From today’s demise of a blue law to a new Kroc Center, Augusta will appear a little different to the annual throngs of tourists
descending on the city this week for the Masters Tournament.
Richmond County voters shrugged off an age-old prohibition against Sunday retail alcohol sales last month, making Augusta-Richmond County the only metro jurisdiction besides neighboring Grovetown to allow Sunday sales, effective today.
The change was embraced for the convenience it will offer consumers by groceries, wholesale and convenience stores, most of which will flip the lights on in their beer coolers at 12:30 p.m. today for the first time.
It wasn’t as popular with liquor store owners such as Phillip Song, the owner of Superstar Wine & Spirits in south Augusta. Song welcomed Sundays as the single day he has each week to spend with family and campaigned against the referendum, posting “Vote No on Sunday Sales” on his sign before the vote.
Active with the Korean Liquor Association, which represents at least 17 stores around Augusta, Song said he won’t open today or on future Sundays unless his sales drop.
New to the unfortunate tourist who has a brush with crime during this year’s tournament is the Augusta-Richmond County Judicial Building and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse, the $67 million new home of the Augusta judiciary.
The 200,000-square-foot structure on James Brown Boulevard at Walton Way opened to great fanfare last May with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as guest speaker.
Some city officials were less than enthused when the conservative justice was invited to speak at the opening of a courthouse named for Ruffin, a late Augusta civil rights attorney and the first black chief judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals.
The soon-to-be remodeled Municipal Building on Greene Street previously housed Augusta’s judges, courtrooms, prosecutors and court records.
New for golfer tourists seeking to play a round or two is management at Augusta Municipal Golf Course, affectionately known as “The Patch.”
Brian Hendry, an Aberdeen, Scotland, native who frequents Augusta, took over management at the course Jan. 1 with special plans for Masters Week.
Hendry has made some improvements and added Scottish touches, including golf pro Ronnie MacDonald. He will entertain some European golf visitors at the course this week and run a shuttle between The Patch and Augusta National Golf Club, he said.
“People will visit the Patch that have never visited it before,” Hendry said.
Designed by Scotsman David Ogilvie, who was then head pro at Augusta Country Club, the 1926 course is a piece of “wonderful Scottish history” Hendry intends to celebrate.
Last fall saw the opening of a $107 million Salvation Army Kroc Center, named for McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc, whose estate provided much of the money for the project.
The center, one of a handful around the U.S., occupies 17 acres and 100,000 square feet in Augusta’s historic Harrisburg mill community and offers indoor swimming and a host of other
community activities and services.
The center, which was completed after a local fundraising campaign raised about $30 million, became the model for Kroc Centers in the works nationwide, officials said.
As a boon to tourists and locals alike, the center is offering special Masters Week memberships to visitors seeking a place to swim or work out or otherwise explore the Kroc, center community relations manager Anthony Esposito said.
Tourists who venture downtown and need a place to park will find Augusta’s new six-floor, 650-space parking garage at Ninth and Reynolds streets, which opened last fall.
The $12 million structure, already garnering architectural design awards, is intended to provide parking for the adjoining Trade, Exhibit and Event Center under construction, but its upper five levels are available for public use 24 hours a day.
Also open to Masters visitors is Augusta’s new Costco. The membership wholesale store at Alexander Drive and River Watch Parkway brought 200 jobs and an estimated $135 million in annual sales taxes to Augusta when it opened Nov. 15.
Store Assistant General Manager Brandon Laughlin said the Augusta Costco is anticipating out-of-town members and locals alike to drop by during Masters Week, where Costco also will offer them a first taste of Sunday retail alcohol sales in Augusta.
Visitors who are musically inclined can check out Columbia County’s tribute to country music trio Lady Antebellum, whose Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood grew up in the suburban county.
Lady Antebellum Pavilion opened at Evans Towne Center Park on Oct. 28 with a concert by the group.