Golf during Masters week comes at a price

Palmetto Golf Club

Palmetto Golf Club

AUGUSTA, Ga. – For 51 weeks of the year, the private golf clubs around here are just that: private. You have to know the right people to gain access.

The first week of April, however, many clubs throw open their doors to the fans – er, patrons – who arrive like the blooming azaleas for the Masters. For golfers, the benefits are obvious: It’s their chance

to sample the forbidden fruit. The clubs have more practical considerations. This is their chance to make a quick windfall that offsets some expenses for members. And it’s timely, given that local members often leave town to avoid Masters hysteria.

If you’re heading to the Masters next month, here are some of your best private-club options near Augusta National.

• • •

Palmetto Golf Club

Palmetto, which was formed in 1892, has aged with unusual grace: It just moved into the top 100 on Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses list (No. 97). This Aiken, S.C., club lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating course in its original location in the Southeast. Herbert Leeds completed the 18-hole layout in 1895, and the fingerprints of Donald Ross and Alister MacKenzie also can be found on this wonderful design.

Even the clubhouse feels historic; it is the handiwork of Stanford White of Shinnecock Hills fame.

Though only 6,713 yards from the tips, Palmetto is more than adequately defended by its smallish greens and steep fall-offs. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more pure golf experience than what Palmetto offers. One tip: Skip the golf cart. You’ll rarely find a more enjoyable course to walk.

If you play at Palmetto, make time to visit the trophy room adjacent to the pro shop. There you’ll find letters from Francis Ouimet and Fred Astaire, and memorabilia from various icons.

“It’s like stepping back in time,” GM/director of golf Tom Moore said.

Fee: $175 per player (food sold separately); tee times available April 4-12.

Contact: palmettogolfclub.net; 803-649-2951

• • •

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West Lake Country Club

West Lake Country Club

West Lake is an amenity-rich club located just a few miles down Fury’s Ferry Road from Augusta National. There’s an 18-hole Ellis Maples layout that was home to the SEC Championship from 1980 to ’84. But Masters week guests might be just as happy to stay in the clubhouse, which underwent a $6 million renovation in 2007. There’s a large, 24/7 fitness center stocked with six treadmills, four ellipticals, stationary bikes and Nautilus equipment. There’s also a pool and tennis facilities.

The real fun, however, starts at night. Bert Morales, director of operations at West Lake, says the club will have live entertainment every night of Masters week, complementing its elaborate food and beverage operations, which range from formal banquet seating to casual outdoor dining.

“I just like throwing parties,” Morales said.

Fee: Call for pricing; tee times available April 5-11.

Contact: westlakecountryclub.com; 706-863-46422

• • •

Houndslake Country Club

This 27-hole Joe Lee design is just across the Savannah River in Aiken, S.C. Last year, Houndslake renovated bunkers and removed some trees on its popular Azalea and Dogwood nines. (Can you tell you’re not far from Augusta?)

It remains, however, a rolling, tree-lined layout. The two holes that will spark the most discussion are par 5s – No. 5 on Azalea and No. 7 on Dogwood. Both are potentially reachable in two, helped by tee shots that play steeply downhill but require long carries over water to get home.

Fee: $100 per person (food sold separately); tee times April 4-11.

Contact: houndslakecc.com; 803-648-6805

• • •

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The Reserve Club

The Reserve Club at Woodside Plantation

The area’s friendliest and most efficient golf staff will make Masters week newcomers feel like founding members at this Aiken club. “They’re going to get a private-club experience when they come here,” GM Ross Desmond said. “It’s not (a case of) give us your money, play golf and get out of here.” The Southern hospitality includes buffets and, if desired, boxed lunches.

Steve Nicklaus designed The Reserve Club, which opened in 2002. Some of the finest holes on the course come early in the round, with Nos. 3-5 playing along Spalding Lake.

Clyde Johnston and Fuzzy Zoeller collaborated on a second course, Hollow Creek, the first 10 holes of which opened in 2007. Though still unfinished, Hollow Creek has some of the most compelling holes on the property. They include an all-carry, downhill, 231-yard par 3, where long is dead, followed by a three-shot par 5 with a difficult layup and even harder third shot.

Fee: $755 per foursome (includes hot and cold breakfast and lunch buffets); 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. shotguns April 5-10, tee times available April 2-4 and April 11.

Contact: thereserveclubatwoodside.com; 803-648-2442

• • •

Woodside Plantation Country Club

You can golf till you drop at this 45-hole Aiken facility, located in the same community as The Reserve Club. Rees Jones’ Wisteria layout opened in 1987 and was followed two years later by Bob Cupp’s Plantation Course. Cupp also designed the nine-hole par-3 Hunters Run Course.

One of the club’s claims to fame is that part of the 2007 movie “Who’s Your Caddy?” – you remember that one, don’t you? – was filmed on the Plantation Course.

During Masters week, Woodside Plantation employees will be barbecuing in a tent on the corner of the range.

Fee: $100 per player (food sold separately); tee times available April 5-11.

Contact: woodside-plantation.com; 803-649-3383

• • •

Aside from the private clubs that allow public play during Masters week, there are several other golf options around Augusta. They include a couple of private clubs with tee times that are tough gets, and public courses with decidedly private pricing during tournament week.

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Augusta Country Club

Augusta Country Club: GM Henry Marburger says his private club, founded in 1899 and located adjacent to Augusta National, allows reciprocal play from other private clubs. 706-736-5322.

Champions Retreat Golf Club: This 27-hole private facility – with nines designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player – is built largely on corporate and national memberships. Guests must be sponsored by members, with foursomes prices starting at $1,100 on April 2 and peaking at $1,700 April 6-10. championsretreat.net; 706-854-6960.

North Augusta Golf & Country Club: This course, which turned semi-private in 2009, has foursomes at $340 on April 4 and April 11, rising to $440 April 5-6, and peaking at $540 April 7-10. northaugustagolf.com; 803-279-0704.

Forest Hills Golf Course: This public course is one of the area’s most historic; Donald Ross designed it, and Bobby Jones won the 1930 Southeastern Open there. Fees are $150 per player, plus tax, April 5-10, then revert to regular prices ($20 weekday/$30 weekend if walking; $35/$45 with cart) on Masters Sunday. theforesthillsgolfcourse.com; 706-733-0001.

Mount Vintage Plantation & Golf Club: This semi-private, 27-hole facility runs 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. shotguns April 5-11. The price per foursome is $800 on April 5, 6 and 11, and $1,000 April 7-10. mountvintage.com; 803-279-5422.

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