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2024 Readers Choice Winner | Georgia Southern University
Best Place to Get Married | Best Athletic Team to Watch | Best Spot for an Afternoon Picnic | Best Shooting Range | Best Hidden Tourist Spot | Best Place to Take Your Kids for Spring Break | Best Golf Course | Best Driving Range
Georgia Southern
The Center for Wildlife Education at Georgia Southern is home to the university's bald eagle mascot, Freedom. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

The relationship between Bulloch County and Georgia Southern University runs deep, with roots reaching back more than 100 years, when members of the community rallied to bring a college to the area. Neither would be what it is today without the support of the other — and no one knows this more than those who call Statesboro home. This year, our Readers Choice voters have chosen to highlight a few of the things that make Georgia Southern, and in turn, Bulloch County, so great. 

Center for Wildlife Education

Best Hidden Tourist Spot | Best Place to Take Your Kids for Spring Break

Georgia Southern’s Center for Wildlife Education and the Lamar Q. Ball Jr. Raptor Center is home to “Freedom,” the university’s live bald eagle mascot. Unable to survive on his own because of an injury to his beak as a newborn, Freedom came to Georgia Southern in 2004 and now lives at the center alongside other eagles, raptors, reptiles and waterfowl. Freedom soars above Paulson Stadium before the start of each home football game, and he’s often spotted riding around town with the center’s executive director, master falconer Steven Hein, perched in the back of Hein’s 1977 International Scout on their way to athletic events, educational programs and community gatherings.

Since its opening in 1997, the on-campus wildlife center has grown into one of the leading environmental education facilities in Georgia. Visitors of all ages are invited to watch raptors take flight, take a self-guided nature walk, touch 15-foot-long Monty the Python, and explore the different habitats of a diverse group of species. There’s also an amphitheater, an indoor classroom, a general store, an invasive species exhibit and a 12-acre wetland preserve, with a waterfowl pond that’s home to more than 120 ducks and other aquatic birds, representing 15 species native to Georgia. 

The center, located on Forest Drive at the heart of campus, remains open year-round, with wildlife programs offered every weekday and special summer programming.

Botanic Garden 

Best Place to Get Married

The Botanic Garden at Georgia Southern University is situated on the early 20th-century farmstead of Dan and Catharine Bland, who met in 1916 at what was then the First District Agricultural and Mechanical School. After marrying, the couple settled into life on their rural farm, raising dairy cows and livestock and growing pecans, pears and row crops. A self-taught naturalist, Dan nurtured a variety of native plants throughout their property as the two coaxed a living out of the sandy coastal plain soil, and it is those plants that have blossomed into the stunning landscape found there today.

In 1985, the 11-acre garden was gifted to the university by the Bland family, filled with unique and endangered plants, including more than 20 of the state’s protected plant species. Among the trails, paths and courtyards are a landscape garden of coastal plain natives, a native azalea collection, an arboretum, a children’s garden, a complex of early 20th-century farm buildings, the Rural Life Museum, the Whelchel Camellia Garden, heritage and wetland gardens, the Kennedy Outdoor Classroom and the Oak Grove One Room Schoolhouse. The garden also provides undergraduate and graduate programs, projects and internships, as well as continuing education programs of interest to the community.

With the completion of the Heritage Pavilion in 2009, the garden has also become a popular venue for events. The soaring space opens onto the native plant landscape garden and the concert lawn, with a panoramic view of the arboretum. A catering kitchen, community meeting room, restrooms and proximity to a service entrance make it an ideal venue for weddings and receptions, corporate gatherings and parties for every occasion.

Heritage Pavilion at the Botanic Garden
Heritage Pavilion at the Botanic Garden - photo by SPECIAL/Georgia Southern University

Sweetheart Circle

Best Spot for an Afternoon Picnic

In 1906, when Georgia Southern was founded as the First District Agricultural and Mechanical School, the campus consisted of only a handful buildings, situated in a heart-shaped formation surrounding an open field. Early students gave it the nickname “Sweetheart Campus.” 

