The GOLF guide to Augusta: Sights, sounds and eats

April 4, 2016

Hello, friends, and welcome to our all-access guided tour of Augusta, Georgia, home of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. Augusta National itself is off limits, of course—not unless you possess a badge during tournament week or a coveted invite any other time of the year—but the rest of the town will welcome you with open arms and a healthy serving of Southern hospitality.

Georgia’s second oldest city is a commercial and residential hub brimming with restaurants, shops and bars, and a range of engaging cultural attractions, including—get this—other golf courses. The Masters may not begin until the back nine on Sunday. But your introduction to the sights, sounds and tastes of Augusta starts right now.




Spanning between 6th and 10th streets along the Savannah River, this split-level pedestrian pathway spills past a series of scenic stopping points, among them a well-groomed Japanese Garden ornamented by a waterfall. There’s no golf along the way. But there’s also no exhausting elevation changes. Call it a good walk that’s hard to spoil.


A tour of these broad hallways is a rich education in the history of the region and its people, from the mastodon-hunters of the late Ice Age to the heroes of the American Revolution. But don’t despair. There’s plenty here for golf fanatics, too, including life-size statues of five golf legends (Nicklaus, Jones, Nelson, Hogan and Palmer) and, cooler still, an exhibition on the game’s evolution that looks back on advances (behold, the balata!) that now seem as ancient as the Pleistocene.



Tall and skinny, with a history of blowing smoke from its hot top. Sounds like Bubba Watson on a bad day. In fact, this towering brick landmark, overlooking the Augusta Canal, is all that remains of the Confederate Powder Works, a gunpowder plant that churned in service of the Confederate army. Built in 1861, the plant was shut down four years later when the South surrendered, but its 168-foot chimney was left standing as a memorial to those who died in the Civil War.


Abolished from the laws of daily life, segregation endures in death at two historic sites on the eastern edge of town. A narrow road serves as the line of demarcation, separating Magnolia Cemetery, where only whites are buried, from Cedar Grove Cemetery, one of the oldest all-black graveyards in the United States. The former is the resting place for hundreds of Civil War dead, including seven Confederate generals. The latter holds the remains of African Americans, prominent and anonymous, from R.A. Dent, Augusta’s first black state legislator, to slaves whose stories were left unwritten when they were laid to ground in unmarked graves.



If you think the Tour pros work hard to get their power, consider what the city of Augusta had to do. In 1845, an enormous engineering effort gave rise to this 9-mile waterway, which was built to harness hydropower for the cotton textiles that stood along its banks. The canal still produces electricity today, but it also functions as a magnet for energetic travelers, who come to ply the currents in canoes and kayaks, and to hike and bike a network of waterside trails in what now doubles as a nature preserve.





No amount of money or persistent nagging will guarantee you a tee time at Augusta National. This neighboring course is your next best bet. A private club, it has many of the traits that the National is known for, like glassy greens, loblolly pines and fairways guarded by Rae’s Creek. The difference is it’s open to reciprocal play. During tournament week, that play will cost you $2,200 per four-ball. But think of it this way: you’re also paying for proximity to the Masters. You can even hear the roars rippling through the pines.



Palmer. Player. Nicklaus. The original Big Three combined to win a total of 13 green jackets. But they only teamed up once on a three-course golf development. Champions Retreat, a 27-hole golf community just outside the city limits, is the only project in the world that boasts individually designed layouts by the legendary trio, each of whom contributed a nine-hole track. The property is private, but during tournament week, it swings back its gates and transforms into party central. That means golf by day, and all sorts of happenings when the sun goes down, ranging from live music and oyster roasts to night-lit putting contests and an illuminated driving range.







Asking locals to point you to the best barbecue joint in Augusta is like quizzing New Yorkers about their favorite pizzeria: everyone has an opinion, and no one’s wrong. They’re certainly not crazy if they single out either of these down-home institutions, where the service is as sweet as the peach cobbler, and the meats are all done low and slow. You know, like your backswing ought to be.


Two meals that Ben Crenshaw never wants to miss: the Champions Dinner at Augusta National, and the ravioli at Luigi’s, the oldest family-run restaurant in town. The family in question is the Ballas clan, whose heritage is Hellenic, but never mind. Though born in Greece, Nicholas Ballas had a knack for making pastas and red sauces, so Italian was his focus when he welcomed his first patrons in 1949. Over time, he added Greek dishes to a menu that now ranges from spinach pie and stuffed grape leaves to mozzarella sticks and eggplant parmesan. The dining room is an Old World time capsule, with pressed tin-ceilings, a vintage jukebox and hide-bound booths that fill up quickly during tournament week with longtime Luigi’s loyalists like ravioli-lovin’ Gentle Ben.



Yachtwurst is not a sandwich meat for wealthy boaters. It’s garlicky, ground-up bologna, and it’s one of the winning items at this downtown grocery store and deli, which has been in business since 1879. Luanne Hildebrandt, who grew up on the second floor above the shop, is a constant, smiling presence behind the counter. Reciting Hildebrandt’s slogan, she describes the place as “part German, part South,” which is another way of saying that the pastrami comes in heaping portions and that Luanne never forgets a face.


When the Masters rolls around, everyone’s out to elevate their game. This local hotspot is no exception. Throughout the year, it puts thoughtful spins on Caribbean dishes, like jerk baby back ribs and blackened mahi-mahi with Cajun spices. During tournament week, though, the stops come out and so does a special Masters surf and turf menu, spanning from grilled salmon and seared scallops to a Flintstones-sized prime rib that could stop Craig Stadler in his tracks.

CAFE 209

“There’s still some meat on that bone.” On the golf course, that means that you’re not finished with your putting. At the dinner table, it means that you’re not finished with your plate. Not that you’re likely to leave anything over at this lovable, low-key restaurant, which covers a wide swath of the Southern canon, including a fried chicken that’s as finger-licking as any you’ll find below the Mason-Dixon line.


Nothing wrong with those pimiento and cheese sandwiches. But there’s only so much glue that one digestive tract can take. Sooner or later, you’re going to need a salad. And you won’t find any fresher than the kale Caesar here, with its light, bright tangle of local greens. Pair it with a platter of, say, wild-caught shrimp with house-made andouille sausage, or braised pork shoulder with vinegar-spiked collards. This spiffed up tavern plucks ingredients from nearby farms and fisheries in service of its smartly rendered seasonal menu. Yes, it’s more expensive than that pasty stuff on white bread, but your tastebuds—and your tummy—will thank you in return.


True to its name, this urban-chic pub is buzzing haunt come happy hour, its bar a source of top-notch cocktails and 60-plus beers on tap. Saisons. Sours. IPAs. Ambers. The world’s best players already got their hacks in. Time for you to enjoy a round or two.