The New Augustan magazine listed 25 things to do in Augusta, GA, but it was a hot, autumn, Sunday afternoon when Ruth & I were there and very little was opened. “Drive a back road” had little appeal to us because we had driven here from Macon after visiting Ocmulgee that same morning. That had been enough driving. We looked further in the magazine and found another 39 suggestions. The Forest Hills Golf Club was one of them but not The Masters. If there had been a tour of it, we would have been interested. There was not. The Augusta Museum of History was opened and promised an exhibit called “Celebrating a Grand Tradition, the Sport of Golf, and five life-size statues of golf’s greatest players and much, much more”. At least we would learn something about Augusta, the Golf Capital of the Nation and a city we had passed but never entered. We headed for it and disappointment.
I thought about this museum and its focus on celebrities, like singers James Brown and Jessye Norman, who were born here, when I saw a picture of the opera star’s funeral procession this past weekend. Her casket was in an old-fashioned, horse-drawn hearse that reminded me of the one used in the Abraham Lincoln commemoration we got involved in. There was a similar hearse in the Augusta Museum of History that was used between 1890 and 1920. There was also an ancient steam fire engine, an entire train, and a period trolly car in it. They were all dimly lit and not very interesting. The golf exhibit was one of the more dynamic displays, but it needed updating like everything else in this mammoth museum with few visitors.
I enjoyed looking at an 1897 picture of Augusta’s Bon Air Golf Club. The Bon Air, part of a hotel complex, had this city’s first golf course. In 1932 the course that would host The Masters opened. Two years later Bobby Jones created a golf tournament on his “dream course” in Augusta. This tournament evolved into The Masters. The grounds used to be called Fruitland Manor. A Belgian family emigrated to Georgia in the mid 19th century, and the father and his son developed a nursery on this land that would become The Augusta National Golf Club. That’s why all 18 holes are named after nursery plants grown by the Berckmans at Fruitland Nurseries.
The display about James Brown was as outdated as the rest of this museum. Other former residents of this town included what this museum calls local legends. They were Eli Whitney, Butterfly McQueen, Oliver Hardy, and Ty Cobb. Time to play Who Are They? Three still-living legends from Augusta mentioned in this museum were Amy Grant, Laurence Fishburne, and Brenda Lee. Singer Lee retired from performing in 2010. According to The New Augustan, Ty Cobb began his professional sports career as a player on the Augusta Tourists Minor League team. The next year, 1905, “The Georgia Peach” moved on to the Detroit Tigers and baseball glory. His career batting average during 28 years was .336.
After relearning about Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, we headed for the exit. We asked the man at the desk why the film being currently shown was about Ellis Island. He did not know but told us that the films shown in this museum’s theater change every month, and that the only repeating one was about James Brown. It’s always revived during his birthday month.