THOMASVILLE — It’s hot and sticky this time of the year in this Southwest Georgia enclave, but it’s nothing like summers of the past. This has been a season of thundershowers, which are ameliorating and comforting to a populace where quail hunting, the signature event in Thomas County, is as beloved by the locals as it is by visitors from far away.
Quail season is weeks away, but as it is with football, the anticipatory season is almost as much fun as the actual event. Residents here think quail hunting year-round, just as they do high school football, which has equally enviable status. Thomasville High and Thomas County Central are known for turning out championship teams and sending stud talent to the colleges.
Thomas County sits in plantation heaven — there are more than 70 of them in what they call the Red Hills region. Plantation acreage ranges from 500 to 30,000 acres and higher. It takes more than a credit card to qualify as a plantation owner, and it takes more than a village to run a plantation. There is nothing like waking up in the woods on a frosty morning during the height of quail season. The cacophonous symphony of barking bird dogs reminds you that your day in the woods will leave you at peace come sundown. The outdoor scenes tickle your various emotions. Tall timbers with wind whistling through the pines. The quail life is the good life.
With football season coming on, I have found my way here to visit friends and enjoy a “feel good” weekend, which is how you expect it to be in Thomasville. I can’t imagine having a bad day here, where there are so many things to enjoy from architecture to downtown charm, hunting, fishing, roses, and laid-back living. There is history here, too.
Of my favorite stories of all the personalities and luminaries who have visited Thomasville or who still hang out here, one stands above the others. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, is one of my favorite presidents. I liked Ike. He liked Georgia, playing golf at Augusta, and in Thomasville, he could shoot quail and play golf too. Thomasville kept luring him back.
Historians didn’t bestow him with a favorable rating when he left office, but as recently as 2008, he was ranked the sixth best president behind Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt.
Thomasville influenced Ike’s decision to run for a second term after suffering a heart attack in the first. The president had fun playing the Glen Arven Country Club, which has hosted the Piney Woods Invitational for years. The Piney Woods has long been one of the most popular amateur tournaments in the state, much of it having to do with the attractiveness of Glen Arven. It also offers a nice test for the serious golfer.
Eisenhower entered the White House in 1953, and, following a heart attack late in his first term, there was considerable doubt about his offering for re-election. However, in February 1956 on a trip to Thomasville to hunt and play golf, he made the decision to run again as the result of a round of golf at Glen Arven.
There is a steep hill leading up to the 18th green at Glen Arven, and Eisenhower believed that if he could walk up “Cardiac Hill” without exhaustion or pain, he would be fit enough to run again.
“Ike made it up the hill in fine fettle and told the press only that he would not tell the people of the country about his decision without first privately informing the key Republican leaders,” according to Sidney Matthew, Tallahassee lawyer and the foremost expert on golfer Bobby Jones. Matthew’s account of Ike and “Cardiac Hill,” can be found in his excellent history of the Glen Arven Country Club.
This story offers another jewel for Thomasville’s crown. In addition to all the other features of its cultural and outdoor life, you can also appreciate its link with one of America’s most popular presidents.