The inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur kicks off Wednesday but not, as its name suggests, at Augusta National Golf Club. Instead, the first 36 holes of the 54-hole event will take place at Champions Retreat, 15 miles north of Augusta National. I recently visited C.R. to discover what it’s all about. I played the three nines on property, stayed in one of its 16 cottages, and was taken aback by all the Masters-like conditions the 72 women who are competing in the ANWA will experience. Here’s what you need to know about the Augusta National Women’s Amateur’s other venue:
1. The place has Big 3 vibes
Champions Retreat, a private country club in Evans, Ga., has three sets of nines — the Bluff is designed by Jack Nicklaus, the Island by Arnold Palmer, and the Creek by Gary Player. It’s the only self-contained golf facility in the world that has layouts designed by Nicklaus, Palmer and Player.
2. Each nine has its own character
The Bluff, Island and Creek monikers speak to their respective surrounds, and they consequently offer distinct playing experiences. Playing each of the nines felt like teeing it up at three entirely different properties. The Bluff is the most challenging, with pronounced doglegs and elevation changes; the Island weaves through the Savannah River and the Little River and provides a great combination of challenging and serenity; and the Creek, which winds around a variety of wetlands, is the most forgiving. All three nines sit on a former timber plot.
3. It was Gary Player’s idea
The idea for Champions Retreat was conceived during the 1999 Masters Champions Dinner. It was Player’s suggestion, and he dreamed of partnering with Nicklaus and Palmer to create a 27-hole oasis near Augusta. Never before had the three of them worked together to build one experience, and with 13 green jackets, 34 major championships and 159 tournament wins among them, they brought a lot of firepower to Champions Retreat, which officially opened in 2005. Their presence is felt widely throughout the property, with photos of them hanging in the grillroom. On my cottage wall were sketches from Nicklaus’ early concepts.
4. The layouts were “Augusta-fied” for this week…
The ANWA will be played on the Island (Palmer) and Bluff (Nicklaus) nines; the Island will comprise the front nine and the Bluff will make up the back nine. To prepare the nines for the ANWA, officials from Augusta National spent some time at Champions Retreat to direct a few changes (removal of trees, addition of pine straw, etc.) that make it feel slightly more similar to Augusta National. I’d never seen Champions Retreat before those touchups, but the tall pines and sweeping vistas certainly offered that Augusta National vibe.
5. …and so were the concessions and merchandise
To extend that Masters-like experience beyond the course itself, the central concession stand at Champions Retreat has taken design cues from Augusta National’s iconic concessions, right down to the snacks offered and their affordable prices. Additionally, the signage by the tee markers of each hole are designed similarly to those you’ll see at the Masters, and the merchandise inside the Champions Retreat offers plenty of products that are ANWA-stamped but Masters-inspired.
6. You, too, can play Champions Retreat during Masters week
Although Champions Retreat is private, it will open its doors to the public during Masters week…for a price. It costs $2,750 for a foursome on Monday or Sunday, and $3,000 for a foursome from Tuesday thru Saturday. Those who are interested in playing all 27 holes would need to tack on an extra $500.
7. The cottages ooze Southern charm
There are 16 cottages on property at Champions Retreat, located just a five-minute walk from the pro shop. These cottages, which offer anywhere from four to eight bedrooms, are comfortable and charming, offering that Southern decor (dark hardwood floors, leather furniture, etc.) with a premium, high-end twist. I stayed at the Sweetwater cottage, which has a large open kitchen, a comfortable living room that surrounds a large fireplace, eight bedrooms that are well appointed and fully stocked, and two large sketches that depict Nicklaus’ early sketches of the second and eighth holes at his Bluff course.
8. The entire ANWA field will get to play Augusta (even if they miss the cut)
All 72 players in the ANWA field will play at least three rounds — two at Champions Retreat on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by a practice round at Augusta National on Friday. Yep, regardless of whether they make the 36-hole cut, everyone in the field will play Augusta National on Friday. The 30 players who make the cut will vie for the ANWA title at Augusta National on Saturday. That final round will be televised on NBC. Tune in!