|Teeing off along the RTJ Trail
By Chris McBeath
Stretching from one end of Alabama to the next, with 432 holes of world-class golf on ten sites, the Robert Trent Jones Trail can only be described as a Golfer’s Nirvana. But don’t just take our word for it, the New York Times calls it “… some of the best public golf on Earth”, Golf Magazine describes it as “… the American golfer’s equivalent of Disney World,” and the Atlanta Constitution says that it’s “… worth every mile and minute spent on the road”. So whether you visit one, two, of all ten courses, here’s a run-down on the spectacular golf that awaits. Book your tee-times directly at each location or opt for ‘reservation central’ at 800/949-4444. These folks can also help you with accommodation along the way.
1. Highland Oaks, Dothan (334/712-2820)
Located in the southeast corner of Alabama, Highland Oaks features some of the longest and most classically designed holes on the Trail. Highlands, the core nine, is relatively open, with several lakes in play. Marshwood is famous (or notorious) for its behemoth par 5 sixth, which stretches to 701 yards from the tips. Specimen magnolia trees dot the higher ground of the Magnolia nine, which is reached via a 1,000 foot long wooden bridge spanning a picturesque marsh. Short Course heads up: demanding bunker placements, three water holes and possibly the best putting Bermuda greens in the South.
2. Grand National, Auburn/Opelika (334/749-9042)
Built on Lake Saugahatchee, many consider this to be the single greatest site for a golf complex. Its cornerstone is the Links Course, which is without a single weakness, and with 12 holes hugging the shore, Grand National's Lake Course is every bit as scenic. Short Course heads up: simply beautiful, with more than half the holes touching the lake. * Stay on site at the Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel.
3. Silver Lakes, Anniston/Gadsden (256/892-3268)
Set on rolling terrain at the edge of Talladega National Forest, here is where to enjoy some of the most scenic golf around. Many dub The Heartbreaker nine as the most challenging nine on the Trail; The Backbreaker nine is a photographer's dream, boasting beautiful views of the Appalachian foothills from its elevated tees and The Mindbreaker, although a tad easier than the other two, demands shot-making at its finest. Short Course heads up: arguably the Trail’s most challenging collection of one-shotters.
4. Hampton Cove, Huntsville (256/551-1818)
At the northern terminus of the Trail, this 54-hole facility offers terrain that drastically changes from one side of the property to the other. The Highlands Course, which emulates a Scottish Links, is set amidst thousands of Japanese black pines, oaks, dogwoods, and crepe myrtles. Completely opposite is the River Course, the only Robert Trent Jones layout without a single bunker is laid out the way courses were built long ago - the dirt was merely pushed up to create the greens and tees, leaving all else, including massive oak trees, as is. The enormous black oak behind the 18th green is reputed to be the third oldest in the state at 250 years. Short Course heads up: very open and links-like, with water in play on 11 holes.
5. The Shoals, Muscle Shoals (256/446-5111)
The Shoals lies between the Wheeler and Wilson dams on the Tennessee River. Wheeler Dam is named in honor of General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler - the only Confederate General to attain the same rank later in the United States Army. General Wheeler's intense desire to show that Southerners could be counted on as citizens of the U.S. prompted him to volunteer, at age 62, for service in the Spanish-American War. Fighting Joe was the first Trail course to break 8,000 yards, and is a quality links style course for good straight-forward golf. The Schoolmaster (named for President Woodrow Wilson who was responsible for getting Wilson Dam built and was known as "The Schoolmaster of Politics"), is wooded, rolling, and spectacular. * Stay nearby at The Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa.
6. Oxmoor Valley, Birmingham (205/942-1177)
Sculpted from the peaks and valleys of the Appalachians, Oxmoor Valley is incredibly photogenic. The Ridge Course offers rolling fairways, heavy tree cover and precipitous 150-foot elevation changes. The Valley Course is dotted with scenic lakes and stretches two miles downrange along a slender valley. Short course heads up: a delightful collection of (mostly downhill) one-shotters that Golf Digest lists as a Great Value course.
7. Ross Bridge, Hoover (205/949-3085)
Ross Bridge is just two miles from the 54-hole complex at Oxmoor Valley, but it is light years away from the ordinary. Designed for tournament play, it’s a big, muscle-bound course that sprawls over 330 acres, and meanders through indigenous landscape and around the resort area, and along the banks of two man-made lakes where a gristmill reflects the site’s mining history.
* Stay on site at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa
8. Capitol Hill, Prattville (334/285-1114)
The Senator is a traditional Scottish-style layout with many a pot-hole bunker, 20 to 40 feet high mounds and bent-grass greens that provide exceptional conditions year round. The other two championship courses are very different. The Legislator is more traditional and plays in and out of pine trees along a bluff whileThe Judge plays alongside the 200 acre glistening backwaters of the Alabama River. * Stay on site at the Montgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel.
9. Cambrian Ridge, Greenville (334/ 382-9787)
The Loblolly nine, with its gently rolling fairways, cathedral-like pines, and water-fronted greens, exudes a stately, Augusta-like quality. The Canyon nine, carved from former hunting grounds where deer blinds remain nailed to the hardwood, is a thrilling stretch of target-style golf. The Sherling nine may be the best nine on the entire trail. Be sure to visit the clubhouse: it sits atop the highest point in Butler county, and serves up expansive 30-mile views of Southern forest land. Short Course heads up: a marvelous collection of par three holes laid out between the ridge and Sherling lake.
10. Magnolia Grove, Mobile (251/645-0075)
The property at Magnolia Grove includes creeks, marshland, forest and lakes. The main tract is The Falls, which is characterized by large, liberally contoured greens and massive, cloverleaf bunkers. The Crossings, which doubles across railroad tracks occupies hillier terrain than the Falls, with several pulpit greens elevated well above fairway levels. Short Course heads up: recently named the best par 3 course in America. * Stay nearby at the Grand Hotel Marriott Point Clear Resort & Spa
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