Callaway Gardens Lodge and Spa
|Location||Harris County, Georgia, USA|
|Nearest city||Pine Mountain, Georgia|
|Area||13,000 acres (52.61 km2; 20.31 sq mi)|
Callaway Gardens was founded in 1952 by Cason J. and Virginia Hand Callaway to promote and protect native azalea species. His son, Bo Callaway, helped develop and run the garden. Today, Callaway Gardens features a wide variety of recreational attractions including a large enclosed butterfly habitat, the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center. The native palm Sabal minor maintains one of its northernmost populations in the area.
The garden was originally conceived in 1930 after Cason J. Callaway discovered a rare azalea growing in the area. Callaway Gardens opened on May 21, 1952, as the Ida Cason Gardens, with a number of lakes, a golf course, and scenic drives. The gardens were named for the mother of founder Cason J. Callaway. Robin Lake Beach and the Overlook Azalea Garden opened the following year in 1953. In 1955, The gardens were renamed Ida Cason Callaway Gardens. The Masters Water-ski Tournament, now an annual event called the Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament, held its first competition in 1959.
On April 12, 1961, founder Cason J. Callaway died and was succeeded as Chairman of the Board by his wife, co-founder Virginia Hand Callaway.
The gardens have experienced numerous expansions following Cason Callaway's death. The Cason J. Callaway Memorial Forest opened in 1972, and was designated a National Natural Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior. Robin Lake was the site of a terrible ferry accident in the 70's. The John A. Sibley Horticultural Center opened in 1984 (closed in 2015). Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden (closed in 2015) was the location for years of TV shows about growing vegetable gardens, most notably the southern edition of The Victory Garden. The annual Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens ran its first race in 1985. The Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center opened on September 25, 1988. "Fantasy In Lights", a Christmas light display, debuted in 1992. In 1999, the Azalea Bowl opened as well as the premiere of the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival. In 2000, the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center was opened.
The garden has several trails both for walking and biking. The Discovery Bike Trail, a 10-mile (16 km) trail that weaves through the wooded gardens, provides guests access to all attractions.
Robin Lake Beach is the world's largest man-made, white sand beach. The beach stretches a mile around 65-acre (260,000 m2) Robin Lake. Robin Lake Beach is opened from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day Weekend.
The Florida State University Flying High Circus have taken up residence at the beach every summer since 1961. During the summer, the circus conducts a recreation program and performs seven shows weekly under the big top adjacent to the beach.
The Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, named after the founder of Days Inns of America, Inc., opened to the public on September 25, 1988. Mrs. Deen Day Sanders, Cecil Day's wife, provided the initial funding for the center. In 2004, the center earned a LEED certification. In 2005, the Day Butterfly Center underwent a $2 million renovation to accommodate more visitors.
The conservatory is maintained at approximately 80 °F and 74% relative humidity. The center has 1,000 butterflies representing over 50 species. The butterflies are received in the pupa stage (or chrysalis) from Malaysia, the Philippines and Central and South America. Because the butterflies are considered to be invasive species, an inward blast of air is shot by a machine at the doorway to prevent any butterfly breakouts.
As of 2011, Callaway Gardens has two golf courses in operation. Lake View golf course was opened on May 21, 1952, the same day the gardens opened. The Mountain View golf course, designed in 1965, hosted the Buick Challenge from 1991 to 2002. In 2001, Buick pulled its sponsorship of the tournament because of low attendance and little network coverage. A third golf course, Gardens View golf course, was opened in 1969 but was closed in 2002.
Callaway Gardens hosts several seasonal events. On Memorial weekend, the gardens host the Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament. The gardens also hosts the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival on Labor Day weekend and a steeplechase on the first Saturday of November. "Fantasy in Lights," a Christmas light display, takes place in November and December.