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 the investments by the Retirement System of Alabama. The Trail started with 378 holes at eight locations and has grown to 468 holes at eleven sites and runs for over 300 miles from the Tennessee state line south to Mobile Bay.
The concept of building a trail of golf courses 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 played some of the Trail courses, I highly recommend cutting the state into sections and making separate trips to enjoy all that the Trail has to offer. Yes, there are those that have been known to tackle the entire RTJ Golf Trail in one whirlwind trip. But, frankly, there is just too much great golf to play and sites to enjoy that would make one trip a long and arduous journey.
Here is my take on how to divide it up and play some great golf:
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 tucked 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 plenty of 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 near Gadsden/Anniston you will find four nine-hole designs at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail 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 Short Course will test your short game.
Flying into Birmingham, you can stay for a few days at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa and play 72 holes of golf at both Oxmoor Valley’s 54 hole complex and the longest 18 hole design on the Trail at Ross Bridge in Hoover. Ross Bridge was carved out of the rolling terrain of Shannon Valley and encircles the Renaissance Resort. Oxmoor Valley’s Ridge course with its roller-coaster fairways and huge elevation changes will test your mettle, while the Valley course 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.
Moving south to the state capital, Montgomery, the Trail continues its amazing golf with one of the highest praised courses, the simply magnificent Judge at the 54 hole Capitol Hill Golf Club. 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 7,400 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 another 4 nine-hole layout considered the most beautiful and challenging on the Trail, and that is saying something. I have not seen one course yet that I consider less than fantastic, even the par 3’s. One of the nines is a par 3, but Canyon, Sherling and Loblolly nines will provide you with all the golf you can handle in an aesthetic setting.
After golfing around Montgomery, travel east to RTJ Golf Trail at Grand National, staying at Auburn Marriott Opelika Golf Resort & Spa. The centerpiece here is the 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 which is a testament to the diversity of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Besides the Lake there is an 18 hole short course and the Links, another great full length track.
In the southeast corner of the state is the 36 hole Highland Oaks complex in Dothan consisting of four 9 hole layouts. One of them is a short par 3 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 golf.
Less than 2 hours from Cambrian Ridge in Greenville is the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove, a 54 hole feast of golf in Mobile. With another 18 hole par 3, the 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 in Point Clear. I would make this amazing hotel my headquarters while playing in the Mobile area, and then test the legendary Lakewood Golf Club’s Perry Maxwell designed Azalea course. The other Maxwell design-the Dogwood is scheduled to reopen this month.
Well, 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 period of time, I could still be able to say I played all 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 the whole pie.
Visit GolfAlabama.org to learn more.