Okay, so you scored a ticket to the 2006 Masters, and you're headed for Augusta for a week at probably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. You're salivating over seeing the best players in the world tee it up on American golf's most sacred grounds, reveling in the rarified atmosphere.
But, you can only watch the superstars hit 300-yard drives on the practice range and on the course for so long before you start to feel woefully insignificant. Besides, maybe you have women in your group, and they tend to want to lead healthy, well-balanced lives. There's a lot to do in the Augusta area during Masters week. You can't spend all your time watching golf. Well, yes you can, but there are those women to consider.
Here, then, is your non-Augusta National guide to Augusta during the week of the Masters:
Let's say you aren't depressed by watching Tiger, Vijay, Phil and the boys, but actually inspired. If they can do it, why not you? You've brought your clubs and you're eager to put what you've seen to work.
First, be aware that green fees are radically jacked up during Masters week, like everything else in town. We aren't allowed to use the term "gouge" in such a classy place, but let's just say you'll be paying well above the usual rate. Still, there are some very good courses to play in the area, so much so that Golf Digest named Augusta-Aiken one of the better metro areas in the country for golf.
• Goshen Plantation Country Club: This may be the best bargain in the Augusta area, with green fees of $29 weekdays, including cart, and $39 on weekends during normal times. During Masters week, green fees shoot up only to $100.
It has one of the best practice areas anywhere, with a 400-yard driving range with good targets, and a short game area that lets you practice even fairway bunker shots. The front nine has some nice elevation, though not as dramatic as some other areas courses, and its greens are probably the best in Augusta aside from Augusta National.
• Mount Vintage: The greens at the semi-private club are difficult, especially for the first-timer, but the rest of the course is very playable, even with the considerable elevation changes, and even with its slope rating of 138 from the black tees and 130 from the blues.
There's enough water to keep it interesting, and plenty of risk-reward options, like a number of doglegs that can be cut. It's a very picturesque course, with tall, stately Carolina pines and only a smattering of homes along the perimeter.
• River Golf Club: The River Golf Club is one of those admirable golf courses risen, literally, from the rubbish heap.
It sits on the site of an abandoned railroad yard and former illegal dump, a 5-iron over the Savannah River from Augusta. Many a local will tell you this is their favorite course.
You've seen them in their lair, now you want to see them as real human beings, eating and drinking like the rest of us. Your best bet for seeing the world's elite golfers out and about — aside from those who don't go home immediately to their beautiful Swedish wives — is to troll the sports bars on Washington Rd., near Augusta National.
Try to stay away from the chains, like Hooters, and go to those with a little local flavor. Beware, Washington Rd. from Interstate 20 to downtown will be packed with traffic, so you'll need patience and a designated driver.
The Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon attracts a lot of the corporate types, and some golfers occasionally tag along. Then again, you may catch only local celebrities, like William "The Refrigerator" Perry (Bartender: "He's not a good tipper and he's very picky").
Robbie's Sports Bar, also known as "Hackers Hideaway," is definitely not a chain; this ain't no fern bar. It's sort of a down-and-dirty, though comfortable, place with 15 pool tables, hanging TVs and a trough in the men's urinal. Hard-driving rock-and-roll music blares from the speakers, It's a friendly, scruffy crowd, the kind that spills shots on the bar. Just the sort of place John Daly and Darren Clarke might like. Europeans like it here. Sergio Garcia certainly does — he's been spotted here. Locals say Ernie Els' "psychology coach" likes it here.
There's the Wild Thing Café, just on the other side of the interstate, that draws the pros. Then there's the Last Call night club, in the National Hills Shopping Center, very close to the golf course. This is where they go when they want some real action, as evidenced by the police cars parked outside the main entrance to keep things from getting too out of hand.
If you want something more sedate, try restaurants like the Bistro 491 or the French Market.
If you're also an angler, bring your fishing gear for sure. Augusta is a terrific place to combine golf and fishing. Strom Thurmond Lake, also known as Clarks Hill, is more than 70,000 acres with a mostly pristine shoreline of 1,200 miles, the second-biggest man-made lake east of the Mississippi. The Army Corps of Engineers built it between 1946 and 1954 as part of a flood control hydropower and navigation project
It has become one of the most popular recreational lakes in the southeast, mostly because of the fishing. Stripers, black bass, bream and catfish, are among other species caught in the lake, with a state record blue catfish of 62 pounds caught at Clarks Hill reservoir.
Aside from the big lake, the Savannah River has big stripers, too, as well as bass and the usual freshwater species. There are numerous small lakes and ponds that give up some big fish.
In an effort to lure money-spenders back downtown, an informal event called "First Fridays" has become popular. Revelers crowd the downtown Augusta area, eating, drinking and engaging in other tom-foolery.
You're in luck here, because the first Friday in April falls on April 7, the second round of the tournament. Just head downtown, find a parking place, wander around, drink a beer and argue about who's going to win it.
Yes, Augusta has attractions. The city has invested a lot in its riverwalk, and it shows. The two-tiered, paved path wanders along the Savannah River downtown, with wide views of the river and across the river to South Carolina, and includes an outdoor amphitheater.
The men may enjoy the Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens, also downtown, close to the Radisson on the riverfront. There are life-sized, bronze statues of the legends among all the flowers, including one of Jack Nicklaus coaxing in a putt on a regulation-sized green.
The ladies may want to take it next door to the Morris Museum, where paintings from local artists and the internationally famous hang on the walls, mostly focusing on southern art.
Also: the Eziekel Harris House Museum, the Augusta Canal National heritage Area, and the Boyhood Home of Woodrow Wilson on Seventh St. And don't forget Coco Rubio's club on Broad Street, dedicated to soul singer James Brown — you'll feel good.
Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau
Web site: http://www.augustaga.org/
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.
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