The Best Golf Courses to Play if You’re Not Playing at the Masters
(Bloomberg) -- For golf fans, few weeks of the year are as anticipated as Masters Week. The energy on the course transmits itself through the television, in part because for many of us in northern climates, we can finally begin to dream about the end of winter. And for the lucky few that are able to win the ticket lottery— or afford one through brokers—a trip to Augusta can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But even if it’s your first or 50th time, make the most of it and take the entire week. And don’t just spend every day at the course. Pack your sticks and visit these five clubs for your own rounds on the greens. There’s no shame in watching a round or two on TV.
Palmetto Golf Club
The Palmetto Golf Club near Aiken, S.C., is the Southeast’s oldest, continually operated 18-hole golf course in an original location—probably the second-oldest in the U.S. But that’s not why you want to stop there. You’ll want to play here because of its great golfing ground, which takes advantage of the land’s contours, and because of its rich golfing pedigree on both the playing side (Harry Vardon and Ben Hogan, to name two) and design side (Alistair MacKenzie, designer of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, did work here, too.)
Best for: Golfing purists and bucket-list checkers
Distance to Augusta National: 40 miles east
What it costs: $300 per person, light lunch included
The Golf Club at Cuscowilla
If you're looking for a place to hunker down for a week and call home base, this residential community 70 miles east of Atlanta might be your best bet. Ranked the No. 1 Residential Golf Course in Georgia by Golf Magazine, Cuscowilla was designed by one of today’s “it” firms: Ben Crenshaw (himself a Masters champion) and Bill Coore’s Coore & Crenshaw. There’s also tennis, boating, a fitness center, two pools, spa services, and the Waterside Restaurant. Situated on Lake Oconee, Cuscowilla has a range of private, beautiful homes available for rent during the week, starting at $1,800 nightly. Other options include Lake Villas ($1,500 a night), Golf Cottages ($750 to $950 per night), and suites and studios ($450 to $550 per night).
Best for: Mid-handicap fans of firm, fast greens and minimalist courses
Distance from Augusta National: 80 miles west
What it costs: $250 per round
Champions Retreat Golf Club
This year’s inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA) is not only an occasion to celebrate women’s golf and showcase female golfers at Augusta, but it’s also a chance to show off Champions Retreat. A private club for 51 weeks a year, Champions Retreat has annually opened its doors to visitors for one week of golf, food, and parties. This year, though, it holds the distinction of hosting the first two rounds of the ANWA before the women play the final round at Augusta National. It has three nine-hole courses—Palmer’s Island Nine, Nicklaus’s Bluff Nine, and Player’s Creek Nine—named for the big three legends of golf who each designed a layout bearing his name. Homes and cottages on the property are often booked a year or more in advance, so contact the club for more information.
Best for: Soaking up the energy (and parties) of the week
Distance from Augusta National: 15 miles northwest
What it costs: Foursomes are available each day of the week, for a group rate of $2,750, and include a forecaddie, an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, lunch, a cart, and alcohol.
The Aiken Golf Club
With today’s equipment, a course measuring just 5,800 yards is almost a pitch-and-putt. Then again, most amateur golfers overestimate their abilities, even when presented with hard evidence from their scorecards. Aiken Golf Club has the legacy of Donald Ross designs in its bones and is a fine place to stretch your legs before you head over to the big course to watch the pros play.
Best for: A relaxed round
Distance from Augusta National: 20 miles east
What it costs: During Masters Week, the daily rate jumps from $32 to $100
It’s a two-hour drive, but what awaits visitors at Cateechee are dramatic drop-offs from elevated tees and panoramic views of nothing but Georgia forests. Devoid of houses, the 420-acre course is devoted solely to golf, with each hole shielded from the others as it cuts through the virgin forest. The club has a variety of lodging options that range from suites in the main clubhouse ($169 nightly) to a private golf cabin off the 10th hole ($400). A three-story house on Lake Hartwell can also be rented for $750 a night and further requires a $300 cleaning fee.
Best for: Groups that want to get big air, like at Augusta, without the crowds
Distance from August National: 100 miles south of Augusta
What it costs: Rounds start at $75 for nonmembers
Augusta Country Club
Right next door to the tournament, Augusta Country Club bills itself as “the only course you can play in the Augusta area where you to get to hit shots over Rae’s Creek and hear the roars from the Masters Tournament.” You’ll need a formal, written introduction from your own club to get on the greens during Masters Week, but the chance to play next door to the pros is worth it. It’s not just for the thrill but for the jovial atmosphere that surrounds with the club’s more than 1,000 members present.
Best for: Imagining your own green jacket
Distance from Augusta National: 2 miles south
What it costs: $2,500 for a foursome, plus caddie and tip
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