Tourist stops vie for golf fans' time



Golf won't be the only thing catching the attention of tourists this week.

Officials at some of the area's top tourist stops, including museums and national heritage areas, say that when they're not at the Masters, many golf fans will likely visit them.

"More folks are coming to see us during Masters Week than they used to," said Rebecca Rogers, the marketing director for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, which offers hiking trails, an interpretive center and a tour on a Petersburg boat. The boat cost is $12, which includes a visit to the interpretive center.

The canal has averaged about 500 ticket sales during Masters Week, and this year should be even better because the waterway is full, Rogers said.

"Last Masters, we had no water in the canal," she said. "It was drained. They didn't get the water back for us until May."

She said a visit to the canal heritage area for visitors should be interesting because "you can learn a little bit of the history of the city you're visiting." The heritage area was designated by Congress in 1996 and is one of the nation's oldest such sites.

Another top spot that sees a large turnout during Masters Week is the Augusta Museum of History, on Reynolds Street. Kristine Hamilton, a worker there, said attendance doubles during Masters Week.

"In the last five years, we've gone anywhere from 1,500 to 2,300," she said of the week's average numbers.

A big draw there this year will be a special golf exhibit that includes bronze statues of golf greats Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Ray Floyd. An authentic green jacket donated by the Augusta National Golf Club also is part of the exhibit.

In Columbia County, just west of Augusta, many Masters visitors also make their way each year to the Savannah Rapids Pavilion and a restored canal lock-keeper's cottage that's been transformed into a state welcome center.

The welcome center, on the banks of the Savannah River off Evans to Locks Road, typically has more than 1,000 people sign a visitor tracking sheet during Masters Week, said Sandy Boner, Columbia County's Rental Facilities and Venues Department manager.

"I think it's the beauty of the site," Boner said of why people come there, adding that the welcome center also offers brochures for attractions locally and throughout Georgia.

Farther west in Columbia County, the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Harlem caters to those with a funny bone. The museum -- a tribute to the comedic duo, with particular emphasis on Oliver Hardy, who was born in Harlem in 1892 -- usually sees about 500 visitors during tournament week, said museum worker Melissa Horton. She said that's about 400 more than it draws in a typical week.

"We get them from everywhere -- Germany, England, the Netherlands, South America, France," she said.

Back in downtown Augusta, children will find fun activities at the National Science Center's Fort Discovery, which has more than 250 exhibits, a StarLab Planetarium and KidScape Gallery. It usually has between 100 and 300 visitors this week, said Julie Butler, the site's marketing director.

Another downtown Augusta spot is the Morris Museum of Art, at 1 10th St. Kristen Knispel, of the museum, said it recently reinstalled its permanent collection, meaning several new pieces are displayed. "We would like to spread the work that we are open (Masters Week)," she said.