Combining the Robert Trent Jones Trail and Marriott in My Sweet Home Alabama

By: Claudio DeMarchi – The Traveling Golfer

Not sure who came up with the phrase but kudo’s!  It has been used a million times but over the next few months you are going to get “My Sweet Home Alabama!” a personalized version.  I just returned from playing 7 rounds over 9 days from Birmingham down to Gulf Shores along the fabled Robert Trent Jones (RTJ) Trail with a couple of other must stops along the way!

Only my second visit ever to Alabama and I was ever so impressed on the first visit, but I’m even more so now!  I was escorting 30 International Golf Tour Operators from IAGTO from Birmingham south.  There is so much about Bama and the Trail to feature that trying to jam all this into one article would just not do it justice.  Part 2 of 3, Montgomery and Auburn, next month and Mobile and Gulf Shores in December.

5th hole, “Hang Time” in the background

Because this is actually work, I felt that I had to come down to Birmingham a day early to pay a visit to Farmlinks at Purcell Farms.  A new IAGTO member of which we knew very little about, but after a little research it appeared that in might just rank in the best kept secret category.

Surely enough it did – it was all that and more.

Less than an hour south of Birmingham and likely less that that from Montgomery to the south it is an ideal addition to any ventures along the RTJ Trail.  What does it mean when a golf course is awarded with Golfweek’s “Best Courses You Can Play” from 2013 through to 2017?  Simply put, if you are in the area – you should play it.

Farmlinks was established as a research and demonstration facility for the golf industry.  Over 1,000 superintendents annually from the top courses around the world come to experience one of kind education programs, partnered by the most innovative companies in the golf industry – showcasing the best products, services and equipment.  Do I need to mention the impeccable course conditions?!

One of the best collections of par 3’s anywhere, highlighted by “Hang Time” the 5th which drops over 150 feet from tee to green, don’t be left!  #17, “The Big Gulp” with Parker Lodge in the background is also most intimidating with water around 75% of the green.   Everything is large at Farmlinks, greens included, and fairways are wide, so very playable and enjoyable for any skill set.

Farmlinks, you might say, is in the middle of nowhere so you should decide to make it an overnight experience.  You will not be disappointed.  Many well-appointed styles of accommodations to choose from.  I stayed in a fairway cabin, highly recommended for groups.  Had a mouth-watering steak for dinner in the clubhouse.  When asked about desert I suggested a glass of wine in a-to go cup.  The waiter looked at the bottle with slightly more than a glass in it.  He put the cork in it and said, “Here you go!” – only in America!

Such an experience

Birmingham is home to Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort.  I have not played all the RTJ courses yet but this is my WOW course of those that I have played in Alabama bar none!

A parkland style course with rolling fairways and elevation changes, Ross Bridge has hosted a Champions Tour event. Every hole is unique and challenging.  A great collection of par 3’s and plenty of water to tempt the soul.  My favorite might be the 155 yard all carry across water but giving you a first real glimpse of the gristmill complete with waterfall and all!  The 9th is another picturesque favorite, par 4, water all down the left with the green situated below the falls of the gristmill.  You will see this scene again as the 18th,  a dynamic par frames the other side of the small lake – water right this time!

Greens are large and very puttable but do spend some time on the practice green.  Avoid the beautiful bunkers if you can some are very deep!

The Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort & Spa – did I tell you I love Marriott’s – best by far Loyalty program in the world.  A stylish castle like structure with all the comforts of home with a staff that makes it better than home!  A selection of bars and restaurants to tempt your pallet.  Brock’s is for your fine dining, and full buffet breakfast.  Personally JT’s is my comfy cozy sports bar!

With any meal if there is an option for a salad use honey lavender vinigrette – try it you will love it!

Oxmoor Valley – Ridge Course

RTJ’s Oxmoor Valley complex is about a mile up the road featuring 54 holes, I have had the pleasure of playing both:

Ridge Course: Roller coaster fairways with tree lined fairways.  Keep your ball on the short stuff or you are not likely to find it!  Elevations changes provide incredible photo opps.

Valley Course:  Also tree lined with a few more streams and picturesque lakes as you meander down a long slender valley before your climb back to the clubhouse.

Short Course:  Got a little extra time – Par 3 course all holes are downhill!

Birmingham is shaping up like a little golf mecca in Alabama.  Don’t overlook the downtown area as a place to stay.  I spent a couple of nights at the Sheraton, actually in the Uptown of the downtown.  It is a happening place I tell you.  Step out the door and you have a myriad of bars and restaurants such a my personal favorite Southern Kitchen with rooftop settings…coming soon just across the street – Top Golf!

Whether you are a fan of motorsports or not a visit to Barber’s Motorsport Park and Museum.  Our group of golf tour operators were all in awe.  You might call it over 100 years of speed!  Over 1,400 motorcycles spanning over 100 years plus a fine collection of exquisite Cars including the world’s most extensive Lotus collection.

Over 270,000 visitors last year, over 3,000 from other countries in 2014 Barber was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest motorcycle collection.

Only in Birmingham.