Landing back in Augusta it was clear that the Masters bubble had burst and the town was back to it's normal pace. Traffic had subsided from Washington road and contractors were busy at work pulling down temporary marquees around Hooters.
We were back to play the Augusta Country Club, one of the oldest courses in the USA having been founded in 1899. The Country Club famously shares a border with the National and is blessed with the same golf terrain of its neighbor. It also shares a famous water hazard – Rae’s creek which guards the green of the tumbling par five 8th hole which plays down to border between the two courses.
Similarities stop there. Whilst ANGC is a guarded and complex creature, the Country Club is a strong members club where the 1100 members casually congregate to drink cocktails, socialize and, of course, enjoy their golf in a relaxed environment.
Originally, Augusta Country Club had two courses. The existing course, the Hill Course was designed by Donald Ross and more recently restored by Brian Silva. The second course, the Lake Course was a Seth Raynor design before it’s short life was ended by the depression and the land was converted into rows of houses.
Having played the course in 2010 I had a fleeting memory of some holes. How could anyone forget the amazing punchbowl green at the 16th hole! (See pictures below)
However, if I'm being honest my memory of the course was slim and it had only infrequently featured in conversations about great golf courses of the world.
How wrongly dismissive. This course is close to parkland perfection.
Featuring wild greens and clearly defined strategies it’s the kind of place where 18 holes is only enough to whet the appetite. Silva’s renovation has left the course absolutely seamless. Not once was I distracted by interfering trees, unnecessary long grass or architectural anomalies. Like a girl entirely confident in her own skin, the course exuded a strong sense of character. A character that had been created in typical Ross fashion with groovy greens, cross bunkers and a special routing that maximizes the interesting topography with blind tee shots, downhill par threes and tilted fairways.
The green complexes were surrounded by short grass and the four of us used everything from putter to lob wedge from off the green in some interesting displays of creativity. Many of the green surfaces themselves left us gasping with awe. The wild 3rd, guarded 11th, and tilted 13th greens were particularly impressive. The 10th green stood out for it’s simplicity: shaped as a bowl the middle pin positions are very accessible but the green is flanked by bunkers on both sides. As the green rises to the bunker edges on each side, it becomes impossible to get up and down if you are short sided as the ball will roll towards the middle of the green.
It is the simple touches of brilliance that Ross (and Silva) have employed which makes Augusta Country Club a real pleasure to play. Numerous times we’d find ourselves and our hosts chipping and putting around the green trying out the different slopes and array of pin positions with the enthusiasm of youth. Of course it helps being fully engaged in great conversation with our charming southern hosts.
As the day came to a close we both reflected on how we'd love to be let loose for a day of non-stop 54+ holes out here. And that's saying something.
So whilst the talk in these parts may gravitate towards its neighbor, Augusta Country Club boasts a golf course that should definitely be part of the conversation in its own right.
The distinctive punchbowl 16th hole. From the fairway (above) and then looking across the green (below).