By Tommy Hicks
Gamblers scheduling a road trip head to Las Vegas. Baseball fans plan visits to as many Major League parks and games as they can squeeze into a few days. Basketball fans make the pilgrimage to the Final Four. And golfers searching for a golf-playing road trip, regardless of their skill level, head to Alabama.
The reason is simple: the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Its 11 sites—featuring 26 courses and 468 holes of golf that stretch across the state—offer a variety of challenges, scenery, yardages, and post-golf amenities. The brainchild of Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO Dr. David Bronner, the RTJ Golf Trail was designed to boost state tourism and enhance the quality of life for its citizens. Both goals have been attained as the Trail has gained a national, even international, reputation for great golf at a great price. In fact, the Trail—which opened its first courses just 22 years ago—recently celebrated its 10 millionth round.
Green fees on the Trail are very affordable: Most courses may be played for around $65 plus tax. The Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear, associated with the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, and Ross Bridge in Birmingham are a little more, from $120 to $130 plus tax. Special deals and programs can lower fees even more. For example, from March 13 to May 5, unlimited golf at most of the courses, including cart and range balls, can be had for $99 a day. (Book at least 48 hours in advance.)
Here are all 11 stops, north to south. Saddle up.
The Shoals, Florence: The Fighting Joe Course plays to more than 8,000 yards from the back tees while Schoolteacher can get pretty close to that length, as well. Not surprisingly, both are challenging. Green fees: $40–$65.
Hampton Cove, Huntsville: Features two 18-hole regulation courses plus a Short Course. The River Course is the only layout on the Trail without a bunker. A 250-year-old black oak tree rests behind the 18th green and is believed to be the third-oldest in the state. Green fees: $50–$55.
Silver Lakes, Anniston: Offers a choice of four nine-hole courses. Some consider Heartbreaker the most challenging nine holes anywhere on the Trail when played from the back. Backbreaker’s 623-yard par-five 7th hole brings water into play twice. Green fees: $40–$55.
Oxmoor Valley, Birmingham: There are 54 holes total here, 18 of which are the Short Course. The Valley’s 441-yard, par-four 18th is called The Assassin, and you can probably figure out why. The Ridge Course’s 12th hole features a shelf of exposed shale rock that recalls the region’s mining past. Green fees: $40–$62.
Ross Bridge, Birmingham: Measuring 8,191 yards from the back tees, and designed in parkland-style, this is one of the longest golf courses in the world. Green fees: $90–$125.
Grand National, Opelika: Two 18-hole regulation courses and an 18-hole par-three course. The Lake Course has 12 holes hugging water; so do more than half of the holes on the Short Course. Green fees: $40–$62.
Capitol Hill, Prattville: Home to an LPGA event each September, the Scottish-style Senator has more than 150 pot bunkers. The Judge plays along the Alabama River. The stunning first hole drops 200 feet from tee to fairway. Green fees: $40–$74.
Cambrian Ridge, Greenville: Just might be the Trail’s hidden gem, off the beaten path but with three nine-hole courses plus a nine-hole Short Course, worth the trip. As at the Judge Course, the Canyon’s opening hole features a 200-foot drop. Green fees: $40–$62.
Highland Oaks, Dothan: Four nine-hole courses including a Short Course. Marshwood is known for its par-five 6th hole, which stretches 701 yards. Green fees: $40–$65.
Magnolia Grove, Mobile: There are two 18s, The Crossings and The Falls, with the former the site of The Airbus Mobile Bay LPGA Classic. The par-three course has been called one of the best in the country. Green fees: $40–$65.
Lakewood Golf Club, Point Clear: Located near Mobile, these two scenic tracks, associated with the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, were first built in 1947 and renovated in 2004–05 to join the Trail. Green fees: $107–$125.