How to Conquer the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama
Featuring 468 golf holes spanning eleven sites
By Brian Weis
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is a collection of championship caliber golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior, distributed across the state of Alabama, as part of investments by the Retirement Systems of Alabama. The Trail started with 378 holes at eight locations and has grown to 468 holes at eleven sites. The 'Trail' runs for over 300 miles from near the Tennessee state line south to Mobile Bay.
The concept of building a golf trail was the 'brainchild' of Dr. David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama who created and executed it to effectively diversify the assets of the state's pension fund and economically benefit the State of Alabama. His philosophy is "the stronger the Retirement Systems of Alabama can make Alabama, the stronger the Retirement Systems will be."
After having visited and playing most of the Trail courses, I would recommend cutting the state into sections, and making separate trips to enjoy all that the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has to offer. Yes, there are groups that have been known to tackle the RTJ Golf Trail in one whirlwind trip. But, frankly, there is just too much good golf to play and sites to see that would make one trip a long and arduous journey.
Here's my take on how to conquer "The Trail" divided by regions:
Northern Alabama / Huntsville Region:
Beginning in the most northern RTJ golf club, The Shoals has two superb 18 hole golf courses. Start your trip swinging and take on Fighting Joe, the first Trail golf course to exceed 8,000 yards. Then after an overnight at Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, play the Schoolmaster, a tree lined challenge played along the Tennessee River.
Moving east to Huntsville, Hampton Cove has three 18 hole layouts, the Highlands, a Scottish links-style layout, the River course with zero bunkers and plenty of water, and the short course which is still challenging and laid out similar to its big brother 7,000 yard wonders. There is no hotel directly connected to Hampton Cove, but there are good accommodations available in Huntsville. Stay two nights and double up one day playing the short course after a morning round on the River or Highlands.
Just down the road in near Gadsden, you'll find four nine hole designs at Silver Lakes that you can play with a stay at a local hotel. The Mindbreaker, Backbreaker, and Heartbreaker are full length challenges while the par 3 will test your short game.
Central Alabama / Birmingham Region:
Flying into Birmingham, you can stay for a few days at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa and play 72 holes of golf at both Oxmoor Valley's 54 hole complex and the longest 18 hole layout on the Trail at Ross Bridge in Hoover, which was carved out of the rolling terrain of Shannon Valley and encircles the resort. Oxmoor Valley's Ridge course,with its roller coaster fairways and huge elevation changes, will test your mettle while the Valley has its own unique challenges. Once again, you have 18 par 3s to sharpen your short game. If you need more golf, you can always take a road trip east just over an hour to Silver Lakes to satisfy your golf craving.
South Central / Montgomery Region:
Moving south to the state capital, Montgomery, the Trail continues its amazing golf with one of its highest praised courses, the simply magnificent Judge, at the 54 hole Capitol Hill. Another part of this dynamic trio, The Senator, is the home of the Symetra Tour's Guardian Championship and was named one of the top new courses in America. The lessor praised Legislator course stretches out to 7400 yards and is just as challenging as its more famous siblings. The Montgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel & Conference Center at Capitol Hill overlooks the courses and is the ideal extended stay to play around.
Just 45 minutes south in Greenville is Cambrian Ridge with 4 nine hole layouts considered the most beautiful and challenging on the Trail, and that is saying something. I have not seen one yet that I consider less than fantastic. One of the nines is another short par 3, but Canyon, Sherling and Loblolly nines will provide aesthetic wonders and challenges.
After golfing around Montgomery, travel east to Grand National, staying at Auburn Marriott Opelika Golf Resort & Spa. The centerpiece here is 600 acre Lake Saugahatchee where 32 of the 54 holes are draped along its filigreed shores. Of the courses on the Trail I played, the Lake was my favorite. The funny thing, my playing partners all picked different ones. Besides the Lake there is an 18 hole short course and the Links, which was a great track.
Southern Alabama / Mobile Region:
In the southeast corner of Alabama is the 36 hole Highland Oaks complex in Dothan consisting of 4 nine hole layouts. One of them is a short par 3 course but the Magnolia, Marshwood and Highlands will give you all the challenge you want no matter how you rotate your play. Dothan has national chain hotels available to stay and play.
Less than 2 hours south of Greenville is Magnolia Grove, a 54 hole feast of golf in Mobile. With another par 3, 18 hole course, Magnolia Grove touts 2 remarkable 18 hole championship layouts, the Falls and the Crossings, which are considerably different from each other.
Twenty four miles away towards the Gulf of Mexico is the "Queen of Southern Resorts," the historic Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa. I would make this amazing spot my headquarters while playing in Mobile, and then test the Lakewood Golf Club's Azalea course in Point Clear. The other 18 hole layout, Dogwood, is scheduled to reopen in November 2019.
There you have it. If I told my wife I was going to Alabama to play 26 golf courses for close to 4 weeks, I would have a problem. But if I broke it up into 4 separate trips over a longer time, I could still be able to say I played all of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, and still be married. One thing I am sure of having experienced a piece of the pie. I want to try the whole pie.
Recently many of the Trail's official hotels have added Spas to their amenity packages, so instead of just playing golf, definitely try the luxurious spas to work out those kinks, get a manicure or pedicure, or just spend a few hours in the steam room, sauna or whirlpool. Get a little indulgence included in your golf experience.
Visit GolfAlabama.org or RTJGOLF.com to learn more.
Revised: 07/16/2019 - Article Viewed 821 Times
About: Brian Weis
Brian Weis is the Publisher of GolfTrips.com, a network of golf travel and directory sites including GolfWisconsin.com, GolfMichigan.com, ArizonaGolfer.com, GolfAlabama.com, etc. Professionally, Brian is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA), International Network of Golf (ING), Golf Travel Writers of America (GTWA), International Golf Travel Writers Association (IGTWA) and The Society of Hickory Golfers (SoHG). In 2016, Brian won The Shaheen Cup, an award given to a golf travel writer by his peers.
All of his life, Brian has been around the game of golf. As a youngster, Brian competed at all levels in junior and high school golf. Brian had a zero chance for a college golf scholarship, so he worked on the grounds crew at West Bend Country Club to pay for his University of Wisconsin education. In his adult years, his passion for the game collided with his entrepreneurial spirit and in 2004 launched GolfWisconsin.com. In 2007, the idea for a network of local golf directory sites formed and GolfTrips.com was born. Today, the network consists of a site in all 50 states supported by national sites like GolfTrips.com, GolfGuide.com and GolfPackages.com. It is an understatement to say, Brian is passionate about promoting golf and golf travel on a local, regional, national and international level.
On the golf course, Brian is known as a fierce weekend warrior that fluctuates between a 5-9 handicap. With a soft fade, known as "The Weis Slice", and booming 300+ drives, he can blast it out of bounds with the best of them.
Contact Brian Weis:
GolfTrips.com - Publisher and Golf Traveler