Unquestionably, the golf universe knows the bustling Georgia river town Augusta as the home of the Masters Tournament and its legendary course, the Augusta National Golf Club.
And rightly so. When co-founder and immortal amateur golfer Robert Tyre Jones Jr. identified Berckman’s Nursery at the base of Augusta’s famous ‘Hill’ neighborhoods as the ideal setting for his dream golf course at the dawn of the depression era 1930’s, the path was paved for an iconic marriage of golf course and tournament that would transform and advance the game of golf in ways utterly unforeseen at the time, yet still evolving to this day nearly a century later.
The Masters Tournament today completely consumes the attention of the golf world each April as it signals the start of a new season amid blossoming azaleas and dogwoods. Golf fans worldwide do not merely spectate the event but celebrate it. Coinciding with baseball’s opening day, the two sporting events collaborate to bid farewell to winter and welcome another robust spring that bursts with the spirit of new beginnings.
Golf is not only at Augusta National!
The city of Augusta is uniquely suited to fully embrace this sensibility and offer the ideal environment to host the Masters tournament. It is not simply a one week a year occurrence to Augusta, as it might have been in a larger metropolis. But rather it is a year-round mind-set thoroughly ingrained in the DNA of the Augusta citizenry from every walk of life after generations of exposure.
Because lurking just beneath the palette of perfection behind the gates on Washington Road exists a genuinely world class golf town presenting visitors during Masters week and the year round an abundance of varied choices to experience golf at every level the game has to offer.
Situated as a border city alongside neighboring South Carolina on the banks of the Savannah River, Augusta’s golf culture permeates nearby Aiken and several other Palmetto state towns, drawing them into its sphere. Most prominent in the heart of Aiken horse country are a pair of classic designs that actually pre-date Augusta National and identified the region long ago as a looming golf mecca.
Best Golf Courses to play around Augusta, GA
Palmetto Golf Club on the edge of Aiken’s founding neighborhoods dates to the late 19th century when wealthy industrialists from the north began embracing the southern climate as a haven from severe winters. Thomas Hitchcock of Long Island, N.Y. commissioned landscape architect Herbert Leeds in 1892 to construct, “a suitable nine holes of golf” over land he acquired along Whiskey Rd. That expanded to 18 holes within a few years, and then famed golf course architect Donald Ross took a hand in modernizing irrigation, drainage, and design elements in 1928.
Its history includes hosting legendary golfer Harry Vardon in 1900, Presidents Taft and Eisenhower, and hosting the Devereaux-Milburn Pro-Am tournament the week preceding the Masters from 1945 to 1953, which featured the top ranked professionals readying for Augusta National.
Ross’ handiwork is also on display at the venerable Aiken Golf Club just a couple of miles to the west of Palmetto. Built-in 1912 to satisfy the increasing demand for golf by the denizens of the industry now flooding the southern town, the course offers a viewpoint of classic Ross design features. Inverted saucer-shaped greens and visual misdirection that both intimidate and demand strategic planning to successfully navigate are highlights of this throwback gem that is now open to public play.
Those originals have given rise to two modern-era golf development communities in Aiken, the 54-hole Woodside Country Club, and 27-hole Houndslake Country Club. Both feature updated amenity packages and premium golf experiences that uphold the high level of the game in Aiken.
They all combine to create Aiken as a beehive of activity during Masters week. The historic town with its own distinct history is the ideal partner and compliment to Augusta as a de facto co-host city, featuring abundant upscale accommodations for visitors, as well as plentiful fine dining and shopping along its downtown thoroughfares.
Also nearby are two 1960’s creations by noted architect Russell Breeden; Persimmon Hill in Saluda and Pine Ridge Country Club in Edgefield. Both offer public access during Masters week and year-round. Influenced by the post-war trend of accommodating community developments, Breeden masterfully manages the natural surroundings of copious pines and oaks and meandering waterways to present premier parkland layouts at each venue.
Also in Edgefield is an even more modern offering from architect Tom Jackson, the 27-hole Mt. Vintage Golf Club built in 2000. Fashioned around Pavillion Lake, it enjoys a high level of conditioning and maintenance with features that imitate Augusta National like large white flash bunkers. Tee sheets run full during Masters week, but public access extends year-round.
Midlands Golf Club
Also on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River is a sporty public course, Midlands Golf Club in Graniteville. The effort of architect Ellis Maples, Midlands is artfully crafted over hilly and undulating terrain, and around creeks and ponds to provide a fun and challenging experience. Cabin rentals are available both during Masters week and year-round.
Just a couple miles north of Midlands is one of the select and elite national golf clubs, Sage Valley, whose creation in 1999 caused a stir for its apparent effort to create a rival experience to Augusta National in its own backyard. Investor and creator of the Sub-air irrigation system, Weldon Wyatt founded the retreat styled club that expanded its Tom Fazio golf course to include fishing, hunting and range shooting spread across the 9100-acre grounds.
