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You can’t play Augusta, but you can play the best Augusta-like courses

March 23, 2016

There are a fistful of courses in the United States that embody the virtues of Augusta National. Some evoke the ambience, others the design, and still others the flowers. Here are three stunners that replicate the Masters magic.

Peachtree G.C., Atlanta, Ga.

In terms of prestige, ambience, history, setting and design, the club most closely linked to Augusta National sits about two hours west of it. Crafted from a former nursery by Bobby Jones in 1947, in collaboration with Robert Trent Jones Sr., Peachtree embodies many of the virtues inherent in its elder Georgia sibling, and no wonder. As Bobby Jones stated at the outset, “We agreed we should try and build a course as near like Augusta National as possible, and better, if possible.” Peachtree meanders up and down the valleys of a typically hilly Georgia plot, weaving through dense forest before culminating in huge, often elevated, topsy-turvy greens. Bobby’s influence on Trent is evidenced by the paucity of fairway bunkers and in its risk/reward par 5s, like at No. 2, where water lurks front and right of the green. Flashed-up sand, dogwoods and azaleas (and members who belong to both clubs) further link Augusta and Peachtree.

The Alotian Club, Roland, Ark.

Arkansas’ answer to Augusta National enjoys many similarities, among them a rolling, expansive, wooded tract studded with azaleas in springtime, a Southern plantation–style clubhouse and an ambience of relaxed exclusivity. It’s no wonder: Alotian founder Warren Stephens’s dad, Jack, was the former Masters chairman. Membership in this very private club just west of Little Rock is by invitation only and includes some of the nation’s most prominent CEOs, many who arrive by private jet. Locals make up less than 40 percent of the membership. The only caddie program in Arkansas is managed by Carl Jackson, the Augusta National looper who was Ben Crenshaw’s bagman for both of Crenshaw’s Masters victories. Augusta National’s consulting architect Tom Fazio routed a course overlooking Lake Maumelle that embraces strategic bunkering, angled greens and excellent direction changes. Together with flawless conditioning, risk/reward par 5s and forests flecked with dogwoods, it sure sounds like a certain Georgian layout. All that’s missing are the green sandwich wrappers.

Sage Valley G.C., Graniteville, S.C.

Club visionary Weldon Wyatt may or may not have created Sage Valley because he couldn’t get into Augusta National, but he doesn’t deny he lifted many pages from the Augusta playbook. Wyatt, who founded SubAir Systems, a process that drains the moisture from greens at exclusive clubs such as, well, Augusta National, asked Masters domo Jack Stephens who he’d recommend to design his dream course in Graniteville, less than 20 miles from Augusta. Tom Fazio’s name emerged, and in 2001 his handiwork was revealed to the world—or a very small portion of it, as Sage Valley’s membership cherishes its privacy and the tranquility of its setting. Thousands of pines and azaleas were transported here. Roomy fairways ease past gorgeously sculpted bunkers and finish at fast greens. Sixteen cottages await members and their guests. Dare we call Sage Valley the Augusta National of South Carolina? Yes.