AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It's time to face reality. Unless you previously held a cabinet position in Washington or are the CEO of a mid-to-large cap corporation, you're unlikely to ever get the opportunity to play golf at Augusta National. Sorry about that.
Good news. Although you may never get to drive down Magnolia Lane or test the tricky winds at Amen Corner, you do have plenty of golf options when you visit the Augusta area. It won't be the place with the pimento cheese sandwiches in the green wrappers, but it's not bad.
Keep in mind that tee times at the Augusta-area golf courses fill up rapidly during the week of the Masters. And even if you can get on the tee sheet, you should expect to pay prices that are greatly inflated. (The Masters keeps its prices down, but the rest of the area doesn't mind sticking it to you.) The other 51 weeks of the year you have several good options from which to choose.
Forest Hills Golf Club
This Donald Ross beauty was once considered the second-best golf course in the Augusta area. The course has a great sense of history; Bobby Jones won the 1930 Southeastern Open there and went on to win the Grand Slam.
The greens at Forest Hills Golf Club are vintage Ross, with his famous bowl effect in full force. Every putting surface is filled with ridges and levels guaranteed to keep you guessing -- and coming back for more. Forest Hills is also very walkable, something not always common today, and there isn't a bad hole on the course.
Bartram Trail Golf Club
Bartram Trail Golf Club's rolling hills wander through woods and ponds to create a quiet place to play. Designed by Rick Robbins, Bartram Trail is unusual because it features five par 5s and five par 3s. Bartram Trail is typically in excellent condition. Big hitters don't really have a big advantage at Bartram Trail. But they'll be tempted to swing away on the eighth hole, a 337-yard par 4 that is considered drivable by the big boppers.
Jones Creek Golf Club
Designed by Rees Jones and opened in 1986, Jones Creek Golf Club may be the best modern-era course in the Augusta area. Jones took advantage of the area's rolling hills to create a parkland-style course that will keep you challenged. In fact, one of the complaints was that good shots were often punished there.
That all changed when Tom Fazio renovated the course in 2003. His team dug up and redesigned every green and replaced the surface with Tift Eagle Bermuda. Fazio also shortened the layout by nearly 100 yards and fixed some of the issues that had surfaced during three ownership changes. As a result, the course is more receptive to players with mid-to-high handicaps.
Pointe South Golf Club
If you like doglegs, you'll enjoy Pointe South Golf Club. The Tim Rivers and Joe Clement design isn't long (6,460 from the back) but it poses enough water trouble with eight lakes or ponds to keep things interesting.
Goshen Plantation Golf Club
Maples Ellis designed Goshen Plantation Golf Club in 1968 and it has been a consistent choice to host regional and state tournaments. The course features generous fairways and is built in the classic parkland style.
The River Golf Club
The River Golf Club is on the banks of the Savannah River. It was built by Jim Fazio and opened in 1998. Water can come into play on 14 of the holes, either from tee or on the approach shot. There are also bunkers scattered throughout, which adds to the degree of difficulty. The River Golf Club has hosted a U.S. Open qualifier and several mini-tour events.
If you have connections (but still can't get on Augusta National), don't dare pass up a chance to play Augusta Country Club (another place knee-deep in Bobby Jones history), or Champions Retreat, which features three nine-hole layouts designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.