By Laurie Bain Wilson
Well, Tiger roared into history last month, winning for the fifth time at the Masters Tournament at Augusta National in Georgia. Golfers and golf fans live for this tournament. In fact, if they blow their New Year’s resolutions, they know they get a do-over in April—to them, it’s the Masters that begins the new year, they’ll greet each other with a “Happy New Year, Y’all.”
The Masters is also considered the unofficial first day of Spring. Of course, green is the official color of the tournament from the rolling green hills on the course to the storied Green Jacket.
Traditions are steeped here, this is hallowed ground. The towering Georgia pine trees reach for the sky and the players reach for a spot on the larger-than-life leaderboard. Typically scheduled for the second Sunday in April, the tourney is a pricey ticket—the three practice session days that begin the Monday prior before the tourney are slightly less expensive—and the beauty of attending the practice sessions is that you’ll see the players relaxed, slaps on backs, while perfecting their shots on the challenging course. Another plus: you can bring a camera (but not to the tournament).
You’ll easily spot the pro shop—the long lines are a give-away. That’s because the merchandise sold here is sold only here—you will not find it online or in any store around the country or world—and a shirt or hat with the Masters logo is a status symbol, for sure.
To experience Augusta National is to step back in time. Patrons are well mannered (it’s required of them—no running, no cellphones) and prices for food are also a throwback—the traditional pimento cheese sandwich costs $1.50. A beer is $4. And, while golf is an obvious reason to visit, and the Masters most certainly put this part of Georgia on the map, there are other compelling reasons to visit this slice of the Peach State. It’s time to start planning for April 2020.
Cork & Flame is hot all year-round—and ramped up during the Masters. The fine dining/tapas/wine shop culinary destination in Evans serves innovative veggie dishes and creative salads, but meat and game entrees are also popular. Vegetarians and vegans love that Chef Justin Hayes uses separate grills for those dishes. Order the crème brulee—it’s set ablaze tableside—for instant flame and fame. Info: corkandflame.com.
Cucina 503 in Augusta is also a solid choice for Masters’ fans, and locals, too—lots of golf convo here during Masters Week. The house specialty is the Roasted Chicken and Wild Mushroom Pappardelle—and the Shrimp Scampi Tagliolini is a favorite, too. Save room for the panna cotta. Info: 503cucina.com.
Goolsby’s in Evans is home to Southern cookin’ and gets a birdie for barbecued chicken, pork loin and ribs, grits, mac ‘n cheese, biscuits, black-eyed peas. You’ll be in good company, too—this is a popular spot for golfers and fans with the coveted badge hanging around their neck. Info: goolsbys.com.
Frosty Rolls You gotta have ice cream when in Georgia and this place in Augusta is spot-on, especially for Southern butter pecan. The concept is unique—the ice cream made here is rolled. Info: 706-564-5361.
Players and sometimes spectators rent homes from locals who leave town for the week, but there are decent hotel choices, too (although you won’t find any high-end chains). And, of course, expect hotel room prices to be inflated during Masters Week, that’s par for the course (see what we did there?).
The Holiday Inn Augusta West Savvy visitors to the Masters make neighboring Columbia County their 19th hole—for a place to stay and for the handful of great restaurants. This hotel is a good bet and is a quick putt away, about a 15-minute drive. In the morning, a complimentary country breakfast with grits, biscuits and gravy and waffles is where you’ll geek out with other golf-loving fans before heading out for the day to the Augusta National course. Info: lhg.com/holidayinn/hotel/us.
Outdoor Augusta Slip into the true South with a guided kayak tour from Outdoor Augusta. Local guide, Andy (chill kayaker by day, musician by night) will help you navigate the local waters including Betty’s Branch and Little River, pointing out the river wildlife like osprey nests and turtles. Info: 706-399-4037.
Augusta Canal Trail Biking along the canal trail is another Southern pastime that’s sweet on a spring day. Rent bikes at the Bicycle Peddler in Savannah Rapids Park and cruise the shaded 7.5-mile trail along the Savannah River. Info: bikepeddleraugusta.com.
Laurel and Hardy Museum No joke! The comedy team’s museum is here with plenty of fascinating memorabilia. Oliver Hardy was born in this neck of the woods and the museum pays tribute to the duo. Info: laurelandhardymuseum.com.
New Yorkers planning to attend next year’s Masters, should fly into Atlanta, rent a car, spend a day or two in the city—and then make the easy two-hour drive to Augusta.
While in Atlanta, stay at Hotel Clermont, the iconic hotel which sits a block away from the celebrated Ponce de Leon Market. Hit the rooftop bar—a DJ spins and Southern cocktails stir. And you must eat at Tiny Lou’s, a French-American brasserie with a Southern twang—like the Vidalia Onion Soup with Blue Ridge apples, Sourdough and Gruyere. Info: hotelclermont.com; tinylous.com.
The Kimpton Overland Hotel, adjacent to Porsche North America headquarters and the Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport is unique. Sip a sip on the Rooftop Lounge and you’ll watch the planes takeoff and will also have views of the Porsche handling course. Take an outside seat at the on-site Apron and dive into Grilled Branzino. At Kimpton’s comp wine hour, you’ll mingle with other golf fans who flew in for the Masters from all over the world and are spending the night here. Info: ihg.com/kimptonhotels/hotels/us.