is as good as any of them, and I know for a fact it is a lot less expensive to play.”

“We know there are a lot of different reasons for the decline in new players,” adds McGraw. “Time and money are the two you hear most often, but there are very affordable options. The two nine-hole courses we have here in Rome can be played in under two hours if time is a factor.”

McGraw’s home course, BEAA, is one that offers an unbelievably low rate of $5 for unlimited holes if you choose to walk the course instead of riding in a cart. If riding the fairways is your preference, the cost is only $12 for nine holes. That pricing is about as good as it gets, but just about every course in our area offers some program that makes golfing extremely affordable, no matter the quality of the course.

That’s where McGraw and Bryan’s brainchild, golfromega.com, becomes a handy tool for golfers looking for the best deals available. A quick trip to the site allows users to access a plethora of information on 13 area courses, including their membership rates, standard rates and specials. Tournament opportunities for adults and juniors are listed, and a handful of those tournaments make up what is known as the Rome Tour, where points are accumulated and a player of the year is eventually crowned.

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"There was a time when all of the courses' rates and hours were listed in the local papers, but that stopped for some reason. We thought there needed to be a source of information that was accessible to everyone."

Local player profiles and a list of hole-in-ones are also a nice touch, but the main focus is providing as much information about local courses as one site can handle.

“There was a time when all of the courses’ rates and hours were listed in the local papers, but that stopped for some reason. We thought there needed to be a source of information that was accessible to everyone,” says McGraw. “It’s free to use, easy to use, and our hope is that it encourages more people to get out and play the game of golf.”

With 30 years of experience traveling from tee box to green at courses all over the state, McGraw found a home in Northwest Georgia and has enjoyed playing every course the region has to offer. While his current post as general manager at BEAA doesn’t give him the opportunity to play as much as he would like, he still squeezes in a few rounds a week and enjoys nothing more than mentoring people who are new to the sport. In fact, that’s how he and Bryan became such good friends.

“My son showed an interest in playing golf, and I didn’t want him making the same mistakes I did,” recalls Bryan. “We were fortunate enough to find Joedy, and he taught him the fundamentals that are so crucial to a good golf swing. Having that foundation is something I suggest to anyone with a child interested in playing. If they learn the right way, then they don’t have the opportunity to establish the bad habits that a self-taught golfer like myself has. Joedy has helped me work out some of those kinks over the years, but it sure would have been nice to not have them in the first place.”

It certainly seems like a simple game at first glance, but there are many factors that intimidate potential golfers from hitting the fairways with friends for a round. From equipment cost to holding up better golfers on the course while searching for shots gone awry, many who try the game feel pressure, making the sport seemingly impossible to enjoy.

McGraw offers a simple solution.

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“First of all, you have to put things into perspective concerning the separation from yourself and the guys who have been playing for years,” says McGraw. “They hit bad shots, too, and they hit them pretty often. If you are just getting started or just haven’t played in a long time, the best thing you can do is spend more time on the range than you do on the course. Get comfortable swinging the clubs first and then find a course that is a little less crowded to develop your game without feeling the pressure of having to rush or impress the players waiting behind you on the tee box.

“The two nine-hole courses here in Rome are perfect for new golfers,” he continues. “And I’ll tell you this right now, if you can keep your ball in the fairway at Callier or BEAA consistently, you will be just fine when you decide it’s time to graduate to Coosa, Stonebridge or Barnsley.”

So, regardless of your status in the golfing world, if there is an interest in learning, casual play or tournament play, you can find everything you need to get started at www.golfromega.com. So dust off your clubs; grab a new or used set, depending on your budget, of course; and get outdoors. The game of a lifetime is calling your name.