And So Much More – Alabama Fits The Bill
Every golfer knows a straight shot is the simplest, most risk-free choice. So, it is with golf destinations. With mostly interstate travel and direct flights into both state and regional airports, Alabama fits the bill with great value golf and year ‘round golfing weather. The state is a varied landscape with mountain lakes in the north, open plains in the center of the state and the beautiful, coastal waters in the south. The unrivaled, original golf trail spans the length of it and the seaside destination of Coastal Alabama marks the end of the road.
Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is now over 30 years old and boasts 26 golf courses at 11 locations from top to bottom. In the northwest corner is a 36-hole complex aptly named The Shoals, as it’s located in Muscle Shoals, the hot recording capital of the world. The site features two championship courses, Fighting Joe, the first Trail course over 8,000 yards, and Schoolmaster, both situated along the banks of the Tennessee River. Just across the river in Florence is the much-awarded Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, one of eight properties in the RTJ Golf Trail collection of hotels and resorts.
The RTJ Golf Trail at Hampton Cove in Huntsville offers 54 holes of scenic and challenging golf. The Highlands has the feel of a Scottish course, the River Course has the distinction of being the only Robert Trent Jones design without a single bunker, and the Short Course is a blast to play. Huntsville offers a selection of great hotels, plus a rejuvenated downtown with craft breweries and unique dining establishments, the US Space & Rocket Center, and a new, state-of the art amphitheater, designed by NASA scientists.
Birmingham has certainly become golf central, with the state’s most luxurious resort, Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort and Spa leading the way. The resort’s 18-hole layout flows in a cloverleaf fashion, returning to a central locale no less than five times. With intimidating length from the back tees, elevation changes, and water holes, the course presents a challenge, yet Ross Bridge is still a resort course at heart with wide fairways and receptive greens. The course is currently closed for a complete renovation until mid-2023, but situated just a mile away from Ross Bridge is the RTJ Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley. It offers two unique full-length courses, Ridge and Valley, plus an exciting, new 9-hole, short course, called The Backyard. And about an hour northeast of Birmingham, lies the RTJ Golf Trail at Silver Lakes. This site is made up of three really, tough 9-hole courses, suitably named Mindbreaker, Backbreaker and Heartbreaker.
South of Birmingham, in the Montgomery suburb of Prattville is the Trail’s only site with three full-length courses, the RTJ Golf Trail at Capitol Hill. Situated so closely to the seat of government, the courses are called The Judge, The Senator, and The Legislator. GOLF Magazine once named the Judge Course one of 10 public courses in the country worthy of hosting a U.S. Open. The course offers stunning views throughout, especially on the first tee that sits 200 feet above the fairway overlooking the Alabama River. The Legislator is hilly and more traditional. The Senator is a Scottish links-style course with over 160 dreaded pot bunkers and mounds reaching as high as 40 feet. It has hosted LPGA events for the past 20 years. The on-site Marriott Hotel is a convenient place to stay, but for additional nightlife and dining options, the downtown Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa would be a good choice.
Fifty miles east of Montgomery near Auburn in Opelika is one of the most requested sites on the Trail. Voted the #1 public golf facility in America by the readers of Golf World, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. is on record saying that the RTJ Golf Trail at Grand National was the single greatest natural site for golf he had ever seen. Grand National is built on a 600-acre lake with 32 of the 54 holes draped along its beautiful shores. The award-winning Marriott Resort & Spa is located on the back nine of the Lake course and offers a true stay and play experience. Plus, the two quaint towns nearby offer many culinary and non-golfing adventures.
Located in Greenville, 40 miles south of Montgomery, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Cambrian Ridge is another favorite. Set along the scenic southernmost edge of the Appalachian foothills, the changes in elevation are extraordinary here and the three championship 9- hole courses and 9-hole short course offer an unforgettable experience. Just 90 miles away in the southeast corner of the state, the RTJ Golf Trail at Highland Oaks in Dothan also consists of three championship nines and a 9-hole short course.
Mobile’s premier golfing facility is the RTJ Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove with 54 holes of superb Robert Trent Jones-designed tracts. The Crossings is very hilly, The Falls course features the par-five, 570-yard 10th, with a waterfall that cascades below the heavily contoured green, and the 18-hole Short Couse is one of the highest rated in the country. Mobile’s walkable downtown, with craft breweries, many restaurants, and nightclubs, is a perfect place to spend your evening, especially with the choice of two nearby RTJ hotels, the historic Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa and the Renaissance Riverview Hotel overlooking Mobile Bay.
The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa, an Autograph Collection on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay offers superb dining, a European spa, exciting waterscapes, a beach along Mobile Bay and 36 holes at the RTJ Golf Trail at the Lakewood Club. The courses meander around spring-fed lakes and are framed by stately magnolias, oaks, and dogwoods, which have been around for quite some time. The resort itself has upheld a grand tradition of Southern hospitality, charm and elegance since 1847.
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is not your typical golf trip, with locales spread around the state, but what you will typically find along Alabama’s Trail are pristine conditions, challenging golf, reasonable pricing and top-quality customer service. Visiting www.RTJGolf.com will provide more information and link you to the one-stop shopping of their reservation center.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Coastal Alabama create one of the best emerging outlets for quality golf that won’t leave you so poor that you have to sleep on the beach at night. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The beaches have that same powdery white sand that has made Destin and other towns along the Florida panhandle so desirable, sand so soft it practically lulls you to sleep. The Alabama beaches, though, generally also have considerably more elbow room during peak periods than their Florida counterparts. And the golf options are a better value and plentiful enough to warrant space in the vehicle for everyone’s clubs.
Here’s a snapshot of several of the area’s courses, with each flashing enough of its own style to make them all distinctive.
Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club is 27 holes of classic Southern golf, winding through piney woods, plentiful water and nestling up to the edge of Mobile Bay on a couple of holes.
Kiva Dunes is on a spit of land just 1,100 yards wide at its most slender point, meaning airflow above the golf course is influenced by the air exchange coming in from both the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay. Traditionalists relish the chance to play in the wind on a links-style layout, so the appeal of Kiva’s site was always there. Kiva Dunes is considered the premier design in the portfolio of former U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate. The onsite beach resort is a great option to stay and play.
Also located along the same road as these two courses is Gulf Shores Golf Club. It’s great for a quick afternoon nine or as a first, 18-hole round to shake off any jetlag. Gulf Shores is the kind of course that is integral to the overall success of most golf trips. It’s a traditional parkland-style layout with plentiful water, of course, and very solid, true-roll greens.
The 36-hole complex of Craft Farms is not to be missed. The two courses here – Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend are the only Arnold Palmer designs in the state of Alabama. Everything at Craft Farms is as well-manicured as courses built on former sod farmland suggest they would be. The courses are inland, and have a conventional, golfer-friendly feel and look that often defines Palmer designs.
Once the golfing part of your day is done, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have plenty more to offer. There’s a broad array of quality seafood restaurants, and fishing and beach-combing are popular pastimes. Lodging options range from beachfront hotels and condominiums to golf resorts and beach houses. Whatever your preferences and price range, the concierge service at www.CoastalAlabamaGolf.com can help you sort through the area’s nine signature golf courses, as well as all the accommodations, dining and other recreational pursuits you envision adding up to an ideal trip.
To learn more about all that Sweet Home Alabama has to offer, visit www.GolfAlabama.org