Destination dining in Hartwell, Georgia, that’s delicious as a hole in one.
Story and photos by Bill Bauer
Searching for a restaurant where you can enter casually but dine formally? Many folks, unless they’re golfers, tend to overlook the country club scene. Some clubs are private and open only to members, but there are a host of public and semi-private golf courses around the southeastern U.S. where you can walk off the course and enjoy cuisine surpassing the stereotypical 19th-hole fast food. Cateechee, a conference center and golf club in Hartwell, Georgia, is first on my list for a fabulous lunch or dinner whether I’ve just played 18 holes or am headed out for the evening to dine.
Kelli and Charly Schell, who purchased Cateechee a little over a year ago, are keeping with a current trend in golf course hospitality: raising the level of golf course dining to the private country club level while keeping it affordable. Sure, you can get a dog or burger at Shady Grady’s turn house, or a beverage and a pack of crackers from the cart girl, but Cateechee’s Waterfall Grille kicks it higher than typical golf course restaurant fare. The Schells held nothing back when renovating the golf course and have done the same with the Waterfall Grille. The sign in front of the massive stone clubhouse along the Elberton Highway welcomes all: “Casual Dining—Open to the Public.”
A unique, trademark waterfall and friendly host greet you at the entrance to the u-shaped bar and dining room that overlooks the picturesque golf course. Executive Chef Tom Atkinson worked diligently to create a menu that satisfies the golfer, the traveler, and the casual diner. Wearing two hats, Tom is also the food and beverage manager and fashioned a bill of fare that includes daily specials alongside a standard menu of pastas, steaks, and creative seafood entrees. An array of sandwiches, soups and salads are available in the bar and dining room. The extensive wine list is growing.
Cateechee is a Certified National Audubon Golf Course, meaning it adheres to the mission of protecting the environment and preserving the natural heritage of the game of golf. The Schells and Chef Tom carry a similar mission into the kitchen by embracing the popular farm-to-table movement to procure as many native ingredients as possible. They also seek out the freshest seafood and finest steaks. Seasonal produce from area farms highlights the salad and vegetable menu, all cheeses are shredded from ten-pound blocks, hand-cut steaks are aged 35-days, and the seafood has never seen a freezer.
When not in the kitchen, Chef Tom ventures to the dining room to see how his culinary concoctions are being received and to make suggestions to querying foodies. On our most recent visit, my wife and I took Chef Tom’s recommendation and shared both the roasted artichoke- and crab-encrusted oysters (which are topped with panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese) plus his signature fried green tomatoes (which are surrounded by house-made pimento cheese and red bell pepper aioli). We followed that up with a traditional house salad, hoping to save room for our entrees. A basket of fresh baked rolls arrived to accompany the starters and another came out with the 24-ounce bone-in ribeye special and Canadian marbled salmon. Each course was excellent, done to perfection, and served in a timely manner along with the suggested wine pairings. Despite the fact that we felt full, our waiter insisted that we split the Waterfall Grille’s most popular dessert—the ice cream sandwich, which marries Chef’s daily cookie and choice of ice cream—and how could we refuse? The chocolate nut cookie and chocolate ice cream combo was scrumptious.
Cateechee’s Waterfall Grille is proof that golf course restaurants don’t have to be all about burgers and fries; they can offer upscale, casual dining at a non-prohibitive price. If you are coming off the course or in a rush for dinner, try something unique and pick up the Grille’s current “Take and Bake” feature. Each week Cateechee offers a fresh, prepared meal that you can buy then take home to cook using Chef’s easy-to-follow directions, a healthy alternative to fast food and easier than hours of cooking. (Check the online menu or call the concierge at 706-376-8956 for info and to place an order.)
Be it near your home or in your travels, check out nearby golf courses for lunch or dinner—whenever you’re in the area, Cateechee is a must. It’s located between Clemson University and the University of Georgia, just minutes from Lake Hartwell between Elberton and Hartwell, Ga. Waterfall Grille is one of my personal go-to restaurants, so you just might see me there!
Stay & Play…
The golf course at Cateechee is nestled in 420 acres and boasts dramatic elevation changes as well as both forest and meadow. The course and golf shop is open to the public every day—you can book a tee time seven days in advance. Warm up on the double-ended practice facility with putting greens, pitching greens and practice bunkers. If you’re a golfer seeking help to refine a specific skill or are starting from scratch and need complete how-to instructions, golf lessons are available at the indoor/outdoor golf teaching facility that boasts state-of-the-art training/teaching aids and video analysis.
Cateechee was designed by golf architect Mike Young in 1996 to take advantage of natural elevation changes while preserving the habitats of the many birds and animals that also called the acreage home. As a result, it’s a Certified National Audubon Golf Course, which means it protects the environment and preserves the natural heritage of the game of golf.
Current owners Charly and Kelli Schell have increased protected natural areas and restored the pond on the signature 2nd hole—which is a daunting, downhill, par three. At 192 yards from the tips it plays a bit less as the green rests significantly lower than the tee boxes, but still requires an all carry tee shot over the pond that lies in front.
On all of Young’s par-3 designs, elevation plays a major role. The 16th hole resembles two and at 183 yards, the 6th presents an elevated green. Young’s imaginative layout is a blend of doglegs and straight holes that simply require you to hit the fairway, sometimes over waste areas, if you want a level lie. Miss the generous landing areas and you’ll be fighting side hill lies from the rough, which can be gnarly in places, or taking a drop from the restricted natural areas.
If each nine has a signature hole, the monstrous, par-5, 17th holds the title on the back nine. Even from the forward tees it plays a long 552-yards and requires two well-placed shots to set up an approach to a slightly elevated, downhill, sloped green. It is a beautiful golf hole that captures the essence of Cateechee, as does its challenging finishing hole. It’s a long golf cart ride (you best be in good shape should you choose to walk the course) to the 18th, but as you exit the woods from the hidden cart path, the sky opens to a spectacular view of the clubhouse and its spacious veranda overlooking the final putting surface. At 397-yards, it’s not a long par 4, but a giant tree ominously protects the right bend of the dogleg. There’s a lot of fairway out to the left that is safe, but lengthens the approach considerably. The 18th is just another of Young’s risk-reward type holes that make you think about your tee shot.
While area golfers think of Cateechee as a semi-private golf course, open to the public and members, Kelli and Charly see it as an amenities-based destination. Its proximity to cities from Atlanta to Charlotte makes it a prime location for more than a round of golf—you might enjoy a shooting range, trout fishing, quail hunting, tennis and more.
On-site lodging is available in king and queen suites at the main clubhouse, in a secluded golf cabin, or at the large lake house with 16 beds.
With the “Stay & Play” package, whichever overnight accommodations you choose you can schedule time to play the 18-hole Audubon-certified Sanctuary golf course.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, many venues are limiting public access and events with safety in mind. Please call to confirm visitor details in advance. We anticipate that regular operations will resume as soon as possible. In the meantime, wash your hands frequently, stay safe, and keep calm.