Just 45 minutes north of Atlanta, Lake Lanier and Hall County in Georgia are ready to explode with action.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen the sports market grow—and we’re targeting that,” says Jennifer Norman, vice president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We try to find the sports that fit our destination the best.”
But in many respects, that seems to leave the field wide open. The area has played host to tennis, baseball, softball, golf, soccer, lacrosse, triathlons and more.
One major growth area, Norman says, is the large fishing tournaments that come to Lake Lanier. “We have incredible fishing here,” she says. “Anglers love Lake Lanier. We’ve been especially successful at recruiting large bass-fishing tournaments.”
In August, the huge Forrest Wood Cup will be back at Lake Lanier, which hosted the fishing tournament in 2010, too. The event brings in anglers from all over the country, competing for a top prize that in the past has been up to $1 million.
Lake Lanier, at its full level, has about 39,000 surface acres of water and nearly 700 miles of shoreline. The fish habitat is managed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and includes various types of bass and trout. Large striped bass, known for their fighting ability, have become a major sport fish and have been stocked in many areas of the lake.
The lake also features a “mega-ramp” at Laurel Park on the north end—which is a 350-foot-long boat ramp, over 1,000-feet in elevation, that supports launches of up to six boats at one time. The mega-ramp project also included the construction of a fishing tournament staging area, restrooms and plenty of parking. In addition, there is boat access from many other locations throughout the counties that surround the lake.
Growth of Adventure Racing
Another sports segment that has been expanding in the Lake Lanier area is adventure racing, which can be composed of a variety of disciplines such as running, paddling, biking, swimming and many more, lasting from hours to days, and pitting individuals and teams against each other. “Adventure races draw a huge number of participants, because they start the events in waves, rather than all at once,” says Norman.
The Lake Lanier Islands Resort is the place for adventure races. The resort recently took one of its golf courses, Pine Isle, out of service, so that vast, varied space is now being used for adventure racing. “Race organizers can come in and build their obstacles right on the golf course, without having to do too much work,” says Norman. “It’s all very turn-key.”
Triathlons are another big segment of the sports destination market for Lake Lanier. “We’ve been big into triathlons; they’ve been very successful here,” says Norman. The Lake Lanier Islands Triathlon Festival is held every June, and for the last five years, the area also has hosted the Iron Girl Atlanta Women’s Triathlon, attracting some of the best triathletes from across the country.
The Lake Lanier CVB works closely with Hall County Parks & Leisure Services to provide sports event planners with all they may need to create a successful event. And Hall County, with nearly 1,500 acres of park space in 24 parks, has top facilities that are perfect for various sports events and tournaments.
The premier soccer venue in the Lake Lanier area is the Allen Creek Soccer Complex, jointly owned and managed by the city of Gainesville and Hall County. The 89-acre, special-use park features nine lighted natural-grass fields, three concession areas, and a 2,500-seat stadium. Allen Creek has played host to both soccer and lacrosse tournaments that typically have drawn more than 3,500 participants.
Baseball and Softball
“We also have a vast array of softball and youth baseball fields that can accommodate tournaments,” says Kelly Norman, program coordinator for Hall County Parks & Leisure. “And we have premier tennis facilities, too.”
Alberta Banks Park has three baseball and two softball fields, in addition to “Field of Dreams,” an ADA-accessible, rubber-surfaced ball field that can accommodate players who are handicapped or who have special needs. The park also has two concession areas. In addition, Alberta Banks Park includes the Bobby Bailey Tennis Center, which features 12 lighted hard-surface tennis courts, suitable for tennis tournaments for adults and juniors.
The 25-acre Hog Mountain Sports Complex has three baseball/softball fields, one multipurpose field, and six lighted hard-surface tennis courts, along with a concession area and restrooms. At Laurel Park, in addition to the mega ramp for boats, the venue features two Little League and two softball fields, a concession area, and three restroom buildings.
“We’re also very interested in accommodating special-needs recreation opportunities,” says Hall County’s Kelly Norman. “Last year we hosted the U.S. Power Soccer Association at the Mulberry Creek Park & Community Center, where participants played wheelchair soccer in the two basketball gyms.” Mulberry Creek is a 22-acre park with a 28,000-square-foot community center that includes two full-size gyms, a fitness center and meeting rooms.
The county also has another 28,000-square-foot multipurpose indoor facility at the 90-acre East Hall Park & Community Center. Outdoors, the East Hall sports complex features three baseball/softball fields, four tennis courts, a regulation track, and two concession stands with restrooms; indoors, there are two full-size gymnasiums, along with a fitness center and meeting rooms.
The newest facility is the 127-acre North Hall Park & Community Center, which has four lighted baseball fields with batting cages, a large multi-purpose field surrounded by a six-lane track, and a concession stand. The park also will have a natural-style trail for mountain biking, running and walking. In addition, the massive 56,000-square foot Community Center building will feature two large gymnasiums, a fitness area with indoor walking track, and locker rooms. The facility also will have a 6,000-square-foot banquet room, complete with divider walls and a full catering kitchen, as well as a game room, technology center and indoor café.
Golf also is a big draw at Lake Lanier. The course at Legacy on Lanier Golf Club, at Lake Lanier Islands Resort, features stunning views of the lake, with 12 holes right along the water. The Legacy course, designed by Billy Fuller, has hosted numerous charity tournaments and corporate outings.
The Chattahoochee Golf Club features a Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed course, and the Lanier Golf Club course was designed by Joseph L. Lee. Other courses in the area are Chicopee Woods and Chestatee Golf Club.
The CVB’s Jennifer Norman says Lake Lanier is particularly interested in pulling in sports that “not everyone has a place for.” Rowing, for instance, has become popular at the lake. “A lot of Ivy League schools come down to Lake Lanier to do their spring break rowing camps.” (During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Lake Lanier was the Olympic venue for canoeing and rowing.) The area also hosts cheerleading camps and events during the summer.
When not involved in tournaments or events, sports participants and their families have a myriad of other activities and attractions to choose from, including hiking, biking, boating, sailing, swimming and much more. There are a variety of restaurants all over the area, including the Collegiate Grill in Gainesville, which was rated by USA Today as having the best burger in Georgia.
The area has more than 1,000 rooms available, including about 300 at the full-service Lake Lanier Islands Resort, and accommodations vary to fit all budgets. There also are lakeside homes and condos available, along with cabins and campgrounds.
“This is such a wonderful, easily accessible location,” Jennifer Norman says. “Whether you want to play on, in or around Lake Lanier, we can help make your event memorable.”
Find out more about Lake Lanier at www.lakelaniercvb.com or call 770-536-5209.