Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has 11 sites that are each well worth their own visit. But there’s so much more to explore from such architects as Earl Stone, Jerry Pate, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, and many others. With that in mind, here are 11 other sites that reaffirm the Yellowhammer State’s value and golf prowess.
Whether you’re flying into Shuttleworth International Airport (BHM) or arriving by ground, Birmingham is an idyllic base for your northern Alabama golf trip, home to the RTJ Golf Trail sites at Ross Bridge and Oxmoor Valley, as well as these seven gems:
Ballantrae Golf Club (25 miles south of Birmingham in Pelham) — This par-72, 7,310-yard, semi-private Bob Cupp course with five sets of tees weaves through scenic wooded valleys, over creeks and around gorgeous lakes, providing the public golfer a well-polished country club experience. Stunning 3-pars at 14 and 17 give a fun, beautiful round even more style points.
Timberline Golf Club (33 miles south of Birmingham in Calera) — The 6,745-yard, par-71, semi-private course was designed by U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate in 2002 and ranked among Alabama’s Top 10 Public Courses from 2010 to 2015 by Golfweek magazine, remaining one of the state’s most popular plays today. Four sets of tee boxes launch into fairways lined by spectacular rows of pines, oaks and hardwoods, providing a most rural feeling of rounds only minutes from the city.
Limestone Springs (36 miles north of Birmingham in Oneonta) — One of the more dramatic rounds in all of Alabama, with 225 rippling acres of Appalachian beauty, this par-72, 7,000-yard Jerry Pate golf course was last rated 4.5 stars by Golf Digest in no small part because of the diversity the design. The many elevated tees showcase panoramic ridge, valley and bluff views while the green-carpet playground sneaks around rivers, lakes and limestone outcroppings.
FarmLinks at Pursell Farms (49 miles southeast of Birmingham in Sylacauga) — Here’s what you need to know: This course has been ranked the No. 1 Public Golf Course in Alabama by Golfweek seven of the past nine years. What that number doesn’t tell you is the facility (and surrounding resort) has somehow gotten better every year. A round on Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry’s FarmLinks is a unique and special experience — from the trail of historic signs to the immaculate conditioning and ridiculously awesome views (especially from the par-3 No. 5 with its 172-foot vertical drop tee-to-green) — but it’s the stay-and-play guest who truly maximizes a visit to Pursell Farms, with great lodge and villa options to choose from and exceptional chef-prepared food for all your meals. The staff at FarmLinks defines “Southern hospitality” by treating every guest like family, and the family-run property is not only one of Alabama’s best … but one of America’s best.
Ol’ Colony Golf Club (57 miles west of Birmingham in Tuscaloosa) — The pride of the Tuscaloosa Parks and Recreation Authority, this First Tee facility is another fun Jerry Pate challenge, with a par of 72 and length of only 6,494 from the tips. Featuring more than 25 acres of lakes, sneaking into play on many of the last dozen holes, the largely flat course has a uniquely Carolina-ish feel, with marsh, pine needles and many rugged rows of trees. Regulars praise the fast-firm playing conditions, especially on the greens, and claim it to be one of Alabama’s “best golf values.”
Cider Ridge Golf Club (67 miles east of Birmingham in Oxford) — I recently stumbled across Cider Ridge on a visit to Talladega Superspeedway and Cheaha State Park (home to Alabama’s highest point) and was shocked I hadn’t heard of the course before. Turns out I’m far from alone there. Cider Ridge is the definition of a “hidden gem,” sneaking through the Appalachian foothills with superb scenery and some radically fun golf holes. Dramatic elevation changes are the signature feature, which when paired with the interesting green complexes makes for some daunting shots. Throw in that the property is managed by Troon Golf and you know your experience will also be meticulously maintained. (Oh, and either before or after your visit, drive up to the top of Mt. Cheaha for some mind-blowing panoramic pleasure.)
Gunter’s Landing (79 miles north of Birmingham in Guntersville) — Golf Advisor ranked this course “No. 1 for Value in the United States” in 2018. Think about that for a second. Gunter’s Landing has collected other accolades recently for “Friendliest Course” and “Pace of Play,” which tells you that management not only has their eye on the ball but follows said metaphorical ball until it goes in the hole. They tout that “you’ll seldom see another foursome on the course your entire round,” and that they have “18 interesting holes ranging from moderate to darn tough,” which is an abbreviated way of saying the course has plenty of elevation changes and water carries but is also plenty fun.
