EVANS, Ga. — Champions Retreat Golf Club is about to open its doors to the public. The otherwise strictly private enclave 15 miles north of Augusta, Georgia, in the burgeoning residential community of Evans, will be getting national exposure as co-host of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, April 3-6, 2019.
That means spectators walking alongside its fairways, watching 72 leading women amateurs at Champions Retreat play the first two rounds of a 54-hole event. The low 30 players qualify for the final round at Augusta National Golf Club on Saturday, April 6, the weekend before the Masters. (In an interesting enticement to the contestants, all 72 entrants will be eligible for a practice round Friday, April 5, at Augusta National, though only the low 30 will actually contest the last round there.)
Champions Retreat is unique in golf for combining the design talents of three of the greatest golfers of the modern era: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Each designed a nine hole loop for the property, which opened in 2002.
The Nicklaus-designed Bluff Nine is routed through mature pine forests and rolling terrain. The Palmer-designed Island Nine features six holes on German Island, a narrow swath between the Little River and the Savannah River. The Creek Nine, by Gary Player, meanders through low-lying wetlands. The ANWA championship layout comprises the Palmer’s Island Nine followed by Nicklaus’ Bluff Nine to form a par-72 layout measuring 6,405 yards. Player’s Creek Nine, while equally challenging, would have entailed some logistical challenges for spectators and tournament infrastructure given its extensive wetlands and bridge crossings.
The 365-acre site offers a fascinating contrast in terrain that will dramatically influence play. The opening nine involves six holes in the middle that bring the riverfront into or along the line of fire. The second nine, by contrast, includes far more elevation change, some 60 feet in all at mid-point, some of it through densely wooded, dogleg corridors.
This past fall and winter saw considerable wet weather hammer the area, resulting in a rising water table throughout the adjoining Savannah River Basin. This severely affected the golf course, but thanks to extensive work by the maintenance crew that included major drainage installation, Champions Retreat is once again in pristine shape. Its 419 Bermudagrass fairways and rough along with its A1/A4 bentgrass greens will present a flawless playing surface. In this as with all matters of championship preparation, the club worked closely with decision-makers at Augusta National to ensure consistently high standards of course set up.
The Island Nine’s 165-yard, par-3 eighth hole presents a short but daunting challenge: a green just on the mainland side of the Little River, with no margin for error short and bunkers flanking both sides. On the Bluff Nine, what plays as the 15th hole will be the most intriguing. This 325-yard par-4 is the only unbunkered hole at Champions Retreat, yet it’s also the most vexing. A rocky brook ambles down the inside of the sharp dogleg right, and the green occupies a little tongue of land just above the water crossing in front – as if mocking an approaching player. It makes for a delicate proceeding.
Most of the year, Champions Retreat tightly wraps its elegant, country estate amenities for members only. But for one celebrated week each year at The Masters, the club opens for public, subject to limited availability. This year, the week following the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is no exception.
The result for members, guests and the public alike is a gracious version of golf camp. Champions Retreat sports a relaxed land plan that includes a residential component, 16 guest cottages (4-8 bedrooms each), plus low-country dining and a 10,000 square foot rustic barn that services everything from cotillion balls and corporate events to casual dances. The club’s concierge services include transport to and from The Masters – though the temptation to stay is great.