SAGE VALLEY - 17 POINTS
24 miles to the east of August National lies Sage Valley. Now, let's get the first thing out of the way - there is something very odd about Sage Valley.
The story goes that the owner didn't get into Augusta National so decided to build his own version a few miles away. You walk in and there is a huge portrait of member Jay Haas in a green jacket. You got that right, a green jacket. Members here coincidentally wear them. In some ways he has taken the Augusta thing a little too far. The holes are all names after flowers on the course, the caddies wear white jumpsuits. You get the idea.
It's got a reputation as a very exclusive club though and one where the pros practice ahead of Augusta – we played it Masters week and Bubba Watson and Fred Couples were both warming up the week before. The service here is off-the-charts top end and they have tried hard to make this feel like a members' club for high rollers. To be honest that all left me feeling a little cold. It's obviously really hard to create the feeling of an old established golf club by just throwing money at it.
It wouldn't be true to say the course itself was in the same condition as Augusta, that would be near impossible, but it sure wasn't bad. We played it towards the end of the Masters week and the course was getting c 200 rounds a day rather than the usual 20 so it is no surprise that standards had slipped a little - quite a lot of divots and pitch marks around - but it was still very good.
The course itself is fairly long - 7,400 off the back and 6,700 from the members tees - but with plenty of elevated tees it doesn't ever feel horribly long , although there are a lot of long irons or woods into the par 4s for your second shot.
The course definitely has an Augusta feel to it. The fairways are really wide and inviting from the tee with nothing fatal if you miss them and it is the accuracy of the approach shots which will really determine your score.
The greens were slick but only a couple were scarily so - a back pin at 18 was a particular disaster for me! In terms of memorable holes there are more here than at many courses - 2 is a great par 3 with a drop to a water-surrounded green, 6 was a fun par 4, 8 challenging par 5 up the hill and around to the right, the list goes on. Fazio has done a pretty good job at producing a job which tests you but is still some fun to play.
I’m afraid I didn’t get too many shots of the course but there is a great review with plenty of pictures here if you are looking to find out more.
While there was a lot to really like about the course, I did find the length of the par 3s somewhat tedious. Apart from the 2nd over water (which measures at 169) the other three are 187, 213 and 206 yards from the member tees and a lot more from the back. Not much variety really and a bit of a bore.
Caddies are compulsory and unfortunately they just couldn't cope when we were there. They have a handful of regular caddies who are professionals and know the course well – many of them came over from working at Augusta. During Masters week, however, they need a lot more and bring in anyone who wants to carry a bag around the course it seems.
On the plus side everyone gets their own caddie – they will be awaiting your arrival on the practice area - rather than the usual shared caddie practice in the US.
The ones we were allocated were really bad. Terrible clubbing, calling out to each other when we were playing and very little insight on the greens. It was a real shame as they could have enhanced the experience but definitely took away from it.
To conclude, the course is a good challenge and even when getting far more play than normal stood up pretty well. The greens especially were slick and true. Of course it's not Augusta but it will be a course you will remember and one which is definitely worth playing if you get the chance.
Looking back I have 2 regrets about my visit to Sage Valley. Firstly, not getting a photograph of the Jay Haas portrait as you walk in and secondly not being there at 6pm. Every night the sound of bagpipes is relayed around the estate through a loudspeaker system. Now where else can you say that?!
BOOKING THE COURSE
This is no pay and play but it’s no Augusta either. The website doesn't explain how you can book and it's never part of any packages or the like. However, we were staying at a rented flat in Augusta and the person who sorted that out (a local resident) was able to get us our Masters badges as well as Sage Valley tee times through local contacts. We found him through a Google search and if anyone wants his details just get in touch. I will do a blog post at some time but suffice to say a week at Augusta combined with golf here and Palmetto made for a pretty amazing experience!
If you are looking for more golf in the area then I would wholeheartedly recommend Palmetto. Its one of the oldest courses in the US and a real gem. Designed by Alister MacKenzie after he had finished at nearby Augusta National they allow guest play for one week in April a year - if you are in the area in Masters' week be sure to check it out.