The Mobile area is essentially an extension of the Florida panhandle — same warm, white beaches, just with better stay-and-play prices. And whether you fly into Pensacola or Mobile, or drive in, you’ll find RTJ Trail sites at Magnolia Grove and Lakewood Golf Club, as well as these four great options (plus a bonus):
Rock Creek Golf Club (16 miles south of Mobile in Fairhope) — Earl Stone doesn’t get nearly enough national props for his work as an Alabama architecture mainstay, and nowhere is that more obvious than at Rock Creek, a gem hidden in the shadow of several RTJ sites that was consistently ranked 4.5 Stars by Golf Digest. I last played Rock Creek with a humorous local who wore an “RC Cola” hat and called the course “RC Coola” (no joke) even claiming he’d implored the club to adopt the old-school soda logo with a golf twist. (Not true, according to management, but not the worst idea … according to me.) This par-72, 6,920-yard, parkland course has such an “old school” feel with beautiful hole after beautiful hole sprinkled with tall pines, marsh, water and gorgeous white sand.
Craft Farms Golf Resort (51 miles south of Mobile in Gulf Shores) — This resort is one of my favorites in the state not just because it has 36 holes of quality golf, but because those 36 holes were designed by my golf hero — the legendary Arnold Palmer. The two championship courses — Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend — sit just minutes from the white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, a great amenity for the golfer with family in tow. Exquisitely managed by Honours Golf (now a division of Troon), Cotton Creek is a par-72 with five sets of tee boxes, stretching to 7,127 yards, and Cypress Bend is a par-72 with five sets of tees reaching 6,848 yards. Together, they make for a wonderful day of golf, and the Cotton Creek Bar & Grill overlooking the 18th green is the perfect way to cap that day. (Try their homemade chicken salad!) I once asked Mr. Palmer which course he preferred between the two and he replied that he saw both courses more as one big course. “It’s the Golf Shores,” he said, using a popular area cliché. “I love it all.”
Kiva Dunes Resort (65 miles south of Mobile in Gulf Shores) — Another “Golf Shores” icon is what many contend to be Jerry Pate’s greatest design, a fabulous stay-and-play destination out on a barrier peninsula near Fort Morgan, wedged between Bon Secour Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Kiva Dunes is one of those magical courses that appears flat and benign, almost simple to play, then boggles your mind with the challenges presented in the subterranean movement and creativity. The course is beautiful and the property is as close to the beach as golf gets in Alabama. My local playing partner balked a bit at Kiva Dunes being referred to as “a diamond in the rough.” Shaking his head, he corrected, “It’s more like a diamond in the bunker.” (Also, we love the new Kiva Beach Club!)
Country Club of Brewton (87 miles north of Mobile in Brewton) — If you’ve ever wondered where the deer hang out in Alabama, wonder no more. And not just deer. More than one member told me PGA Tour star Bubba Watson plays here. Only a 90-minute drive from Pensacola, it makes sense that the parking lot was loaded with both Florida and Alabama plates. The par-72 course reaches 7,019 from the tips and is so golf-centered they only have a Facebook page for a website. With two lakes, tree-lined fairways and some elevation changes, Jerry Pate clearly had fun with this semi-private design. If you love playing on consistent, true and receptive putting surfaces, you’ll enjoy the greens at CC of Brewton.
Looking for that Bonus?
Steelwood Country Club (21 miles east of Mobile in Loxley) — In the event you’re like me and feel the number 11 is a bit too restrictive of your golf exploration, here’s another less-obvious find — a “bonus track” on the Alabama Golf album, if you will. Steelwood is considered a private club (thus the “bonus”), but you can play the par-72, 7,096-yard, lakeside Jerry Pate course if you stay overnight in the fully-furnished Stewart Lodges overlooking the 200-acre freshwater lake. Six of the golf holes border the lake, making for some daunting shot and spectacular views, especially at sunset. A great place to retire for the night or for a lifetime. (And a great place to retire this story.)
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