During Masters Week, golf is the main event, but there is plenty more to do in Augusta

April 1, 2010

Are you making the pilgrimage to the Masters? Are you entertaining clients? As sublime and spectacular as the golf is, it’s tough sledding hoofing it around the hills of Augusta National 24/7. If you’re looking to stay in Augusta, watch a slew of great golf shots and experience the city’s other prime attractions, here’s a blueprint. We’ll show you how to do business during the Masters, and we’ll take a look at how Masters business impacts the local economy.

Where to Stay With Clients: Augusta isn’t exactly flush with five-star hotels, but if you’re going this route and want to impress, the Partridge Inn (706-737-8888, partridgeinn.com) is the place to nest. Celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year, this is Old South grandeur at its “Gone With the Wind” finest, right down to its creaky stairwells and wrap-around porch. Superb dining and the foremost Sunday Brunch in town take place at its Verandah Grill.

“The Masters is a busy, yet thrilling time for everyone in Augusta,” says Newton Kam, General Manager of the Partridge Inn. “It’s estimated that more than 100,000 people arrive in Augusta for this anticipated week.”

The economic windfall can’t be overstated. “Masters Week brings in about 25 percent of the hotel’s annual revenue,” says Tijuana Jenkins, senior sales manager for the Partridge Inn. “People make reservations years in advance to stay here. Our guests are accustomed to the property and usually will get the same room each year they come back.” The business impact on local hotels is illustrated by Lodging Tax collections in Augusta. In April 2009, the tax generated $9.75 million, 203 percent more than the average month.

However, many savvy Masters veterans eschew the hotel route and instead rent a house for the week. Ranging from modest to mansions, these homes are terrific for entertaining, especially those with roomy backyards. There’s no better post-round bonding experience than cooking burgers and drinking beers on a balmy spring evening — and maybe stepping inside now and again to catch the day’s replay on TV.

Locals rent their homes for the week through the Masters Housing Bureau (706-821-1300, mastershousing.com), a division of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. The Masters Housing Bureau, the only rental bureau sanctioned by the Augusta National Golf Club, has worked since 1970 to match individuals, families and corporations with properties custom-tailored to their needs. During Masters Week, locals can really cash in by renting their homes to visitors.

“Many, many years — with very few exceptions — we have used our Masters rental money to pay our way to go on mission trips throughout the world,” says Holly Stincer, who with her husband, Dr. E.J. Stincer, have rented their home through the Masters Housing Bureau for nearly 20 years.

Augusta homeowner Helen Johnson said her rental money has led to renovations and vacations. “We have rented our home through the Masters Housing Bureau for the past five years, and have always had a positive experience. Some of the guests have actually left us gifts! At least half the money we receive is put back into the house, either on an improvement to the home or by purchasing an item we think will make our home more marketable for the next year. For example, last year we bought a 62-inch television. The other half of the money is often spent on a vacation that my husband and I take together.”

Where to Buy Tickets: Technically, no daily tickets exist for the four official Masters tournament rounds. To witness the action on Thursday through Sunday, you’ve got to obtain a weekly badge — which has traditionally been one of the toughest tickets in sports. According to the folks at Augusta National, a waiting list for tournament or “Series” badges began in 1972 and closed in 1978 due to the length of expected time when it would finally vest. It reopened in 2000 but is now closed. No applications for “Series” badges are currently being accepted.

Practice Round tickets are also sold out, but they can be much easier to come by. These tickets are doled out lottery style, via applications in the mail. For 2011, mail your name, address, daytime telephone number, email address and the last four digits of your social security number no later than May 1, 2010, to:

Masters Tournament
Practice Rounds
P.O. Box 2047
Augusta, GA 30903-2047

Applications will be mailed in June, and the deadline for applying is July 15, 2010. Successful applicants will be notified in September. Unsuccessful applicants will not be notified. For more information, visit masters.com.

Still, where there’s a will (and cash), there’s a way to latch onto some of these prized badges. A variety of ticket brokers manage to procure a number of badges each year. Some outfits are more scrupulous than others. One of the most reputable is ticketcity.com. They can get you single day badges or a weekly, but act fast, because they do run out; practice-round tickets are predictably in greater supply. eBay and StubHub are other options, especially for practice round tickets.

