Master Augusta

ico_orbitzAugusta travel: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight | Tickets for The Masters

Let's just say, for argument's sake, you travel halfway across the country to Augusta, Ga., to see Tiger roar and Mickelson growl and, sin of sins, you don't get in the gallery at The Masters.

Hey, it can happen.

"You won't see a lot of people selling tickets, but you will see a lot of people trying to buy them," said Barry White, president of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau, who has witnessed the scene play out on the streets of his fair city the last 15 years.

But there is more to this cotton-manufacturing hub turned golf mecca than the finely manicured greens of Augusta National Golf Club (2604 Washington Road, Web site).

From museums to botanical gardens, lively music venues to fine dining and a remarkable river walk to a real swamp, the "other" Augusta beckons.

Indeed, what you may not know about Georgia's second-largest city of nearly 200,000 is the dynamic and robust side that sticks around the other 11¾ months of the year when the sports world isn't focused on it. Heck, if all else fails, you can watch a round at Indigo Joe's Sports Pub & Restaurant (3730 Wheeler Road, Web site).

So you're on the outside of Bobby Jones' masterpiece looking in; don't chuck it all in. Pick up your clubs and hit any of the many nearby public golf courses. Consider Forest Hills Golf Club (1500 Comfort Road, Web site), Goshen Plantation Golf Course (1601 Goshen Clubhouse Drive, Web site), Jones Creek Golf Club (777 Jones Creek Drive, Evans, Ga., Web site), Pointe South Golf Club (4324 Peach Orchard Road, Hephzibah, Ga., Web site) and River Golf Club (307 Riverside Blvd., North Augusta, S.C., Web site).

Who knows, tee times may be available when everyone else is watching the pros over at The Course.

But we'd rather think in terms of best-case scenario: You'll be in the gallery at The Masters and enjoy Augusta over your Power Weekend. (Consult StubHub!)

Expect Augusta to put its best foot forward.

"People know what to do. They've been hosting this tournament for more than 70 years," White said. "We want to show our best side. The entire city knows that it's coming and people pretty much have it down to a science. Trim the bushes, make flowers look good."

Residents love and appreciate the name recognition that Augusta enjoys, but White is quick to note that it is rich in history and heritage.

Founded on the banks of the Savannah River in 1736, it is Georgia's second-oldest settlement, three years younger than Savannah proper.

Cotton was king back in the day and Augusta was an agricultural center. By 1846 the Augusta Canal was built to provide energy for mills to make fabric and material. Prior to that time cotton was sent to Northern manufacturers.

In the early 1900s, before Florida was developed, train tracks ended in Augusta, which with its five, large resort hotels came to be known as America's winter golf capital. It's a big reason why Jones settled on the area to create the August National Golf Club. Founded in 1931, it hosted The Masters for the first time in 1934.

Woodrow Wilson, our 28th president, lived here as a child and you can see where he scratched his initials in the room of his impressively restored boyhood home (419 17th St., Web site). Others would debate the late James Brown is Augusta's most famous former resident, and you can view a bronze likeness of the "King of Soul" on Broad Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. Hulk Hogan, Amy Grant and golfers Larry Mize and Charles Howell III also have roots here.

Visit the Augusta Museum of History (560 Reynolds St., Web site), which tells the city's story and is offering an exhibit of the back stories and legends of The Masters. Here you can see a replica of Petersburg boat used to haul cotton, or you can experience the Augusta Canal yourself in a canoe, kayak or guided Petersburg boat tour from Enterprise Mill (1450 Greene St., Web site).

For those with their feet more firmly grounded, venture along Riverwalk Augusta (836 Reynolds St., Web site). Considered the city's No. 1 other attraction, it covers several blocks of the levee, with an esplanade on top and meandering pathways, an amphitheater, gardens and benches along the water's edge.

"There is no better time in Augusta," White said. "Azaleas, dogwood, magnolias, everything you can imagine is in bloom, like fall in Maine."

Augusta is known as The Garden City, so be certain to check out the botanical gardens and bronze statues of The Masters' heroes at the future site of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame (One 11th Street, Web site).

Want to rough it? A 15-minute drive south from town brings you to Phinizy Swamp (Web site), where you'll find a boardwalk, pavilion, interpretive center, nature park, and, yes, a swamp. Don't let the gators bite, expecially you Ohio State fans.

For more information, visit the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site.