Aiken: A Historical Paradise for Golfers and Horse Lovers
The history of Aiken, SC, reaches back to the early 1800s. The town of Aiken was established in 1833 and chartered in 1835, located near a railroad built by South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company. Aiken quickly became popular with visitors, such as well-to-do Charlestonians, who chose to summer in the area, avoiding the heat and diseases associated with the coastal region. After the conclusion of the Civil War, Aiken gained notoriety as the “Winter Colony,” referring to the influx of wealthy northerners who spent the winter season in the area, allowing them to continue their participation and spectating of equestrian sports year-round. One of the notable Winter Colony visitors was Thomas Hitchcock, who later donated a large tract of land for horsebacking and other outdoor activities, known in present day as Hitchcock Woods. Many of the buildings located in Aiken’s downtown corridor were built during this era.
Like the Charlestonians who spent summers in Aiken and the northerners who were drawn to Aiken for its comparatively mild winters, families and individuals are still being drawn to Aiken from other parts of the United States. Though Aiken offers activities and lifestyles suitable for people of all ages, Aiken maintains a reputation as a popular city to retire to, for a variety of reasons.
Located in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA), Aiken is located approximately 20 miles northeast of Augusta, GA. It is also the county seat of Aiken County. Drawing from its rich history of equestrianism dating back to the era of the Winter Colony, Aiken maintains a rich culture for horse lovers and equine sports enthusiasts. The Aiken Steeplechase Association hosts both fall and spring steeplechase racing events. The Aiken Polo Club, established in 1882, a mere six years after the sport reached the United States. Today, it hosts spring and fall seasons, attracting players and spectators from across the country. Aiken also offers a number of stables, offering a variety of services, including horse boarding, horseback riding lessons, trail rides and more. Mentioned previously, Hitchcock Woods is the largest urban forest in the U.S. It boasts 2,100 acres of forest and 70 miles of sandy trails for horseback riders, spanning more square miles than Central Park in New York City. Aiken residents and visitors also enjoy a number of horse-themed shops in the downtown corridor of local businesses, and horses and their riders even have the legal right-of-way on Aiken city streets.
If horses aren’t your speed, Aiken also offers a number of golf courses, some of which have a long-standing history comparable to its equine organizations. Like the Aiken Polo Club, the Palmetto Golf Club was established in 1882 to serve the Winter Colony residents. According to its own research, the Palmetto Golf Club is the second-oldest golf course in the country to have continually operated in the same location. A number of other courses serve the area, including Woodside Plantation Golf Club, the Reserve at Woodside Plantation, Cedar Creek Golf Club, Sage Valley Golf Club, and The Aiken Golf Club. These private courses, along with a number of public courses in the area, provide ample opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and hone a golf swing. An added perk of Aiken’s location is its proximity to the annual Masters Tournament, regarded by many as the most prestigious tournament on the PGA Tour.