While Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (RTJ Golf) features 11 different locations, 26 different golf courses and 468 golf holes, the one location that may be the Trail’s best 36-hole golf venue is in the most remote part of the state – The Shoals (990 Sunbelt Parkway, Muscle Shoals, AL; 256-446-5111), located in northwest Alabama. While each RTJ Golf Trail venue is wonderfully designed and a thrill to play, there’s something about The Shoals which puts it in a class by itself. It’s the combination of its rural proximity, gently rolling terrain, clever use of penal (but not punishing) lakes, spectacular greens, well-maintained fairways, raised tees, and stunning views of the nearby Tennessee River. And, the Southern hospitality inside the clubhouse at The Shoals is genuine!
The names of the two courses at The Shoals — The Fighting Joe (opened in 2004) and The Schoolmaster (opened in 2005) – are rooted in history.
The Fighting Joe is named after Joe Wheeler. He was a Confederate general in the Civil War who later served as a general in the U. S. Army. Wheeler is the only Confederate general to rise to a similar rank in the U.S. Army, after the Civil War.
The Fighting Joe was the first Trail course to break 8,000 yards, measuring some 8,092 yards from the black tees. Travel + Leisure Golf named Fighting Joe one of the top new courses in 2004 for good reason. Long-hitters here will experience a test of champions, but from the correct tee box, all players will enjoy world-class golf.
The Fighting Joe starts with a par five which meanders from left to right. The opening shot is struck from a raised tee box. It’s worth hitting this tee shot from the Orange tees, which improve your chances of admiring the ‘hang time’ of your opening salvo. The Fighting Joe concludes with a rather short par three which overlooks the Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River. When you arrive at the 18th tee, it’s a jaw-dropping perspective. The 18th green is carved into the side of the hill adjacent to the clubhouse. At the 18th, aim left of the pin and enjoy the beauty of the view as you walk from tee and green. In between the first and the last, there are 16 holes which you will find entertaining, enthralling, and a joy to play.
The second course, the Schoolmaster (named for President Woodrow Wilson, who was responsible for getting Wilson Dam built and was also known as “The Schoolmaster” of politics), opened in 2005.
The Schoolmaster opens with a straight-away par four – with a ‘twist.’ Your second shot is to an uphill green, which can make club selection tricky, especially if there’s a back pin. The ‘home’ hole at the Schoolmaster is a left-to-right uphill par four which gives you another stunning view of the Tennessee River. In between the first and the last, there are 16 holes which confirm why you play the game of golf.
It’s hard to beat the beauty that the 18th hole holds on the high bluffs over the river, but the waterfall guarding the 2nd green sure comes close.
To achieve success at The Schoolmaster, do your ‘homework’ in advance of your visit.
Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa
After playing 36 holes at The Shoals, spend the night in luxury. Head to the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa (10 Hightower Place, Florence, AL; 256-246-3600), located just minutes away. This Marriott’s major attractions are its stunning views from all 200 guest room balconies; its poolside appeal; the world renowned European-style spa; and the 360 Grille, Alabama’s only revolving restaurant. Another dining option at the Marriott is Swampers Bar & Grill, where the restaurant’s décor honors Alabama’s cultural heritage. And, the food tastes great!
“I love The Shoals for many reasons,” says Stewart Soto, director of sales & marketing at The Shoals. “I think the appeal is not just one thing. It’s the beautiful landscape. There is no bad view at The Shoals — anywhere. Whether you are setting up your shot on the 14th tee of Schoolmaster or having a beer on the veranda overlooking the Tennessee River, you will not be disappointed. The staff here is so welcoming and we want everyone to have fun! We may be off the beaten path, but it’s well worth the extra drive.”
If you happen to have a strong interest in music, you should be aware of this area’s strong musical heritage. Muscle Shoals has many recording studios which have attracted many talented singers and musicians over the years. The bass fishing industry is also vibrant and popular near Muscle Shoals. Did I mention how good the fried green tomatoes and shrimp ‘n grits are in northern Alabama?
You have ‘FORE’ reasons to visit Muscle Shoals: golf, music, bass fishing, and food. When you play golf, don’t be tardy at The Schoolmaster.