Augusta Delivers Golf, Soul
And a Revitalized Downtown
New canal boat tours are introducing visitors to Augusta's canal pleasures.*
By Mary Sue Lawrence
Sure, Augusta’s got game — golf, that is — but anybody who was paying attention last year knows the town’s got soul, too. After all, Augusta is the birthplace of one of the biggest souls of all time — city native James Brown, the “godfather of soul,” whose funeral here last December drew nearly 10,000 fans.
There’s talk of turning Brown’s nearby home into a Graceland-like attraction, possibly centered around his 60-acre estate on Beech Island. Plans also are under way to hold a James Brown Birthday Bash concert/music festival later this year in his honor. A James Brown brochure outlining 14 sites for fans is available by request online or at the Visitor’s Information Center (706-724-4067 or www.augustaga.org), 560 Reynolds St.
Like many small Georgia towns, Augusta also has soul in the way it cherishes and redevelops its urban core. In the midst of a downtown revival, the town boasts new restaurants, nightspots, shops, art galleries and condominiums. Still considered a downtown on the rise, Augusta’s 18th- and 19th-century storefronts and sunken parking bays surrounded by trees make for an old-fashioned and low-key experience.
Here you can dine on everything from tapas and white sangria at Bee’s Knees (706-828-3600), 211 10th St., with its changing art exhibits, to vegetarian pizza at hip Mellow Mushroom (706-828-5578), 1167 Broad St., or Gelato at Jury Room (706-364-2334), 551 Green St.
The columned Modjeska (706-303-9700 or www.modjeskalounge.com), 813 Broad St., formerly a bank, now rocks with a busy dance floor. For great art at every price, Art on Broad (706-722-1028) has everything from small gift items to major works of art.
Not far from downtown, a leader in “revival” is the Partridge Inn (706-737-8888 or www.partridgeinn.com), 2110 Walton Way, long a landmark in a historic hilltop neighborhood of summer homes dating to 1800. A National Historic Trust property, this grand hotel of the classic South has been renovated and nudged into the 21st century with wireless Internet and video conferencing.
Look around and you’ll agree with locals who believe that Augusta is on the verge of having a major arts revival. A section of Broad Street, known as Artist’s Row, has a healthy cluster of art galleries.
The renovated Imperial Theater (706-722-8341 or www.imperialtheatre.com), 745 Broad St., hosts musical and theater performances, a film festival and a six-month series called Southern Soul and Song. The sharply designed 1930s Art Deco Miller Theater is currently undergoing extensive renovations to become another community performance center.
During monthly "First Fridays," downtown galleries and shops stay open late. Street vendors cater to eager groups of art enthusiasts and curious shoppers.
Art by the River
Within walking distance of the sidewalk cafes on Broad Street is Riverwalk, a six-block network of trim, landscaped brick paths that hug the Savannah River. The scenic pathway is the scene of numerous concerts and outdoor events at the 1,600-seat, outdoor Jessye Norman Amphitheater (706-821-1754), Riverwalk at Ninth Street. Lately, though, the Augusta Common has become the outdoor concert venue of choice.
A relaxing walk along the Riverwalk is a great weekend activity for couples.*
Overlooking and accessible from the Riverwalk are several of the city’s premier attractions, including the Morris Museum of Art (706-724-7501 or www.themorris.org), 1 Tenth St., a champion of Southern art and a driving force behind the area’s rising arts community.
Dedicated to art and artists of the American South, the Morris collection spans 200 years. It’s a must-see, as it represents a link to the art pulse of Augusta. Though small, the museum packs a punch—this year it celebrates its 15th anniversary with exhibitions by nationally acclaimed, local artists, including painters Tom Nakashima and Philip Morsberger.
Works by self-taught artists, including Benny and George Andrews and Jonathan Green, are always a big draw. The museum hosts several intriguing touring exhibitions on photography this year, including one on country music and another on diners.
At the National Science Center’s Fort Discovery (706-821-0200 or www.nationalsciencecenter.org), 1 Seventh St., kids and grown-ups will get a kick out of—and possibly learn something from—maneuvering a mini-NASA Mars Rover and riding a high-wire bike.
Also on the Riverwalk, the Augusta Museum of History (706-722-8454 or www.augustamuseum.org), 560 Reynolds St., tells the Augusta story through a number of interactive exhibits, including a space shuttle, children’s games and a passenger train. Great Civil War and Indian collections are hallmarks.
You’ll find eight acres of peaceful gardens at Georgia Golf Hall of Fame’s Botanical Gardens (706-724-4442 or www.gghf.org), 1 11th St., where life-size bronze sculptures of golf greats swing and tee off among rose, butterfly and xeriscape gardens. New this April will be an 18-hole mini-golf course where golfers can play miniature replicas of some of the state’s famous golf holes.
And what fun would a river be without boat? You can rent pontoon boats and jet skis at Riverwalk Marina (706-722-1388), 1 Fifth St.
The city’s new canal rides are a must-do. Tours are organized by and depart from the Augusta Canal National Heritage Center (706-823-0440 or www.augustacanal.com), 1450 Greene St. Guides and drivers manning the replica canal boats are funny, informative and respectful of the canal, Georgia’s only National Heritage area.
The picturesque canals of Augusta are good draws for travelers.*
The cargo boats follow the same path bales of cotton traveled in the 19th century. You’ll travel past three mills along dark, still waters alive with water hyacinth, ducks and turtles (and also kayakers). You can also bike or walk the towpath.
After the tour, you’ll have a better understanding of the South’s Industrial Revolution by viewing exhibits at the restored 19th century Enterprise textile mill. On Saturdays from March through November, popular three-hour sunset tours include live music, cocktails and appetizers.
Golf Goes On
Each April the town nearly changes personalities, becoming a flurried, peopled destination when the world-renowned Masters Tournament (706-667-6000) is in full swing. Tickets for the April 2-8 tournament event as well as lottery spots for watching the world’s golf champions, such as Tiger Woods, at practice rounds held earlier in the week are long gone.
Check out the Masters Web site for 2008 tournament information and ticket options.
New Tour ‘Round Town
A great way for visitors to soak in the sights is by taking a new two-hour tour in a 15-passenger van, offered each Saturday at 1:30 p.m. by the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau. Led by a local historian, the tour covers downtown and the historic Summerville “Hill” area, and includes a visit to the Museum of History. Reservations ($10 for adults, $5 children) are necessary.
For more information, contact the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau (706-724-4067 or www.augustaga.org). The Visitors Information Center is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.
From her hometown of Charleston, SC, freelance writer Mary Sue Lawrence covers mostly the southeastern U.S. for regional, national and United Kingdom publications
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Augusta, GA, Convention & Visitors Bureau. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.