Every second week in April, in a reverent homage to their sport and a certain televised tournament, avid golfers make reservations far ahead to play the courses near Augusta National. For them, watching the game isn’t enough, and many prefer the golf in nearby Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina where several courses boast their own pedigree and prestige.
Situated along I-20 between Atlanta and Charleston, just east of Augusta, Georgia, the rolling topography and mild climate make for fun, challenging and year-round play. In the late 19th century, as the railroads pushed farther south, Aiken became the home of the famed Winter Colony where Vanderbilts, Astors and other Golden Age notables vacationed in elegant resorts and “cottages.” Golf, croquet, polo and other equestrian pursuits became pastimes that are still treasured today. Here are notes on some of the courses favored by locals, pros and duffers. Expect higher greens fees during the week-long event. Check the clubs’ websites or call for details and availability. While tee times are much easier to obtain than badges for the hallowed course, they do book quickly. Whether during golf’s greatest tournament or any other time of year, Thoroughbred Country is top of mind for golfers and their families who are looking for plenty of additional attractions.
Designed by Donald Ross and originally built in 1912, this historic course has many ties to golf’s greats, including early ladies’ professionals. Extensive renovation has led to accolades: it’s rated in the “Top Three Courses to Play during Masters Week” by Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” one of the “Best Courses to Play Near Augusta National” by “Golfweek”; and “Best Kept Secret” and “Most Charming” by other critics. Just 20 miles east of Augusta National, this course tips its hat to Pinehurst as well as Scottish tradition. Fees are elevated during the championship, but it’s still considered a deal. Reservations required. The Aiken Golf Club, 555 Highland Park Drive, Aiken, South Carolina; 803-649-6029. 18 holes. Par 70. Walk/cart.
Designed by Arthur Hills, Cedar Creek has been garnering awards almost since its opening in 1991. The course features long, par 4 holes and sloping fairways that can send shots into the rough and elevated, undulating Bermuda greens. Cedar Creek Golf Club, 2475 Club Drive, Aiken, South Carolina; 803-648-4206. 18 holes. Par 72. Walk/cart.
Designed by Ellis Maples and built in 1961, Midland Valley features towering pines, significant terrain changes and large, undulating Bermuda greens with plenty of up, down and side hill lies. Midland Valley Country Club, 151 Midland Drive, Graniteville, South Carolina; 803-663-7332. 18 holes. Par 71. Walk/cart.
Golf course architect Tom Jackson designed the 27 holes to fit perfectly into a diverse topography. The three nines provide a variety of shot values and distinguishing features, yet blend together to leave the golfer with vivid memories of an enjoyable experience. Mount Vintage Golf Club, 375 Mount Vintage Plantation Drive, North Augusta, South Carolina; 803-279-5422. 27 holes. Par 72.
Built in 1981 and operated previously as the Paw Paw Country Club and the Bamberg Golf and Sports Club, River Birch was renovated in 2021 and is under new, experienced golf course and restaurant management. The par 72, 6,683-yard golf course was designed by Russell Breeden, who designed a number of golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area. River Birch Golf Course, 128 Paw Paw Road, Bamberg, South Carolina; 803-245-8432.
Designed by Russell Breeden. Bermuda greens. This design is relatively benign in terms of elevation and length, but more than makes up for that with its water, sand and elevated greens. Sweetwater Country Club, 571 Clubhouse Lane, Barnwell, South Carolina; 803-259-5004. 18 holes. Par 71. Walk/cart.
This course was designed to offer versatility for both weekend golfers and professionals and hosts many tournaments. A pet-friendly, unique 30-room lodge is located on the grounds. Guests may use any of the Club’s facilities. The Inn at Houndslake/Country Club, 897 Houndslake Drive, Aiken, South Carolina; 803-648-9535. 27 holes. Par 36 for each 9.
Designed by Jim Fazio. Bent grass greens. Cart. Built as a Hilton Head-style links course with mostly flat fairways and water on 11 holes. The River Golf Club, 307 Riverside Boulevard, North Augusta, South Carolina; 803-202-0110. 18 holes. Par 71.
For those who favor nine-hole courses, try Williston Country Club at 15 Fairway Drive, Williston, South Carolina; 803-266-7616. 9 holes. Par 36. Bermuda greens. Walk/cart.
For a fun, family event, South on Whiskey Mini Golf brings on a quirky challenge, along with batting cages and an event space for rental. 3197 Whiskey Road, Aiken, South Carolina; 803-643-1715. Wed-Sun.
Thoroughbred Country meanders through charming small towns with unique shopping, history and delicious Southern cuisine, creating the perfect road trip getaway with plenty to do for equestrian and active outdoor enthusiasts. Multiple disc golf locations throughout the region provide ample opportunity to try the sport from a slightly different angle. Take time to meander North Augusta’s 9.2-mile Greeneway Trail. Don’t miss the hidden gems: a drive-in movie theater, the Aiken County Historical Museum, the Savannah River Site Museum, Hopelands Gardens and the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. Explore the city via the Aiken Trolley Tour or, if it is not a Saturday, contact Tailored Tours of Aiken. Nearby, the Silver Bluff Audubon Center & Sanctuary offers opportunities to engage with nature up-close while Blackville’s God’s Acre Healing Springs is a popular site for visitors seeking out the storied waters. Visit the Veterans Memorial Trail in Bamberg and the Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historic Site in Ehrhardt to gain insight into the area’s history.
For details, delightful and unique accommodations, dining and more, go to www.TBredCountry.org.