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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Augusta University is the public academic health center for the state of Georgia. It formerly was known as the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), a name it had operated under since 1828. In 2012, the Board of Regents for the state of Georgia conducted a massive consolidation of schools located in the same geographic locations. This resulted in the consolidation of MCG with Augusta State University. The newly merged entity was christened Georgia Regent’s University. This name was never accepted by the local populace and on January 1, 2016 its name was changed to Augusta University.
The consolidated entity now has more than 9,800 students and offers four medical-related degrees in addition to degrees in the areas of arts and sciences, business, education and science/mathematics. Its 150 building campus is based in downtown Augusta, and is the largest employer in the Richmond County/Augusta area.
Augusta University’s athletic teams compete at the NCAA Division II level and are members of the Peach Belt Conference (PBC). The team nickname is the Jaguars, which is a carryover from the original Augusta State University days. Baseball has been played by the school since 1966 and they have played at a .467 clip since beginning competition through the 2015 season. They have played in two NCAA regionals, but have never made it to the Division II College World Series.
Home field for the Jaguars is Lake Olmstead Stadium, a city owned facility that is also home to the Augusta GreenJackets of Class A ball during the summer months. The stadium was built in 1995 and has a baseball seating capacity of over 4,800. Seating is broken down into 1,000 box seats, 800 reserved seats and 2,500 general admission seats. An additional group seating area along the right field line can hold up to 500 people.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The stadium is located in a city park, and there are no restaurants within walking distance of the stadium. Fortunately the Jaguars concessions are the same as those provided by the GreenJackets, which offers a good array of food at reasonable prices.
Cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, nachos, pretzels and corn dog bites are available for $3 each. Hot dogs and fries are available for $2.50. Beverages include sodas, bottled water, and PowerAde for $2.50.
The beer offerings are fairly broad and include Bud Light, Miller Light, Yuengling, Killian's, Sweetwater Blue, and Sweetwater 420. Prices are $3 for 16 oz. and $5 for 32 oz. pours.
Two nods to baseball's past are components of Lake Olmstead's structure. The first is a roof extending out over most of the seating areas to protect the fans from the brutal heat of Georgia's summers. The second is the enduring presence of Ty Cobb, a Georgia native, who spent a very short period of time in Augusta before moving on to the big leagues. His lifetime batting average in the majors was .366. One of the outfield walls measures 366 feet from home plate in honor of Cobb. On the wall are the figure 366 and the name of Ty Cobb.
Aside from these salutes to an earlier time in baseball, Lake Olmstead Stadium is showing its age. Even though it was built in 1995, it looks very worn and faded. Many of the advertising billboards are peeling off the outfield walls and some of the add-ons of recent years, like the party deck, look almost temporary in nature. The GreenJackets will be moving to a new stadium across the Savannah River in North Augusta, SC at the beginning of the 2017 season, which may account for the lack of investment in maintenance in recent years.
Another factor in the lack of atmosphere is that there is no apparent link between the university and the stadium. All advertising, signage, logos and field markings reference the GreenJackets. In addition, the seating capacity of 4,800 dwarfs the 100-200 people that typically attend a Jaguars game. In the past, the Jaguars have played some of their games in a small (350-seat) on campus stadium. Considering all the changes the school has been through recently, a smaller on campus venue actually might raise the energy level of the fans and encourage the players more, providing an overall better sports viewing environment.
The area immediately surrounding the stadium is Lake Olmstead Park, a green area owned and managed by the Augusta-Richmond County Parks Department. Its central feature is the namesake Lake Olmstead, a 113 acre lake located just down a steep embankment from the baseball stadium. The lake was created as a part of the Augusta Canal construction project in 1870 by Charles Olmstead, who also did major engineering work on the Erie Canal. In recognition of his work, the lake and park are named in his honor. The lake is used primarily for boating and fishing purposes, while the remainder of the park is dedicated to a disc golf course, hiking trails, picnic areas, and of course the baseball stadium. You should plan to park in the immediate vicinity of Lake Olmstead Stadium and make sure to lock your car as some crime has been seen in the area.
The broader neighborhood is the city of Augusta is Georgia's second largest city with a population of over 400,000. The city sits on the western banks of the Savannah River, with the city of North Augusta, SC and the state of South Carolina forming on the eastern banks of the river.
Augusta is primarily known for the Augusta National Golf Club and its Masters Golf Tournament, but the city is also a cultural center with its own ballet company, opera company, and symphony. The city also takes advantage of the Augusta Canal and the Savannah River to host a number of water based sporting events.
One of the major developments in recent years is the Augusta Riverwalk, a park that hosts festivals, social events, and 4th of July celebrations involving the whole city. Some of the popular restaurants in Augusta are Hildebrandt's Deli (an Augusta staple since 1879!), and the Boll Weevil Café and Sweets.
The consolidation of the two schools and multiple changes in school name have had a very pronounced effect on fan enthusiasm for the school's athletic programs. While Augusta State University had a long and proud athletic tradition, the Medical College did not have an intercollegiate sports program, only an intramural program. Now that the identity crisis of the past few years has been put to rest, the school is aggressively pursuing a branding program in the community. It will take time, but slowly the two schools are gradually adapting to the new consolidation and are coming together as Jaguar supporters.
To do this, the school has begun aggressively marketing Jaguars baseball as Augusta's "home team." They have also begun to produce signage with the Jaguar logo and colors within Lake Olmstead Stadium, as the stadium's main tenant are the minor league Augusta GreenJackets, and the stadium is decidedly painted in GreenJacket colors.
Building the fan base is definitely a work in progress and a new review in a couple of years should hopefully result in a higher rating.
Augusta and Lake Olmstead Park are easily accessed via I-20, the main east/west interstate in Georgia. The city is located 150 miles east of Atlanta and 68 miles west of Columbia, South Carolina. Once departing the interstate at the Washington Road exit you will go 6 miles south to reach the stadium.
Once you arrive at Lake Olmstead Stadium, parking is readily available next to the park. There is only one ticket stand and entrance into the stadium itself, but you should not experience any lines at a Jaguars game.
Tickets are $5 if you are not an Augusta student or faculty member. Seating is general admission, so getting a seat right behind the plate, etc., is no problem. The concessions at Lake Olmstead Stadium are of good quality and reasonably priced. Since Augusta is the second largest city in Georgia, hotels are available at every price level. If it is an afternoon game, many people simply drive over from Atlanta or Columbia and return home afterwards. It is less than a two hour drive from either capital city.
The Augusta Riverwalk has become the entertainment and dining center for residents of, and visitors to Augusta. In addition to the beauty of the lovely gardens and brick plazas lining the river, you will be able to enjoy boating, concerts, and fireworks on special occasions.
Singer James Brown was a native of Augusta and you will find numerous historical markers about his life throughout the city.
Obviously the Masters Golf Tournament is the biggest event in town. It is also an impossible ticket to get as the waiting list is thousands of people long. However it is possible to obtain a badge for one of the practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday before the tournament begins. The pro-am is especially fun, as the players are more relaxed and you often will see a famous celebrity in the foursomes.
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