Time passage has smoothed the rivalry of the clubs, and the 215 members fully embrace Masters week, filling the 19 on site cottages and spilling over into Aiken’s accommodations while savoring Masters week.
Further up the Savannah River on Lake Strom Thurmond in McCormick is a 36-hole development complex in Savannah Lakes Village. Monticello Golf Club and Tara Golf Club were created by architect Tom Clark in 1989 and following several decades of flying under the golf radar, are now fast becoming one of the most desired residential destinations in the state. Superb conditions, gentle elevation, and bountiful lake vistas highlight the two courses’ terrain and character. The Savannah Lakes courses are the ideal slip-away from the crowd’s venue to play during Masters week.
Equally appealing just down the road in McCormick is Hickory Knob Golf Course, part of the state park system, and a 1982 design by Tom Jackson. It features cabin rentals during Masters week and a high level of conditioning owing to its status as a state park. The availability of extensive shoreline along Lake Thurmond created an appealing canvas for Jackson to fashion a consummate golf experience.
Hard on the banks of the Savannah River with a North Augusta address is the River Golf Club created by Jim Fazio in 1998. Featuring 14 river-fronting holes, this topographical masterwork offers public access, cottage rentals for Masters week and golf trip outings, as well as pulsating views of downtown Augusta just over the riverbank.
To the west of Augusta back in its home state, the stay and play golf experience begins in the Lake Oconee region 70 miles down I-20 in the exclusive resort area originally developed as Reynolds’s Plantation. Now encompassing seven world-class golf courses, a five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel, and a community of top-shelf dining and entertainment choices, Oconee plays perfect host to visitors from nearby Atlanta and around the world in idyllic surrounds. The Tom Weiskopf designed Harbor Club provides year-round public access, and the acclaimed Cuscowilla Golf Club by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore offers Masters week public play.
Moving east toward the doorstep of Augusta, the recently renovated Belle Meade Golf Club in Thomson provides public access as a semi-private facility to visitors who have scored hotel space along the I-20 corridor exits. Developed in 1969 by prominent Augusta businessman Boone Knox, Belle Meade flourished for decades as the quality golf and social outpost in the community but fell on hard times in the aftermath of the 2009 recession. In 2020, Boone’s son, Jeff Knox, an Augusta National member and regular playing marker in the Masters, stepped in to rescue his father’s legacy at Belle Meade by overseeing a complete renovation and upgrade. Now enjoying renewed popularity as a result, it is a worthy compliment to Augusta golf.
Just southwest of Augusta is Waynesboro and the surrounding townships Hepzibah and Keysville, which offer surprising hidden gems that contribute significantly to the Augusta golf narrative. The elder statesman, Waynesboro Country Club traces its origin to 1914. George Cobb updated the course in the ‘70’s, and like Aiken Golf Club, this special layout offers another peek at the past of classic designs and is now available for public play during Masters week and year-round.
Gordon Lakes Golf Course, on the Ft. Gordon Army Base, origin of Arnie’s Army, is a 1976 Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that is open to public play, and enjoys the reputation of a an upscale site with superb conditioning. It definitively demonstrates Trent Jones’ penchant for presenting holes intended to be hard pars, but easy bogeys. Subtle terrain changes with ponds and streams interrupting fairways demands precision driving to achieve the hard par.
Goshen Plantation Golf and Country Club
Goshen Plantation Golf and Country Club nearby affords budget friendly golf over a pleasing layout with a welcoming atmosphere. Conditions can be uneven in early spring, but the eager staff , fully engaged in the Masters experience creates the proper atmosphere for Augusta golf.
Applewood Golf Club is on the site of an old apple orchard that still bears remnants of its past throughout the acreage. Off the beaten path in Keysville, it is well worth the journey to discover this hideaway that features a creative layout, above standard conditions and comfortable clubhouse.
Nearby Pointe South Golf Club in Hepzibah is also a worthwhile stop. Designed by Tim Rivers and Joe Clement, it is a formidable and interesting layout that features significant rock formations, and creeks and ponds that sit astride statuesque, loblolly pines framing fairways.
The prospering suburbs of Evans and Martinez stretch northward on Washington Rd. provide a golf gateway to Augusta thoroughly worthy of perching on the mantel of the golf mecca. Spectacular Champions Retreat, a 27-hole collaboration by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player serves as Augusta National’s co-host to the Augusta Women’s Amateur, providing the venue for the first two rounds of play. The concluding round is held at the National on the Saturday preceding Masters week.
The club has evolved since its 1998 opening as the preferred destination for major corporations during Masters week owing to its abundance of amenities, well-appointed cottages, and superior golf. Treks along the Savannah River, through low country surrounds, and over open high hills combine to present its eclectic mix of terrain.
