Aiken has just about everything recreational a visitor could want, from horse trails and biking trails in Hitchcock Woods to tennis, boating and more at a variety of local parks. You can even rent an electric bicycle to explore Downtown Aiken and surrounding areas.
But this being Aiken, a mere 20 miles from the heart of golf in America—Augusta National, home of the Masters—let’s start with some unique opportunities for lovers of golf.
Palmetto Golf Club, a private course near the heart of downtown, is the state’s oldest course (founded in 1892) and the second-oldest course on its original site in the U.S., after Chicago Golf Club. A visit to the relatively short (6,700 yards) but devilishly difficult course is a bucket-list item for most serious fans of the game. After all, some of the game’s greats—Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and more—visited Palmetto annually en route to the Masters, practicing on fairways that, then, at least, mirrored what they’d see during the tournament.
But access to Palmetto is limited to guests of members, or to those in town each April for Masters Week, when limited outside play is available. It’s worth making such a trip. But if you can’t, the city has a delightful alternative.
Welcome to Aiken Golf Club, the slightly younger (1912) kin of Palmetto. Even shorter at less than 6,000 yards, this cozy but challenging gem was originally the Highland Park Golf Course, an amenity of the Highland Park Hotel, which welcomed rich visitors from New York during the Roaring Twenties and into the 1950s. Today, Aiken GC is public and welcomes everyone.
And what a treat: narrow, rolling fairways and smallish greens, with pine-lined confines that remind travelers of North Carolina’s Pinehurst region. Walking is allowed and even encouraged. And there’s history, too: Aiken is where shorter “ladies’ tees” first came into being, and for years some of the world’s best women players competed there.
After a round, step into the Highland Park Grille for lunch—a 2019 survey rated the food some of the best in town—and view black-and-white photos on the walls of some of the greats of women's golf.
Want more golf? Aiken owner Jim McNair also operates Cedar Creek Golf Club, an Arthur Hills design with more length (7,045 yards) and a more modern feel, but still bordered by tall pines and rolling sand hills.
Also private, but accessible to those staying at its Inn at Houndslake, Houndslake Country Club is the area’s only 27-hole course. Built by architect Joe Lee in 1974, the course has played host to numerous S.C. Golf Association championships and U.S. Amateur qualifying events. Another option is Midland Valley Golf Club, a 1961 Ellis Maples design, with the same pines, terrain changes and more.
Had enough golf? Aiken has plenty of outdoor activities for non-players, too. Take the family to Citizens Park, where kids can enjoy the Sprayground splash pad on hot weekends year-round, as well as 14 multi-purpose fields, eight batting cages, picnic tables, concession stands, restrooms and miles of sidewalks inside the 123.3-acre site.
If tennis is a passion, Weeks Tennis Center offers six hard courts and 10 clay courts (reservations required), plus locker rooms and a wrap around porch.
H.Odell Weeks Center features an aerobics room, canteen and two gymnasiums.
For lovers of the outdoors, Aiken State Park is a destination for fishing, canoeing and kayaking on the South Edisto River. A 1.7-mile canoe and kayak trail winds through the park’s wooded areas and attracts paddlers from across the Southeast. The park dates from the Great Depression when Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers built it.
If you want a look around Aiken without wearing out your shoes, visit Pedego Electric Bikes, located in Aiken’s The Alley in downtown. Rentals are available, with electric bike experts on hand to help you get started.
Finally, if your furry best friend is feeling left out, never fear: Aiken Dog Park will satisfy the most discriminating pooch. Three areas for small, large and both sized dogs are available, and there’s even a wading pool for water-loving pets. All pets using the facility must register with the Aiken SPCA’s Albrecht Center (199 Willow Run Road; (803) 648-6863). Microchips must also be registered and rabies vaccinations are required.
Walking, biking, swimming, fishing, canoeing and kayaking—it’s all available in Aiken. But seriously, you should really try the golf.