\nA buddy and I are going to watch a couple of Masters rounds this year, but will have several days away from the tournament, too. Any suggestions on other courses that we should consider playing? Jeff S., NC
Jeff, Every spring I'm asked this question at least a half dozen times, though your phrasing of "other courses" intrigues me-as if you might be contemplating sneaking out for a quick nine on Augusta National. My experience has been that club poobahs frown on that sort of thing.
Masters Week offers multiple local options, but know going in that courses will be packed and that every one of them has jacked up the price. Jones Creek Golf Club, a Rees Jones design, is definitely the best public track near Augusta, but it costs $300 to play during Masters Week, versus the normal $40 rate (706-860-4228). The River Golf Club (803-202-0110) is a handsome Jim Fazio layout along the Savannah River in North Augusta, SC that normally goes for $55, but Masters Week will run you $250-$300. Nearby Mount Vintage Plantation (803-279-5422) offers the same setup: The regular rate is $72 during the week to play this semi-private course, $87 on weekends, but it's $300 during Masters Week.
Lesser priced alternatives include Forest Hills Golf Club (706-733-0001), a 1926 Donald Ross design that was recently made over by Arnold Palmer-and quite striking in spring when the dogwoods are popping. The cheapest of all is Augusta Golf Course (706-731-9411), the town's municipal venue. The price alone will clue you in as to why locals refer to it as "The Boneyard." Suffice it to say, fairways are firm. You can walk it for $11 during a normal week, and the highest you can pay is $38, which is the $25 weekend rate, plus a cart fee. Guess what? You'll pay more than that during Masters Week.
\nWe're headed to the northern Miami, Florida area soon. Are there any decent courses around there that don't cost a fortune? Damon L., NY
Here's what I recommend that won't break the bank. Colony West's Championship course (954-726-8430) in Tamarac is a strong 7,300-yard, par 71 test dating to 1970 that's 10 miles from Ft. Lauderdale. Look for coupons in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspapers on Mondays and Wednesdays. You can make tee times a week in advance. Fees are $75 every day and that includes cart. After 1 pm, fees are $59.98. If you use a coupon, it's $54.98 to play in the mornings on Monday through Friday, $61.98 Saturday and Sunday. They also have an executive course here, called the Glades (4,200 yards) that's $18-$26 to play.
TPC at Heron Bay (www.tpc.com, 954-796-2000) is a Mark McCumber design in Coral Springs, 20 miles west of Fort Lauderdale. It's a bit of a strange duck. They held PGA Tour events here for six years, from 1997-2002, where winners included Vijay Singh and Jesper Parnevik, but it's a flat course with seemingly more sand than grass. It's an unexciting layout, but conditioning, service and facilities are all top notch. Fees on weekdays from 7 to 11 a.m. are $110, including cart, 11 am to 2 pm, $90 and after 2 pm, it's $75. Weekends, 7-11, $125; 11-2, $100 and after 2, $85.
Not quite as good a course or conditioning but still solid is Bonaventure Golf Club (www.golfbonaventure.com, 954-389-2100), 10 miles west of Ft. Lauderdale in Weston. It has two courses, East and West. East is the more expensive, but it is also the better course. Fees are $99 M-Th before 11; after 11, it's $79. On Friday-Sunday, it's $119/$99. On the West, it's $79, M-Th; $69 after 11; Fri-Sun, $89/$79; after 3:30 pm, both courses are $49.
Palm-Aire Country Club (www.palmairegolf.com, 954-978-1737) in Pompano Beach, 12 miles from Ft. Lauderdale, is in a nice development and the courses are lushly landscaped, but are flat and perhaps a touch past their primes. Still, it's not too bad a value. The Oaks and Cypress courses are the best, in that order. Each is $99. The Palms course is $85; Pines is $69, Sabals is $35.
A hidden gem is the Carolina Club (www.carolinagolfclub.com, 954-753-4000 in Margate, 10 miles northwest of Ft. Lauderdale. Lots of water means bring an extra sleeve if the breeze is up. $64 during the week, $54 after 12 noon. $75 on weekends, $59 after noon.
Another decent oldie, recently refurbished, is Jacaranda Golf Club (www.golfjacaranda.com, 954-472-5836) in Plantation, 12 miles from Ft. Lauderdale. Its East and West courses are fairly interchangeable. $99 during the week, $124 on the weekend. After 1 pm, it's $79.
Another halfway decent, if crowded municipal cheapie is Pompano Beach Golf Course (www.mypompanobeach.org, 954-781-0426) in Pompano, 7 miles from Ft. Lauderdale, which has the slightly tougher Palms course and also the Pines. Both feature mature landscaping and flat fairways. $44.50 during the week, $47.50 on the weekend. After 2 pm, it's $35.50/$38.50. It can be walked for less.
In Miami proper, Miami Shores (www.pcmgolf.com, 305-795-2366, $90) and the West Course at the Country Club of Miami (www.miamidade.gov/parks/golf.asp, 305-829-8456, $50) are affordable, respectable options, though for some cool bay and skyline scenery, I might drive down to Key Biscayne and play Crandon Park, a former Champions Tour site with lots of sand and water (www.miamidade.gov/parks/golf.asp, 305-361-9129, $150 and less.)
\nI'd like to experience some classic designs by the Golden Age architect Donald Ross but I don't get back east very often. Are there any vintage Ross public courses out west to sample? Charles T, WA
Sadly, the old master didn't venture west too often, but you do have a few possibilities. While Ross was an infrequent visitor west of the Mississippi, he did make it to Colorado. You'll need to stay at the upscale Broadmoor (www.broadmoor.com, 719-577-5790) in Colorado Springs to play, but it's worth the splurge. Nine from the current East course and nine from the West are the Ross holes-the others are the handiwork of Robert Trent Jones Sr.-but in winter, they close off the "upper holes" and use the original Ross layout. You can also check out Wellshire Municipal (www.cityofdenvergolf.com, 303-757-1352) in Denver, but most of the characteristic Ross features have eroded since its 1926 debut as a private club.