Premier public course Bartram Trail Golf Club, named to commemorate 18th-century explorer and naturalist William Bartram’s trailblazing expedition through the southern wilderness, is a 2005 creation by architect Rick Robbins. It also has eclectic characteristics in common with Champions Retreat featuring low-lying areas that allow native grasses to grow unencumbered, and hills and water that add texture to the design. It also offers one of the few remaining bent grass greens complexes in the south.
Westlake Golf Club is a full amenity private facility built-in 1968 by Ellis Maples and Ed Seay. Spread over rolling land punctuated by low areas that provide diversity, Westlake accommodates a smartly laid out residential community that enhances, rather than distracts from play. It recently hosted its second Georgia Amateur Championship and frequently has welcomed participating Masters competitors. Legendary Masters winner Gene Sarazen found the venue so appealing; he became a non-resident member.
Within the city limits of Augusta proper, there is no shortage of the quality golf experience that has come to define the area at large. Three local courses of renown in fact precede the National- each representing a unique quality of the diversity, variety, and tradition of golf.
Abutting Augusta National’s famous Amen Corner and sharing its massive loblolly pines and Rae’ Creek is Augusta Country Club. It was originally formed by Dr. William Henry Harrison as a nine-hole layout in 1897 as the Bon Air Golf Club to provide a recreational amenity for the wintering guests at the Bon Air hotel. Its appeal to the residents in the surrounding Hill and Summerville neighborhoods grew rapidly, and by 1899 another nine holes were underway, accompanied by a name change to the Country Club of Augusta. A final change to Augusta Country Club in 1921 remains to this day.
In the company of charter member and leading community figure, Fielding Wallace, Bobby Jones scored a hole-in-one on the par-3 14th on January 13, 1932, exactly one year prior to the opening of his neighboring Augusta National. Wallace was invited as a charter member of the National and inspired Jones’ decree that in order to retain local connection in the community, that 10% of the National’s membership should always derive from the Augusta area. Invariably that meant members from Augusta Country Club.
Just up the way from Augusta Country Club on the opposite side of Summerville, is the equally historic Forest Hills Golf Club, constructed by Aiken Golf Club architect Donald Ross in 1926. The Jones’ connection to Augusta golf continues there, as it was the site of his 1930 victory in the Southeastern Open by a staggering margin of 10 shots over a field of top professionals and amateurs that launched his run to capturing the four Grand Slam championships later that year.
A recent renovation of the clubhouse includes a Bobby Jones room with a throwback ambiance in design and décor to the era of his playing days. It contains not only artifacts and memorabilia of Jones’ seminal victory there but includes records of the Augusta University hosted Intercollegiate Tournament dating to the 1960s that boasted winners such as Davis Love, Jordan Spieth, and Patrick Reed.
The course itself has enjoyed a substantial conditioning upgrade during the renovation period that enables it to showcase the Donald Ross’ handprint. It gently descends from the high point at the clubhouse, then weaves its way around creeks, before elevating back up the hill to provide an ever-interesting array of challenges. Open to the public, Forest Hills is a must make stop on the Augusta visitor’s schedule.
A quick left turn across the the road and down Highland Ave. reveals two more noteworthy stops on the Augusta golf trail. The First Tee of Augusta, developed in 2001 has been one of the most successful ventures of its kind in providing opportunity and introduction to the game to burgeoning golfers. A top tier facility that features a 30 acre practice area with copious driving range, expansive putting green, bunkers and multiple target greens is second only to Augusta National’s, maybe.
Adjoining the impressive practice facility, which is available to the public, is a six-hole walking course cut into a hillside that provides dramatic elevation changes and the opportunity to put to the test the lessons from the range. Do you want to know how much are golf lessons? Learn more here.
Further down is the iconic Augusta Municipal Golf Course, affectionately referred to locally as ‘the Patch’. Dating to 1928, it was just that in its infancy-a patch of ground to beat golf balls around. With a recent clubhouse renovation and expansion, the patch has steadily evolved and matured into a fun and testing layout that retains its singular flavor as a true ‘muni.’
Of particular note, the course pays homage to Augusta’s best home-grown player, former PGA Tour player, Jim Dent. Following a lengthy career on the regular tour, his prodigious length proved a difference maker on the Champions Tour where he recorded 13 victories and dominant status for a half a decade. Instrumental in breaking down racial barriers in the Augusta golf community, Dent began his golf career caddying at Augusta National and Augusta Country Club, playing each on caddy days, ironically before being allowed to play Augusta’s Municipal Course.
Now his son, J.J. is Director of Golf there and Dent holds court there regularly following the daily ‘skins’ game. His legacy of rising from the caddy ranks to carve out a successful playing career coupled with his contributions to the game locally have been recognized with the naming of the road leading to the clubhouse as Jim Dent Way.
Many Golf Opportunities
With this distinctive array of golf opportunities, surely each year as winter yields to springtime, it is indeed Augusta with all its orbiting planets around the National’s sun that definitively and distinctly mark the arrival of the new season of golf providing the joy of renewal for golfers everywhere.
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