BEST COURSES ON THE WAY
If you're driving down I-95 from the Northeast, pull over in the Pinehurst, N.C., area for Tobacco Road ($107--$134; 919-775-1940, tobaccoroadgolf.com), a freakishly exciting, love-hate Mike Strantz design that you'll never forget. From I-77, Midwesterners can enjoy their own thrill fest, the Pete Dye River course of Virginia Tech ($49--$80; 540-633-6732, rivercoursegolf.com), in Radford, Va., a 7,665-yard fun house bisected by a 70-foot cliff.
BEST ALTERNATIVE AIRPORT
Atlanta is a solid choice, with direct flights from everywhere, but it can get crazy busy, especially in bad weather, and the 150-mile drive east to Augusta is dull Interstate for the duration. Still, from New York City's LaGuardia, it's $208 on Delta versus $368--$468 to fly direct to Augusta. From Philadelphia on U.S. Air it's $183--$208 nonstop to Atlanta with a fistful of departure and return options versus $528 for the only nonstop flight into Augusta. My hidden gem is Savannah, Ga. The small but modern airport is easy on the eyes and easy to negotiate, the airfare and rental-car savings (one-third what you pay in Atlanta and Augusta for the same vehicles) are significant and the 21/2-hour drive to Augusta is scenic.
BEST COURSES IN AUGUSTA
Almost every course jacks up the price for Masters week, so if sticker shock is an issue, go with Augusta Municipal ($30--$35; 706-731-9344, augustaga.gov/departments/recreation/municipal_golf). Locals semiaffectionately call it the Patch (for Cabbage Patch) for obvious reasons, but for the price, this 6,019-yard par-72 is O.K. Check out the 422-yard, par-4 11th, whose fairway runs adjacent to Runway 5 at Daniel Field Airport—and see if you can spot any differences in the firmness of the landing areas.
Jones Creek Golf Club (706-860-4228, jonescreekgolfclub.com), a handsome Rees Jones design, gets a pricey $500 a foursome on the Saturday and Sunday before the Masters, a whopping $900 on the Monday and Sunday of tournament week, and an outrageous $1,200 on Tuesday through Saturday. Set along the Savannah River just across the South Carolina state line, the River Golf Club (803-202-0110, rivergolfclub.com) is a watery Jim Fazio design that's asking $250 to tee it up on Tuesday through Saturday, but call ahead because the club might settle for something less to fill up the tee sheet. My advice: Go for a history lesson among the dogwoods at Forest Hills ($150; 706-733-0001, foresthillsgolfcourse.com), a rolling 1926 Donald Ross design where Bobby Jones won the 1930 Southeastern Open. It's a relative bargain at $75 after 2 p.m.
Two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw tabs Luigi's (706-722-4056, luigisinc.com) in downtown Augusta as the one restaurant on Tour that he can't do without. Crenshaw's choice is the toasted ravioli with meat sauce, but it's the lasagna that is the week's runaway best seller.
Best special-occasion formal dining is at La Maison on Telfair (706-722-4805, lamaisontelfair.com), which is housed in a Victorian mansion, while the French Market Grille (706-855-5111, frenchmarketaugusta.com) is its near equal. French Market's frozen peanut butter pie is the best dessert in town. Best breakfast dive honors go to the Whistle Stop Café (706-724-8224), where the mayor eats every week, while best barbecue is Sconyers, on the outskirts of town. Eating at the restaurant is best—Sconyers is housed in a log cabin, complete with water wheel—but when Jimmy Carter couldn't break away from the White House, he had a take-out order flown in. The best places to see caddies, with or without their players, are either TBonz Steakhouse, on Washington Road (706-737-8325, tbonz.com), which is closer to Augusta National, or the Gordon Highway (706-796-1875). Be prepared to wait. These are popular spots.
BEST PLACES FOR FUN AFTER DINNER
To catch the day's highlights, head to Somewhere in Augusta (706-739-0002, somewhereinaugusta.com) on Washington, where 35 HD screens await. For live music, the Soul Bar (706-724-8880, soulbar.com) downtown on Broad Street will have you back up on your (tired) feet in no time.
BEST PLACE TO STAY
Hands down, it's the Partridge Inn (706-737-8888, partridgeinn.com). Dating to 1892, this is Old South grandeur at its Gone With the Wind greatest, right down to its creaky stairwells and wraparound porch. Superior dining and the best Sunday brunch in Augusta takes place at the Partridge's Verandah Grill. Considering that nearly every other hotel in town is a second- or third-tier chain establishment, the Partridge soars. (As does its prices. Rooms go for $750 for a king and queen, $900 for a suite.)
BEST ESCAPE FROM THE GOLF
Augusta's Riverwalk stretches for five blocks along the Savannah River. Gardens, historic buildings and monuments will take your mind off the fact that all five of your players missed the cut in your office pool.
BEST RAINY DAY ACTIVITY
The Augusta History Museum (706-722-8454, augustamuseum.org) is full of all things old, highlighted by both a Masters past-champions exhibit and a special collection devoted to lifelong resident James Brown. An interactive feature allows you to dance in step with the Godfather of Soul—I'd pay money to see a few of the ancient Augusta National members shimmying in their green jackets.
BEST TRAFFIC ADVICE
Be patient. This year a new spectator entrance and parking area has been created off Berckmans Road, so the usual traffic snarls on Washington might be a thing of the past—or not. Expect a glacial pace on highways and side streets until they work out the kinks by 2010.
BEST DAY TO ATTEND THE MASTERS
Wednesday is the most crowded but offers the greatest variety. Buy your trinkets early—and have them shipped home, so you don't have to lug them around. Watch the lads on the big course in the morning, then camp on the hill between the 8th and the 9th holes on the par-3 course an hour before the par-3 contest starts at 1 p.m. Spring for the souvenir Masters beverage cups (they'll hold up for years) and try a pimento-and-cheese sandwich, just to say you did. They're so cheap ($1.50), you'll have plenty of coin left over for the more edible Masters club sandwich for a paltry $2.50. Leave the par-3 a little early and walk Amen Corner in virtual solitude.
Photograph by GREG FOSTER
HIGH END For those with deep pockets (or on a corporate account), a tee time for four can be had for $1,200 on the Tuesday through Saturday of tournament week at Jones Creek Golf Club (above), a handsome Rees Jones design. Aside from Sunday afternoon, the best day at Augusta National is Wednesday, when you can watch morning practice, then see pros like Luke Donald (opposite) have afternoon fun at the par-3 contest.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (PAR-3 CONTEST)
[See caption above]