National Treasures: Where to play golf near the Masters

March 7, 2017

So you didn’t quite qualify for this month’s little gathering in Augusta, but come Masters Week, you still hope to tee it up nearby. Options await within a short drive of Magnolia Lane. Whether you’re a Masters fan, a student of golf history, an architecture buff—or all three—consider exploring one of these handful of layouts linked to Masters royalty: the Emperor (Bobby Jones) and the King (Arnold Palmer). Their legendary footsteps start here.


Palmetto Golf Club

Aiken, S.C.


Of the nearby private clubs that welcome the masses during Masters Week, the ultimate time-warp trip is to Palmetto Golf Club, a layout dating to 1892 and located 40 minutes from Augusta, just across the South Carolina border. Alister MacKenzie, Augusta National’s co-designer, substantially reworked Palmetto in 1932. Thanks to some sensitive restoration work, most recently by Gil Hanse, the place looks unchanged from MacKenzie’s day. The course’s cleverly contoured greens, gently tumbling terrain and historic 1902 clubhouse (designed by illustrious architect Stanford White) are guaranteed to impress. Memorabilia adorns the clubhouse walls, including a letter from Masters and Augusta National founder Bobby Jones, who played Palmetto many times. Jones called the seventh hole the best medal-play par 3 he’d ever encountered. Now, as then, the course mixes Old World scruffiness with superb strategy. “It’s just pure golf,” said two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw. “The holes fit the land beautifully.”

The deal: $250 per player, which includes cart, range balls and lunch.

Augusta Country Club

Augusta, Ga.


If it weren’t for a certain prominent golf course 2.5 miles away, the design virtues of Augusta Country Club would be far better known. The two private clubs actually abut each other, the ninth hole at Augusta C.C. separated only by a fence from Augusta National’s 13th. The feel of each, however, is worlds apart. Augusta Country Club is a place for locals, with family tradition stretching back to 1899. The current course displays the 1927 handiwork of Donald Ross. Bobby Jones competed here, and on January 13, 1932, while taking a break from Augusta National construction, he recorded only the second ace of his career, on the uphill, par-3 14th. A plaque at the tee box commemorates the feat. “We are the only course you can play in the Augusta area,” the club’s promo copy promises, “where you get to hit shots over Rae’s Creek and hear the roars from the Masters Tournament.” When weighing where to tee it up Masters Week, it’s hard to argue with that.

The deal: Limited tee times are available on a private club–introduced, reciprocal basis. If you’re a private club member, give Augusta C.C. a ring.

Champions Retreat

Evans, Ga.


The only existing golf design collection from the Big Three—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player—is this 27-hole private club in suburban Augusta, which opens its doors to all players during Masters Week. Each legend crafted nine holes. To be sure, Jack’s Bluff nine and Gary’s Creek nine are special, but Arnold’s Island nine is the most distinctive. With roomier landing areas and more identifiable targets, the Island is a driver’s delight. That doesn’t mean it lacks bite, of course. The track strikes back with elevated green complexes and some seriously undulating short grass, which puts a premium on accurate approaches and short-game prowess. Most noteworthy are holes 4, 5 and 6, which merge woods, wetlands and close encounters with the Savannah River. Arnie always enjoyed a good soiree, and after golf, the fun at Champions Retreat kicks into another gear. For Masters Week, the club’s casual Grille House is transformed into a fine-dining facility, featuring a gourmet five-course feast. Also available is a Tour of the South dining experience for $125, with stations serving up cuisine from different Southern locales, a lighted driving range, evening cocktails, live music and flat-screens to catch replays of the day’s action. In short, for a week in April, Champions Retreat becomes an upscale, one-stop-shopping experience.

The deal: Sunday–Tuesday, $2,200 per foursome; Wednesday–Saturday, $2,500 per foursome. A caddie, and food and beverages until 5 p.m., are included in the price.


Forest Hills

Augusta, Ga.


Outside their Masters impact, Jones and Palmer intersect most closely in the heart of Augusta, at purely public Forest Hills, four miles from Amen Corner. Jones played two rounds here as part of his runaway victory in the 1930 Southeastern Open, and Palmer’s company did a redesign in 1984 to rework Donald Ross’s original 1926 layout. In 2004, Arnie himself returned to restore it, and he appeared again two years later to fix a few greens he deemed to be deficient. These days, Forest Hills is home to dogwoods, azaleas, topsy-turvy terrain and the Augusta University Jaguar golf team, which, led by Patrick Reed, captured the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Championships.

The deal: Monday–Sunday, $160 per player, including cart, range balls and Southern-style boxed lunch. Replay: $50; twilight special after 3:00 pm: $80, including cart and range balls.