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Augusta, Ga., offers more than just a big golf tournament
What happens in Augusta, Ga., when the Masters Tournament is over? You know, after the coveted Green Jacket has been properly tailored for its new owner, after the television crews and golf writers pack it all in and hightail it down the road for the next tournament, and after the final prayer is uttered on the famed Amen Corner?
I can answer that in one word: a-plenty.
Well, maybe that's two words, but then again I'm Southern to the bone, just like Augusta. We stretch everything to make it as drawn out as possible, especially our vocabulary. Augusta, then, becomes Aww-guss-tah. Honest. That's how we say it.
No matter the vernacular, Augusta is worth a second glance not only in spring when the rest of the world becomes aware that there actually exists a city wrapped around the golf course, but just about any time of the year.
First the quick facts: Augusta was established in 1736 by General James Edward Oglethorpe, which makes it the second oldest city in Georgia. Savannah, the elder by three years, was also established by Oglethorpe. The population of Augusta, which spills over into North Augusta, S.C., runs about 200,000. And the city was important enough in its early days to be named capital of Georgia, not once but twice. Long story, but this isn't a history lesson.
Augusta produces talent, too. James Brown hails from here, and Oliver Hardy - of Laurel and Hardy fame, for those too young to know - was born in Harlem, just a few miles away. The Medical College of Georgia, in my opinion one of the finest medical schools in the country, is here, too. Good things do indeed come of Augusta.
But if there's one visual thing that's prominent about Augusta - and all of Georgia, really - it's the natural beauty of the area that makes it really stand out. On these low hills teeming with dogwoods, fuchsia-tipped azaleas, and sweetly scented wisteria, golf legend Bobby Jones and businessman Clifford Roberts founded Augusta National in 1931. Jones began the Masters in 1934, and from then until now Augusta has become an endearing symbol for grand flower-filled gardens, golf, and lots of Southern hospitality.
If you can't get through those hallowed gates at Augusta National to play the links, not to worry. Goshen Plantation Golf Course, Forest Hills Golf Club, and Augusta Municipal Golf Course are all in Augusta, while River Golf Club is across the state line in North Augusta. If golf isn't your game, today's Augusta, very much oriented around family, the outdoors, and Old South history, offers a wealth of other activities. The centerpiece of the city is the Savannah River, and anchoring the river are the Augusta Canal and Augusta Riverwalk with its shops, restaurants, pubs and hotels.
The Augusta Canal, Georgia's only designated National Heritage Area, is a blend of history, recreation, and unique experiences situated along almost nine miles of towpaths and waterways. Built in 1845, it is the nation's only intact industrial canal that is still in use for its original purpose of harnessing water and power from the Savannah River.
The canal was also the site of the Confederate States of America Powder Works complex. During Reconstruction, it was deepened and widened to meet the ever-changing needs of industry, especially textile manufacturing. The Canal's interpretive center takes you from the canal's inception to today through a series of interactive exhibits.
While the canal, built in three levels, is essentially man-made, efforts were made to return many areas along its banks to a more natural state that is now part of a beautiful and unique aquatic ecosystem that includes egrets, herons, otters, and other wildlife. You can explore the Augusta Canal and Augusta's history by hiking, bicycling, canoeing, or kayaking its myriad trails or even enjoying a guided tour aboard a replica canal cargo boat.
For outdoors and science buffs, there are the National Science Center's Fort Discovery and Phinizy Swamp Nature Park of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy. Take heart, gardeners and flower enthusiasts, for there is something for you, too, in the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame's Botanical Gardens and the Sacred Heart Cultural Center, which offers garden festivals and tours throughout the year.
While just about every chain hotel and motel is represented in Augusta, the historic Partridge Inn is worth a closer look. The Partridge Inn, whose original building dates to the 1830s, is the first hotel in Georgia to be honored for inclusion in Historic Hotels of America. The verandahs and magnolias are here, and so are the columns. Presidents, sports legends, and business leaders have stayed here, and its restaurant is the recipient of the local "Best Sunday Brunch" for 14 years running.