Best golf courses to play if you’re not playing at the Masters

All golf fans turned to the Masters earlier, but it’s not the only game in town

By MICHAEL CROLEY

For golf fans, few weeks of the year are as anticipated as Masters Week. The energy on the course transmits itself through the television (TV), 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, South Carolina, is the South-East’s oldest, continually operated 18-hole golf course in an original location — probably the second-oldest in the US. 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 (64km) east.

What it costs: US$300 (RM1,242) per person, light lunch included.

The Golf Club at Cuscowilla

Cuscowilla has a range of private, beautiful homes available for rent during the week (Source: Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee)

If you’re looking for a place to hunker down for a week and call home base, this residential community 70 miles (112.65km) 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 centre, 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 US$1,800 nightly. Other options include Lake Villas (US$1,500 a night), Golf Cottages (US$750 to US$950 per night), and suites and studios (US$450 to US$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: US$250 per round.

Champions Retreat Golf Club

A hole by the creek at champions retreat (Source: Champions Retreat)

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’ 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 US$2,750, and include a forecaddie, an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, lunch, a cart and alcohol.

The Aiken Golf Club (main picture)

With today’s equipment, a course measuring just 5,800 yards (5,303.5m) 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 US$32 to US$100.

Cateechee

Viewing the golf course from the clubhouse at Cateechee

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 (167ha) 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 (US$169 nightly) to a private golf cabin off the 10th hole (US$400). A three-storey house on Lake Hartwell can also be rented for US$750 a night and further requires a US$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 US$75 for nonmembers.

Augusta Country Club

Augusta country club bills itself as the only course you can play in the Augusta area where you get to hit shots over Rae’s creek and hear the roars from the Masters (Source: 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 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: Two miles south.

What it costs: US$2,500 for a foursome, plus caddie and tip. — Bloomberg