THE ‘ELITE EIGHT’ OF ALABAMA GOLF
Posted by: mike August 16th, 2017
By Mike May, Golf Insiders Contributor
On your next golf excursion, visit central Alabama. If necessary, fly to Birmingham and rent a car. There, you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to places to play the great game of golf.
One of your main destinations on your trip should be the Robert Trent Jones (RTJ) Golf Trail, specifically the RTJ layouts outside Birmingham (Oxmoor Valley: home of Ridge and Valley), in Hoover (Ross Bridge: home of Ross Bridge), near Montgomery (Capitol Hill: home of Senator, Legislator and Judge), and in Opelika (Grand National: home of Links and Lake).
Three other non-RTJ courses, which deserve to be placed in the ‘must play’ category, include the top-rated course in Alabama (FarmLinks near Sylacauga) and one layout on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa (North River).
While there are not enough column inches to give you a blow-by-blow account of what to expect at each course, I can briefly describe eight of the finest holes in the area, so you will have an idea of what to expect when you arrive at the aforementioned courses.
Ridge Course at Oxmoor Valley - No. 3
The Ridge course at Oxmoor Valley, built on land once mined by U.S. Steel, has many elevation changes and is filled with quite a few memorable photo opps! The par-5 third hole is without a doubt the Signature Hole. It is cleverly designed as your tee shot is hit to a peninsula-like fairway. The green, off in the distance, is raised from the fairway and is supported by a shelf of exposed shale rock and a number of reclaimed railroad ties. This par 5 is a one-of-a-kind hole. Pars are to be celebrated at the 3rd and birdies are quite possible.
Grand National: Lake & Links Courses - Nos. 15 & 18
When you visit Grand National to play the Lake and the Links courses, many of the holes are along the 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee. Many people feel that the property where Grand National was built is the finest piece of land that Robert Trent Jones, Sr. had ever seen for a golf course. On the Links course, many people walk off the 18th green convinced that they just played one of the most difficult finishing holes in the state. At the Lake course, use your camera on the par 3 15th hole. From the tee, it’s 100 % carry over water to the green. This is one of the RTJ Golf Trail’s most scenic holes.
The Judge at Capitol Hill - No. 1
Words cannot do justice to what you see when you stand on the first tee of the Judge, located at Capitol Hill. It’s stunning! From the back tees, it’s a 200-foot drop from tee to the fairway, which is flanked by the backwaters of the Alabama River. This is a perfect time to hit it long and straight — preferably straight! Water flanks the right and rear of the Judge’s first green. Pars are celebrated at the opening hole of the Judge.
Farm Links - No. 5
The signature hole at Farm Links is the par 3 fifth. It is one of the most dramatic, visually appealing shots that you will ever hit in your golfing life.After taking a winding, uphill path to your tee box, you will be faced with a downhill tee shot to the green in the valley below. From the back (Longhorn) tees, there’s a 170-foot vertical drop from the tee down to the green, which is the largest putting surface at FarmLinks. You will also get a spectacular bird’s-eye view of Sulphur Mountain in the distance. Even if you are not playing from the Longhorn tees, it’s worth a trip to the top to check out the view. It’s FarmLinks’ own version of a ‘Rocky Mountain High.’
Another classic hole at FarmLinks is the par 3 17th, which has Parker Lodge situated in the woods behind the green. The 17th is called Big Gulp because Pennywinkle Lake sits between the tee and the green. This is no time to be short with your tee shot. At the 17th, you are definitely better off trying to save par from behind the green than from the bottom of Pennywinkle Lake! The view from Parker’s Lodge, as the golfer’s play the 17th, is one of the most scenic views in golf.
North River - No. 16
North River features many classic holes. The finest par 4 is the 16th hole. From any of the four tee boxes, you must hit your tee shot over water, with a left-to-right ball flight. Then, on your approach to the green, don’t let your shot drift right or short, otherwise it might get ‘wet’ or ‘sandy.’ If the wind is in your face, it’s one of the finest holes in the state.
The 16th hole is a beautiful golf hole that requires you to think your way through the hole. The fairway slopes from left to right and eventually falls into a pond that lines the complete right side of the fairway. The pond extends up close to the green that features a narrow kidney shape. The green falls from right to left and is heavily bunkered. Par is a great score on this hole.
Ross Bridge: No. 9
And, finally, the 9th hole at Ross Bridge is particularly interesting as it’s a right-to-left dogleg par 4 where water hugs the left side of the fairway from tee to green. There’s also water at the front of the green. To complicate matters, the 9th fairway is split by a sand bunker perched in the middle of the fairway. From the fairway, it’s a short wedge to a quasi-island green which is also protected by sand at its entrance.
What makes these golf courses so special is that they are accessible, affordable, and available for play today. Just be careful with your college football talk. It’s either War Eagle or Roll Tide, every day of every week of every month – every year, in these parts.