A final option — I know it works, because I’ve done it — is to scare up tickets from sellers situated along Washington Road. Their signs will often say that they’re looking to buy tickets, which may be true, but in reality, they’re selling. Since the patron entrance is now located on Berckman’s Road, rather than off of Washington, it remains to be seen where the scalpers will gather.

Where to Take Your Clients to Play Golf: Many of the region’s private clubs will open their doors to the public for Masters Week only, thereby raking in a healthy cash subsidy. Most prestigious of the bunch is the Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken ($175; 803-649-2951, palmettogolfclub.net), an ancient layout dating to 1892 located 40 minutes from Augusta, just across the South Carolina border. Alister MacKenzie, Augusta National’s co-designer, substantially reworked this course in 1931. Its small, cleverly contoured greens, gently tumbling terrain and history-drenched clubhouse are guaranteed to impress.

Set along the banks of the Savannah River in North Augusta, S.C., the River Golf Club (803-202-0110, rivergolfclub.com) is a watery Jim Fazio design where you’ll fork over $250 to tee it up Tuesday through Saturday — a price that does include food. A handsome clubhouse and quality eats will please even the most demanding clients.

Many of the best rental homes are in Augusta’s West Lake neighborhood, 20 minutes from the National. Its private West Lake Country Club (Call ahead for pricing; 706-863-4642, westlakecountryclub.com) allows outside play for the week. Besides the convenience, the best selling point for your clients is the superior clubhouse, which underwent a $6 million renovation in 2007 and boasts an awesome, round-the-clock fitness center.

What Forest Hills Golf Course (706-733-0001, theforesthillsgolfcourse.com) lacks in amenities and conditioning, it makes up for in affordability, history and dogwoods. This rolling 1926 Donald Ross design played host to the 1930 Southeastern Open, where Bobby Jones triumphed. It’s $150 during Masters Week, and $75 after 2:00 p.m.

Where to Dine With Clients: The Boll Weevil Café and Sweetery (706-722-7772, thebollweevil.com) down near the Riverwalk dishes out Southern favorites such as shrimp and grits and fried green tomatoes, but it’s renowned for its homemade desserts — more than 30 of them, by last count. Especially sweet for this business is Masters Week.

“The Masters is by far the busiest week of the year for us,” says William Harrison, general manager of the Boll Weevil. “Our restaurant stays busy from open until close. We make about four percent of our annual revenue during those seven days. It is a very exciting time for us all.”

Two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw tabs Luigi’s (706-722-4056, luigisinc.com) in downtown Augusta as the one restaurant on Tour he can’t do without. Crenshaw’s choice is the Toasted Ravioli with Meat Sauce, but it’s the Lasagna that is the week’s runaway best-seller.

Best special occasion formal dining is at La Maison on Telfair (706-722-4805, lamaisontelfair.com), which is housed in an old Victorian mansion, while the French Market Grille (706-855-5111, frenchmarketaugusta.com) is its near-equal. Locally owned by Chuck and Gail Baldwin, the French Market Grille has been serving up Louisiana-style cuisine for 24 years, but save room for dessert — the Frozen Peanut Butter Pie is legendary.

What to Do With Clients: The Augusta Museum of History (706-722-8454, augustamuseum.org) fetes Masters Week this year with a new exhibit, “Celebrating a Grand Tradition, The Sport of Golf.” Included are memorabilia from all of Augusta’s classic golf and country clubs, as well as exhibits that highlight personalities such as Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, along with local heroes Larry Mize, Charles Howell III and Louise Suggs.

As long as you’re there, stop in and see the special collection devoted to lifelong resident James Brown. An interactive feature allows you to dance in step with the Godfather of Soul. I’d pay money to see a few of the ancient Augusta National members shimmying in their green jackets.

For entertaining the younger set, take in the Rock Fore Dough Drive For Show benefit concert ($25; Rockforedough.com) on Tuesday, April 6, at the First Tee of Augusta on Damascus Road, featuring the Goo Goo Dolls and Colbie Caillat.

On Friday, April 9, unwind with your guests on the Moonlight Music Cruise, a twilight boat ride along the Augusta Canal. Bring your own refreshments for the 1.5- to 2-hour journey, accompanied by live music. ($24; 706-823-0440, ext 4, augustacanal.com)