Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is a Tribute to the Game
By Brian Weis
The premise of the movie "The Bucket List" with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson is simple: create a list of everything you want to do before you exit this world and then one by one check them off. If Morgan and Jack enjoyed golf as much as I do I guarantee their list would have included playing all 468 holes on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.
Twenty-six courses that cover Alabama from stem to stern was the brainchild of Dr. David Bronner, who in the mid-80's was placed in charge of the Yellowhammer state's pension fund. His grandiose plan was so far ahead of its time that it almost never came to fruition, save for a returned phone call from Trent Jones. The only other responses received by Bronner were those from other high-profile architects saying the large-scale nature of his vision would never work, especially in Alabama, which was known as much for tourism at the time as for their harsh winters.
Just how successful has the RTJ Golf Trail been since it's inception in 1989? Tourism is now Alabama's #1 industry as $7.5 billion dollars has been pumped into the state's economy in just over 20 years. Also, similar golf trails have popped up throughout the nation, trying to take advantage of the blueprint Bronner worked so hard to perfect.
Throughout my fall trip to Alabama I was fortunate enough to play five of the 26 courses on the trip, leaving me only 21 more to complete my personal Bucket List. Below is a summary of the courses I experienced on the RTJ Trail.
Ross Bridge Golf Course - Hoover, Alabama
At 8191 yards, Ross Bridge is the third-longest course in the nation. The orange or middle tees play to 6783 yards, but don't be intimidated by those big numbers. Elevation is in your favor, as many holes play downhill and therefore less than the posted yardage. The par-72 layout is big and bold, exactly what you'd expect to find at a course that was designed with hosting tournaments in mind. Since 2006, Ross Bridge has entertained the Champions Tour finest as part of the Regions Charity Tournament and has already built a reputation of being a favorite Tour stop. Trent Jones was able to create incomparable amphitheater settings throughout Ross Ridge, offering patrons the chance to sit on hillsides and watch the action below.
From a personal note, I wish I could tell you what a great finishing hole the par-4 18th is, but I closed out my round in complete darkness. There is something to be said about trusting your aim and having to listen to make sure your ball hit the green. I can tell you though the greens of the 9th and 18th holes are split by an ultra-cool eight-foot waterfall, providing one of the best backdrops in golf.
Another awesome aspect of Ross Bridge is the quality of the par-3's. The first one, the downhill 4th hole is probably the best of the bunch. The semi-island green is guarded by water short and plays between 140-226 yards. The 130-229 yard par-3 14th defies logic and description, as it must be experienced and not explained. For more information on Ross Bridge and the accompanying Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort & Spa, make sure to check out their website at www.rossbridgeresort.com. The stately nature of the Resort completes the allure of this RTJ property as the Renaissance has 259 guest rooms, multiple restaurants, and a 12,000 square-foot European Spa.
Capitol Hill Golf Course - Prattville, Alabama
Capitol Hill GC in Prattville is the only RTJ Trail facility that features 54 Championship holes. The property is divided into three stunning18 hole layouts - The Judge, The Legislator, and The Senator. The Senator plays host to the LPGA's Navistar Classic and according to Capitol Hill's Director of Golf Scott Neal, it may not be the only high profile tournament his property hosts. "The LPGA event is without a doubt my favorite week of the year and I believe you would get that same response from the rest of my team. This is an event that is nationally televised and the impact this event has had on the River Region, the Trail, and the State of Alabama has been tremendous. As far as further televised events whether it's LPGA or otherwise I would say, "Stay tuned...," stated Neal.
Here's my suggestion when arriving at Capitol Hill - get there early and play all three courses. The Judge and The Legislator are parkland courses with trees and elevation changes abound. The Senator is totally different, a links style winner that's complete with huge patches of fescue grass, tufted fairway moguls and multi-leveled greens. According to Scott Neal, it's not just one aspect of Capitol Hill that keeps happy patrons coming back for more. "I believe the reason we are successful is due to our customer service, quality value, & course conditions. Golf is the product that gets the customer here. Believe me when I tell you that our work isn't done, we still have much to accomplish. Dr. Bronners expectations are high and we strive to meet and exceed those on a daily basis," concluded Neal.
Lakewood Golf Club - Point Clear, Alabama
First built in 1947, Lakewood Golf Club is as revered and prestigious as the previous two RTJ Trail Courses are youthful and fun. Lakewood Golf Club features the recently restored Dogwood and Azalea courses including the addition or expansion of ten water features throughout the 36 championship holes. Both courses are open to Lakewood members and hotel guests at the on-site Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa. The Grand's 550 acres showcase humongous live oak trees, a bevy of beaches and immaculate landscaping. Besides numerous fine dinning options and the 20,000 square-foot spa, the resort has a boatload of activities including eight Rubico tennis courts, a croquet lawn, horseshoes, bikes, kayaks, sailboats and other watercraft for the guests' enjoyment.
The diversity of the RTJ Trail is never more evident than at Lakewood GC. Head Golf Professional Sean Curry explains from there. "The Trail as a whole was built in the last 20 years. This facility has been here since the late 40's which has given the property a chance to mature to a level that only time can give. Much like a fine wine, LGC has reached a special place in its maturity. The majestic Oaks as well as the pines is what really sets us apart from virtually any other course around," explained Curry.
For more information and detailed maps of all 26 RTJ courses, please visit their website at rtjgolf.com.
Article Tags: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
Revised: 11/08/2010 - Article Viewed 24,901 Times
Written By: 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.
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