Mention Augusta, Ga., and the image of dogwoods, pink azaleas, and a hushed crowd around a putting green springs to mind. The annual Masters Tournament has brought golf enthusiasts to Georgia’s second largest and second oldest city since 1934, when Bobby Jones invited the world’s best golfers to his newly built dream course. Even before then, as the southernmost stop on the railway line, Augusta was a winter playground for wealthy northerners who came for mild climate, southern hospitality and not only golf, but horseback riding and other outdoor leisure.
Today, Augustans (many who vacate and rent out their homes during Masters week in April) are proud to point out that their city offers a host of recreational and cultural amenities – at any time of year. The pedestrian-friendly city boasts some of Georgia’s most unique museums, recreation along its waterways, and a revitalized, historic downtown area with cafes, theatre and an “Artists’ Row” of galleries and shops. Many of the city’s downtown attractions are connected by Augusta’s Riverwalk, a beautifully landscaped, brick-paved promenade along the Savannah River.
Highlighting the Arts
The Augusta Museum of History takes visitors centuries back in time, and one of the featured new exhibits is “The Godfather of Soul,” honoring legendary soul singer, James Brown, who called Augusta home. It is the first major exhibit that portrays the life and musical achievements of Brown. The exhibit includes family artifacts, photographs and audio-visual stations showing his concerts and dancing (remember the Mashed Potato?). A statue of James Brown is erected on Broad Street and serves as a city landmark.
The Riverwalk leads visitors to the National Science Center’s Fort Discovery, a hands-on museum, and continues to the Morris Museum of Art. The Morris Museum is the first in the country devoted to the art and artists of the south, with permanent exhibits of antebellum portraiture, genre painting, still life, contemporary and more. Special touring exhibits include Landscape of Slavery and It’s a Dog’s Life: photographs by William Wegman. The Morris Museum sponsors a monthly concert series titled Southern Soul and Song with a lineup of nationally recognized performing artists.
Augusta is a dynamic regional center for the performing arts. The city is host to the annual Westobou Festival, a 10-day event featuring music, dance, theatre and art. The fall festival, named for the original Westo Indian word referring to the Savannah River, is modeled after Charleston’s Spoleto festival and coincides with Arts in the Heart of Augusta, a longstanding fine arts and craft market.
“Westobou has really energized and vitalized our arts community,” said Kathi Dimmock, festival managing director. “We have challenged our arts organizations to color outside the box, and they’re doing a lot of new and different things.”
The 2008 festival was highlighted with performances of “Cirque de la Symphonie,” featuring cirque artists accompanied by Augusta Symphony, and an acoustic concert by music legends Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt.
The best way to absorb a bit of Augusta history is to stay at the Partridge Inn, a century-old landmark hotel in a historic hilltop neighborhood. Known for its charming southern features, veranda porches and excellent service, the hotel offers guests a glimpse into Augusta’s rich past. History buffs will delight in the brick-floored lobby which once served as the inn stable during the early 1900s and in the collection of photos lining the hallways – pictures of distinguished guests, Ft. Gordon soldiers after WWII, golf legends, foxhunts, dog shows and historic memorabilia.
The 145-room inn, which began as a 19th century residence, recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation, restoring the splendor of its golden age while incorporating 21st century amenities. The Partridge Inn’s renowned restaurant, The Verandah Grill has been a famous gathering place for Masters champions and recently launched a new menu celebrating “the art of southern cuisine.” Don’t leave Augusta without enjoying the Verandah Sunday Brunch.
Speaking of good food, Augusta offers unexpected variety from Sushi Fusion to Caribbean cuisine. Recommended stops are the Bee’s Knees for delectably creative Tapas dishes and the Boll Weevil Café and Sweetery (in an old cotton mill) for enormous, irresistible cakes.
Its not quite Venice, but Augusta’s famous canal offers moonlight music cruises (albeit blues or bluegrass) in Petersburg boats. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Augusta Canal is the nation’s only intact industrial power canal still in use for its original purposes. The canal’s interpretative center, in a former textile factory, has exhibits explaining construction and power generation and the role of the canal in the Civil War and in the textile industry. The canal is also popular for canoeing, kayaking and sunset picnic cruises. Joggers and cyclists enjoy miles of trail on the adjacent towpath.
Augusta has earned its reputation as a fun place to explore with its walkways, canal development, arts and cultural attractions. But, no denying – it will always be a golf town, and golfers can take heart that there are numerous public or semi-private courses to play. While many golfers only dream of playing the Augusta National or attending the Masters Tournament, Augusta’s Visitors Bureau has good reason to tout the myriad of ways to “Play Augusta.”
If you go:
For information on attractions and accommodations in Augusta, visit www.AugustaGA.org
Check out events and exhibits at:
Morris Museum of Art www.themorris.org
Fort Discovery National Science Center www.NationalScienceCenter.org
Augusta Museum of History www.augustamuseum.org
Augusta Canal National Heritage Area www.augustacanal.com
Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson www.wilsonboyhoodhome.org
Sacred Heart Cultural Center www.SacredHeartAugusta.org
(Former Chattanoogan Ann Newell Yungmeyer can be reached at