For one week a year, in mid-April, Augusta is the center of the
sporting universe. There's no school in Augusta during Masters
week, and good luck getting into the T-Bonz steak house, just
down Washington Road from the Augusta National entrance, unless
you're Fuzzy Zoeller or some other golfing notable. But then the
tournament ends, and school resumes, and the old Southern
city-slash-endless strip mall returns to its off-season ways. If
you experience Augusta only through the genteel CBS Masters
telecast--the courtly Butler Cabin interviews, the whispering
galleries, the string music interludes--you probably think
Augusta is tranquil and mossy, old-world, another Savannah.
Uh ... not exactly.
Greater Augusta has more than 500,000 residents (including 60,000
people associated with the Fort Gordon Army base), a dozen tattoo
parlors, two T-Bonzes, one Hooters and a long association with
professional wrestling. In Augusta, birthplace of Hulk Hogan,
they wrestle for real. There are still folks in town who remember
the wild night in the late '70s when Tommy (Wildfire) Rich and
"Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer couldn't settle their staged battle within
the confines of the snug Bell Auditorium and took their dispute
into the parking lot on Telfair Street, where all bets were off.
Now when wrestling comes to town, it's held at the charmless
Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, but that doesn't mean
everybody plays nice.
For 51 weeks a year Augusta's sporting life is conducted above
the din; even at the bass fishing contests in the massive,
man-made Thurmond Lake (named for the late Strom Thurmond, the
U.S. senator from South Carolina) there's a whole lot of whooping
going on. Yes, the rowing events in the Savannah River are
subdued affairs, but that's an aberration. The engine rumble from
the annual Southern National Drag Boat Racing Championships, held
on the river each July, leaves women, children and fish holding
their ears for mercy.
April 11, 2004
The 8,500-seat Civic Center is the hub of the city's sports life
in the long off-season. It's where the occasional boxing match is
held, where the Harlem Globetrotters play annually, where the
monster truck competitions take place and where the Augusta Lynx,
a minor league hockey team, play about three dozen home dates a
The Lynx, a member of the East Coast Hockey League, are only six
years old, but their hard-skating style made them an instant hit;
they now draw an average of 4,500 fans per game. Checking and
brawling are sure ways to get into the sporting heart of
It's hard to escape from golf in Augusta. The hockey team's
nickname plays off a golf term, links, and one of the team
owners, Frank Lawrence, also owns a car dealership, Bobby Jones
Ford, off the Bobby Jones Expressway. Another Lynx owner, William
S. Morris III, publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and Gray's
Sporting Journal, was the main force behind the creation of the
Greater Augusta Sports Council. But what's really notable about
him is this: He's an Augusta National member.
One of Morris's goals for the sports council is to make Augusta
inviting to various sporting organizations. The Georgia Golf Hall
of Fame is in Augusta, and the Professional Disc Golf Association
is now relocating from Toronto to Augusta, where there are four
disc golf courses. Disc golfers call real golf "ball golf," but
they are golf buffs all the same. Pat Govang, now the
association's former commissioner, thought he'd died and gone to
heaven when, during his organization's recruitment by Augusta, he
was invited to attend a Masters practice round, where he spent
about $3,000 on souvenirs. "It's the ultimate carrot," says Tammy
Stout, the sports council's executive director. A Masters badge
is often said to be the toughest ticket in all of sports. In her
job, knowing Augusta members is huge.
W.S. Morris--that's Mr. Morris to the many folks who work for
him--is a horseman, and he's rich and persuasive, which explains
why Augusta is the national home of the Atlantic Coast Cutting
Horse Association and why the Augusta Futurity, an annual equine
competition held in the Civic Center, has a $1 million purse. For
the 10 days of the Augusta Futurity, Morris puts on a cowboy hat
and asks to be called Billy, just like the other Futurity cowboys
named William. The Chronicle's coverage of the Augusta Futurity
is beyond comprehensive.
As in every city in the South--small, medium and large--football
and baseball dominate high school athletic life in Augusta, where
integration has made little headway in the public schools.
Augusta had a professional Arena Football team for a while, and
the Boston Red Sox have a Class A team in the South Atlantic
League, the Augusta GreenJackets. (The name is another play on
golf, although Augustans are as likely to call Augusta National
members greencoats, as the colonial British soldiers were
redcoats.) The GreenJackets usually draw a few hundred fans to
their games at Lake Olmstead Stadium, but when they have a
fireworks night, you can't hardly get a seat, as the locals would
say. Ty Cobb, a.k.a. the Georgia Peach, played his first year of
pro ball in Augusta, married an Augusta girl, lived in Augusta
for years and knew Bobby Jones well. There's a plan under
consideration in the city council to rename the stadium for
baseball's most accomplished redneck.
The two colleges in Augusta make substantial contributions to the
city's athletic life. Augusta State is a Division II school with
a Division I golf team that's often ranked among the best in the
country. Paine College, a historically black school, was attended
by Jim Dent, a native Augustan, veteran professional golfer and
early devotee of the Big Bertha driver. There are Augusta
National caddies, related to Dent, who claim the driver was named
for their mother or grandaunt or other kin. (Actually, the club
was named after a German World War I cannon.) Uh-oh: Have we
slipped into golf here? When the subject is the sporting life of
Augusta, you can't hardly help it.
The world's most famous golfing garden--Augusta natives call it
the National--is open only from October through May, but golf is
a year-round game in Augusta, played by most everybody, it seems,
rich and poor and in between. There's the bare-boned Augusta
Municipal, five miles from the National and known as the Patch,
where the Augusta National club caddies hang out, play golf cheap
and gamble exuberantly. The Patch (so-called for the cabbage
patch the old pro had near his shop) opened for play in 1928.
Forest Hills, a very good Donald Ross public course, dates to
'26. The socially prominent Augusta Country Club, abutting the
National, was founded in 1899. Many people assume Bobby Jones
made Augusta a golf town when he founded the National with
Clifford Roberts. That's not the case; golf wasn't played at
Augusta National until 1933. The truth is, Augusta was already a
golf town when the legendary amateur chose it for his dream
course. What he patented at the National was the hush, and what
developed in the ensuing years was mystery and awe over a club
and a course. Charles Howell III, an Augusta native competing in
this week's Masters, grew up on that.
So did Ray Guy. The Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders' punter for
14 seasons, he was born and raised in Thomson, Ga.--"a half hour
from the front gate of the National," he says--and still lives
there. He's a five-handicap golfer, and for decades he dreamed
about playing Jones's course. Two years ago, at age 52, he
finally did, with old Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler in his
group. He played it again last year, with Dan Reeves, then the
Falcons coach, in his group. He doesn't know if he'll ever get to
play it again, but he's O.K. with that. "I got to play it, and
that's more than most can say," he says.
Anyway, he can always get on the Patch. His brother, Larry, is
the course superintendent there. In Augusta all roads lead to
golf. Hockey, football, baseball, Washington--you name it. Can't
hardly think of one that doesn't.
This is the 38th in SI's 50th anniversary series on the 50
states. Next week: Massachusetts.
For more about sports in Georgia and the other 49 states, go to
From the Masters telecast you may think Augusta is tranquil,
mossy, old world--but for 51 weeks a year there's a whole lot of
whooping going on.