We continune down the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
As an Alabama (Roll Tide) fan you might think that you are in a safe place throughout the State. If you are an outsider that is! For the first part of our Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (www.rtjgolf.com) experience that spanned from Birmingham to the Gulf Coast, I was in a pretty safe place. As we move south to Montgomery and then into arch rival territory of the Auburn Tigers where its infamous raptor, “Spirit” the War Eagle, has become an Auburn icon, I had to be a little more careful.
Although the territory had changed, the golf along the Trail maintained its standards of excellence as did the distinguished abodes we called home, always Marriott’s which were perfect for Mr. Marriott himself (me, LOL) Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa and Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel & Conference Center at Grand National.
At Capitol Hill in Prattville you will find a trifecta of courses that you can pile hand over fist time and time again to see which you might prefer best on any given day. Our group played the Senator on this day but not before we were teased as we glared over the cliff side vista that lead golfers to the first hole of the Judge course. The 3rd course is affectionately called the Legislator. You know that at some point someone is going to take your money here!
The first tee of Judge lies some 200 feet above the fairway overlooking the Alabama River and skyline of Alabama’s capital city of Montgomery (visitingmontgomery.com). A magnificent course with 14 holes adjoining water and showcasing the natural beauty of the backwaters of the river. A couple of memorable par 3’s with nowhere to bail out! Ranked in the Top 50 of Zagat Survey of America’s Top Golf Courses.
The Senator played us tough on this day, a little wind is typical on a Scottish links-style course. Add in some 160 bunkers many of the pot variety and diabolical mounding of the 20 to 40 foot high variety with plenty of fescue. Bring your best putting stroke to the Senator, greens are big, hard, undulating and slick! 17th hole, par 5 would be my signature hole on this course!
The Legislator might be consider the more forgiving of the 3 at Capitol Hill. More traditional in style the layout takes you in and out of pines and along the bluff. The view riding down the Sky Bridge for 6 holes bordering the native cypress swamp will be memorable before bringing you back up top to finish at the spectacular club house.
Once parked at the Renaissance Montgomery flip out your golf shoes for you walking shoes as you are at the cultural and culinary hub of Alabama’s capital city and minutes away from the Alabama River. Our crew, of course, was always hungry and in search of a cold one ventured around the corner to enjoy the flavours of southern BBQ at Dreamland.
Now moving to the heart of War Eagle territory Auburn-Opelika (www.aotourism.com), we found ourselves with a dynamic duo of courses – the Links and the Lakes at Grand National which have both been named to Golf Digest’s list of “America’s Top 50 Affordable Courses.” On site there is also an 18 hole all par 3’s, Short Course which stretches back to 3,300 yards.
Our group played the Lake Course and we all agreed that the course just got better with every hole. The waters of Lake Saugahatchee lurk on 12 of the 18 holes and they just kept getting more dramatic with every swing!
Rolling tree lined fairways take you uphill and down to meticulously maintained undulating greens. The back was a standout 9 with the island green 15th as the signature hole. The 17th was another great par 3, sandwiched in between is a short, fun risk reward par 4 (16th) that I suspect over the years has influenced many a match. Good guys won it there in ours!
The Links Course is considered the cornerstone of the complex. 18 challenging holes, a Robert Trent Jones course that you need to think your way around. Greens are complex and dramatic. Avoiding the many pot bunkers and the ever looming Lake Saugahatchee is imperative to recording a good score.
It was a quick turnaround after we checked into the Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel which played host to the players for the 2017 Barbasol PGA Tour Championship.
Where there is a will, there is a way, and we actually managed to get to the poolside bar for one drink.
Our hosts for the evening, the Auburn Opelika CVB staff, had a full slate of activities for us including a personal introduction to the Auburn Tigers War Eagle – Spirit! Such a beautiful creature, great way to start the evening.
The eagles are residents of Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center.
The spirit (we use that term loosely) of entrepreneurship is alive and well in historic downtown Opelika as our first stop was at the John Emerald Distilling Company, in the vein of craft breweries they, however, are dispensing product such as the light and crispy Hugh Wesley Gin made with handpicked Alabama Juniper Berries or Vodka lovers might prefer the corn based, triple filtered Elizabeth Vodka. Other spirits include Alabama’s Single malt and Gen’s Spiced Rum.
Opelika is not without its share of crafty taprooms as we stepped next door to the Red Clay Brewing Company. Red clay is native to the area, the name was a natural fit as was the inspiration of their first beer Big Stout Swamp. The name Opelika, meaning Big Swamp the Muskogee vocabulary was the inspiration for the beer. There are many more to choose from.
Dinner was a short jaunt away, officially in Auburn. The Amsterdam Café was an exceptional choice. As soon as we ventured down the stairs past walls of wine I knew we were in a good place. Exceptional atmosphere and company topped only by the scrumptious appetizers and for me it was a perfectly seared filet. Options were plentiful! Did I mention wine??? My vice for the night – a lovely full bodied and bold Cabernet Sauvignon – TRIM.
I highly recommend Amsterdam to anyone visiting the area! I know that I will be back, but maybe I will leave my “Roll Tide” hat at home!