Known today as Sweetheart Circle, the area remains the heart of Statesboro’s campus, where the original historic buildings now house GS administration. The rolling lawn of stately live oaks and pecan trees has played host to many important events throughout the school’s history, including countless marriage proposals and wedding ceremonies — a tradition that continues today. Legend holds that if you walk around the circle three times while holding hands with your sweetheart, you are sure to be married.

With popular events including ArtsFest and the on-campus holiday lighting ceremony held there each year, it’s also the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch or read a book while nestled inside a hammock.

Sweetheart Circle
Sweetheart Circle - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

Shooting Sports Education Center

Best Shooting Range

Located near the corner of Old Register Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway, the Shooting Sports Education Center at Georgia Southern University was completed in 2015 in partnership with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and is the only facility of its kind on a college campus. The state-of-the-art, 30,000-square-foot SSEC is open to both students and the public and features an indoor firearms range and an indoor archery range, plus an Olympic-class outdoor archery range — a multipurpose combination found in only a few locations around the world. 

To use one of the 16 lanes on the firearms range, or one of the 16 lanes of the archery range in its huge, separate room, requires either becoming an “approved user” or registering for one of the center’s introductory courses. Any firearms must be brought into the center unloaded and in a closed case, and all bows must be unstrung or in a case. 

Instructional programs are offered for youth, adults, students, law enforcement, hunters, first-timers and anyone else interested in learning about shooting sports. The minimum age for archery is 7, with children under age 14 required to be accompanied by an adult. For the firearms range, the minimum age is 10, with users ages 10 to 17 to be accompanied by an adult approved user and with written parental permission.

Shooting Sports Education Center
Shooting Sports Education Center - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

Georgia Southern Golf Course

Best Golf Course | Best Driving Range

In 2011, Georgia Southern University spent $650,000 to purchase Southern Links, a private golf course that had been closed for several years. Following $5 million in renovations and a redesign by award-winning course architect Robert Walker, the Georgia Southern University Golf Course at University Park opened in October 2013.

Situated on a 167-acre tract of land about 6 miles south of Georgia Southern’s main campus, the 18-hole, par-72 championship course was constructed to expand recreational opportunities for the school’s growing student body and routinely hosts high school tournaments, Eagles practices and even some collegiate events. But the course is open to the general public as well, with private and group golf lessons available.

Also on the grounds are a 30-station driving range and practice putting and chipping greens, along with an 8,000-square-foot clubhouse, which houses a pro shop, a snack bar and meeting space, as well as administrative offices. 

Online tee times may be made one week in advance, and GS students can schedule one using their Eagle IDs.

Georgia Southern Golf Course
Georgia Southern Golf Course - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

Georgia Southern Football

Best Athletic Team to Watch

Rich in history and tradition, Georgia Southern football provides the biggest show in Bulloch County’s annual sports cycle — and August will bring about the opening of fall camp for the team. The Eagles boast one of the best home records in all of college football since restarting their program in 1981 behind the leadership of legendary coach Erskine “Erk” Russell and, with six national championships between 1985 and 2000, are the most successful program in the history of NCAA Division I-AA football. 

Since making the leap to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2014, Georgia Southern has held its own on the gridiron. The Eagles won a Sun Belt Conference championship in their first year at college football’s highest level. They have yet to earn another Sun Belt title but have three bowl victories under their belt, and third-year head coach Clay Helton — who won a Rose Bowl as the head coach of Southern Cal — led the program to another bowl berth in 2023.

Eagles football
Eagles football - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file


Aug. 31 vs. Boise State

Paulson Stadium

Sept. 7 at Nevada

Reno, Nev.

Sept. 14 vs. South Carolina State

Paulson Stadium

Sept. 21 at Ole Miss

Oxford, Miss.

Sept. 28 at Georgia State


Oct. 12 vs. Marshall

Paulson Stadium

Oct. 19 vs. James Madison

Paulson Stadium

Oct. 24 at Old Dominion

Norfolk, Va.

Nov. 2 at South Alabama

Mobile, Ala.

Nov. 16 vs. Troy

Paulson Stadium

Nov. 23 at Coastal Carolina

Conway, S.C.

Nov. 30 vs. Appalachian State

Paulson Stadium