The South's Best Sporting Clay Courses

Jimmy Williams
by Doug Howlett - Oct/Nov 2010

The best sporting clays courses in the South are not just about good shooting. They’re also about good living

Sporting clays courses are not what they used to be—they’re better. When the shooting game arrived in the United States from England in the early ’80s, the courses and facilities were straightforward, with few amenities. You walked a shaded path, shot some targets designed to mimic game birds, chatted with friends at a simple clubhouse, and went home. Now some of the best clays courses have become full-on destinations, with overnight accommodations, over-the-top restaurants, world-class hunting and fishing, and even (God forbid) spa treatments. Is it possible that the shooting sports are going soft? Maybe. But after visiting some of these incredible shooting clubs, you might decide there’s something to be said for getting a massage after a day on the range.

Elk Creek Hunt Club
Owenton, KY
Home of the 2009 U.S. Open (of sporting clays) and spread across 2,500 wooded acres, the course at Elk Creek has become a must-shoot. Forty-five updated and paved stations spread over 35 fields actually create three separate courses. Each can be shot as 50- or 100-target rounds. Conclude the day of shooting with Chef Gary Sigretto’s grilled baby back ribs and a bottle of Elk Creek Vineyard’s Estate Cabernet Franc, grown and bottled right on the property. Better yet, stay the night in one of the finely appointed rooms at the lodge and book another day of shooting. It’s that good. And if you beat yourself up with too many rounds, the facility’s in-house massage therapist is on hand (Friday through Sunday only) to massage muscles made tired from a day of recoil. (elkcreekhuntclub.com)

The Fork Farm and Stables
Norwood, NC
At the heart of scenic Fork Farm and Stables is a center called the Ordinary, which is anything but ordinary. Named after John Colson’s Ordinary, believed to be the first licensed tavern in North Carolina (founded on the site in 1771), the facility is home to the International Wing Shooting School. It offers a 12-station large-gauge course and a seven-station small-gauge course; a covered five-stand; and a six-trap, 60-foot tower and flurry. The courses, designed by British designer John Higgins, are set on 1,600 wooded acres wedged between the Pee Dee and Rocky rivers. The country is rolling piedmont, which affords challenging hillside shooting with shots both above and below the shooter. Additional outdoor activities include upland game and duck hunting, hiking, mountain biking, guided fishing, target archery, golf, and even cooking classes and painting. For equestrian fanatics, Fork Farm holds one of only eight CIC events in the country where horse and rider are judged in dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. (forkstables.com)

Quail Creek Plantation
Okeechobee, FL
Quail Creek began as the private destination of Fort Lauderdale developer Whit Hudson, who was looking for a place to gather with friends and hunt quail. A 3,500-acre tract in Okeechobee fit the bill, so Hudson bought it, hired Fred Fanizzi and his wife, Maria, to run it, and in 2001, seeking to help the land pay for itself, started selling quail hunts. Within the year, the team realized they needed a sporting clays course where hunters could warm up, and a legendary shooting venue was born. In a business where a good tournament is one that draws 90 to 100 competitors, Quail Creek’s nine National Sporting Clays Association tourneys draw an average of 130. A mere two hours from Fort Lauderdale and less than two and a half from Orlando and Tampa, it’s no wonder. Quail Creek offers shooters two Marty Fischer–designed 14-station courses that can be shot in either 50- or 100-shot rounds. The Red Course is a little more forgiving, while the Blue Course delivers longer shots and faster targets. (quailcreekplantation.com)

Rough Creek Lodge and Resort
Glen Rose, TX
Like the Lone Star State itself, Rough Creek has a lot to offer. The lodge boasts as many as 80 activities, but at the top of that list has to be the 10-station sporting clays course that can shoot like an 11, 12 or 13 stations. “We can do just about anything with our clays,” says wildlife manager Chris Lemaire. Shot presentations are routinely changed up to keep the course challenging with shots over open plains, creeks, and woodlands. There are also a five-stand, a wobble/trap, and a rifle range, as well as hunting opportunities for upland birds, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and exotic game. The shooting amenities have earned Rough Creek a Beretta Recommended Destination honor, while Chef Gerard Thompson’s restaurant has garnered kudos from travel and food magazines. And how on earth do you get to 80 activities? In addition to a lake that offers superb fishing for bass, crappie, and catfish, there is horseback riding, swimming, rock climbing, a bungee trampoline, zip lines, hiking, kayaking, golf, and yes—spa treatments. (roughcreek.com)

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