Here are a few random pictures (link) from the 53rd Masters Waterski Tournament held at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA. The videos below are from my camera (first) and a more polished one from Nautiques (second).
It’s hard to describe exactly what Callaway Gardens is like, but I guess you could describe it as a cross between a resort and a nature preserve featuring 13,000 acres of carefully developed land into a modern Garden of Eden along with a variety of recreational activities including horticultural centers, butterfly center, azalea garden, beach, swimming, waterskiing, golf, bike & nature trails, birds of prey shows and special events (e.g. hot air ballon festival, harvest moon festival, etc.) You can check out Wiki here (link).
Callaway Gardens was established in 1952 by Cason J. Callaway and Virgina Hand Callaway in particular to preserve a rare azalea species, and in general to provide a wholesome family environment where all may find beauty, relaxation, inspiration and a better understanding of the living world. Their mission is “connecting man and nature in a way that benefits both.” Virgina Callaway wrote in her will that it was her hope to bring “to all visitors such needed beauty, inspiration, tranquility, quiet and knowledge of the wild...”
I’m not sure how the Masters Waterski Tournament landed at Callaway, but some insight was given on Sunday morning of the tournament, there was a chapel service that featured Christy Overton-Johnson and Ralph Meloon. Ralph (see slideshow) is the son of Correct Craft’s founder, Walter Meloon and is around 90 years old (they gave his exact age, but I forget what is was). Ralph mentioned the Meloon family had a relationship with the Callaway family 50 plus years ago and decided to put on the tournament at Robin Lake.
You know, the first time I bought a Correct Craft, the owner’s manual came with a book about the history of the company - I wish I had held onto that.
Pine Mountain is about an hour southwest of Atlanta and pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s pretty easy to get to from Atlanta - straight down I-85 with a quick jog onto I-185 south of LaGrange.
There are a variety of places to stay in or near Pine Mountain. We choose to stay in the local Days Inn motel in Pine Mountain. It was cheap, clean and very close to Robin Lake. A lot of the athletes stayed here. You could go a little luxury and actually stay in Callaway Gardens at one of the cottages or Mountain View Inn. I think this is where many of the Correct Craft employees stayed. If you preferred a more conventional hotel, you could stay at the Hampton in LaGrange - which would be about a 10 - 15 min drive. Eric drove his RV down and Rich (from Florida) drove up from Jackson and both camped in F.D Roosevelt State Park.
There is a carnival style concessions stand at the tournament site, but I would recommend that you just pack a big cooler and bring your own. You can carry your stuff down to a picnic area or setup in the area right behind the beach. It’s not a long walk, but if you don’t have multiple hands, plan on either bringing a wagon to transport your gear or just make multiple trips.
You can pretty much set up your camp anywhere except on the beach. Eric and I each brought one of those collapsable canopies we use at local ski tournaments. After claiming our spot on Friday morning, we left the canopies up all weekend without taking them down with no issues.
You could easily sit down at the starting dock for slalom if you wanted, which would give you pretty good viewing of the athletes as they prepare for their round, though your viewing of their actual skiing would be limited. The starting area for trick and jump is in front of the pavilion so there’s no need to travel to the end of the lake.
Even though the pavilion is the best place to watch the tournament, it’s pretty much an architectual catastrophe. There are large cylindrical cement columns that support the roof and conveniently obstruct your view. Further obstructing your view is a steel frame that sits inside the interior platform in order to hold lights, speakers, etc.
There are a few key places that you can sit without having to crane your neck to see the entire course, but you have to do that through trail and error which won’t be easy since the bleacher seats are more rickety than your backwoods high school stadium.
The announcing is excellent quality, though rather continuous in moments. I think the announcers were at their best when calling the trick events, announcing each trick as it occurred while giving the crowd good information about this lesser known discipline that was fabulous to watch. The announcers could have improved by being more comfortable with silence. I could have used less plugs for sponsors between passes and falls, and less counting out of each turn buoy.
The beach next to the pavilion is really great. It’s clean with plenty of room for sunbathing or dipping your feet in the water with a lawn chair while your kids play in the water. It's pretty good place to watch wakeboarding as many of the tricks will land right in front of you. The water was refreshingly cool, with a slow and shallow grade out to its deepest point of about 6 feet. There were a couple of lifeguards on hand, but not enough to rely on for safety.
There are flush toilets on site, but they get a little grimy by the end of the day. Plenty of places to find shade and picnic, grill, trash cans, etc.
When leaving the parking area for the tournament, don’t follow the exit signs. Turn left and go back the way you came. If you go right, the exit signs will take on a long winding route through the entire resort. It’s pretty, but by the end of the day you’re ready to wind down quickly, not take a long winding road.
You do have in-and-out privileges from the parking lot once you get your wristbands. So it’s cool to come and watch a couple rounds in the morning, take a lunch break out of the park, then come back later.
There is a small plaza in the middle of Pine Mountain. It has a gas station, a restaurant, an ice cream shop and a few knick knack shops. This is where you will get your ice for your cooler. There are a few other restaurants further north up the road, some looked pretty nice. We hit the little shack on the side of the road “3 Little Pigs Bar-B-Que” Saturday night...and paid for it later.
It’s easy to see other things going on at Callaway Gardens. If you look at some of the videos, you can see across Robin Lake to the main beach area where there is a giant green inflatable in the water. There was a car show going on and we where surrounded by a golf course. We didn’t look into any of this since we were committed to the viewing the tournament, but I think everything was available to us if we desired.