Birmingham is a Boom Town for golf in Alabama, and the Gulf Shores could very well be renamed “The Golf Shores.” But while Northern Alabama might not have the bleach-white sandy beaches or quantity of playgrounds the central-state metros have, it certainly is no slouch in the “Quality Golf Department.” From Florence in the Northwest to Huntsville in North Central and Scottsboro in the Northeast there are no less than seven great courses you can fit into a five-day stretch.
You can fly into Huntsville International Airport, assuming your local airport offers service, or jet into Birmingham (101 miles) or Nashville (110 miles) and cruise up or down Interstate 65 to Huntsville. From Huntsville it’s only 73 miles west to Florence and 41 miles east to Scottsboro, so don’t use “too much driving” as your “maybe later” ticket. It’s almost too easy to get around the north part of the state.
High Hog in Huntsville
As a prudent traveler you arrived in Huntsville (by plane, train or automobile) in the morning and have a beautiful afternoon left for golf. Hampton Cove is a popular stop on the world famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and offers 54 holes of golf over two championship courses and one 18-hole Short Course. Depending on how much time or daylight you have, play one of the championship 18s — Highlands or River — or hit the Short Course today and save the others for two-morrow.
The Highlands Course is both scenic and challenging with tons of elevation changes, picturesque views galore and a cool signature mule barn adjacent the fifth hole. The River Course is the exact opposite of “elevation changes” but still intriguing, spread across former soybean fields along the Flint River with water in play on 16 holes. The Short Course is a par-54 field of fun with water on 11 holes and a variety of tee boxes that let those of us who don’t play a PGA Tour ball swing every club (including driver).
There are plenty of good budget hotel options in Huntsville (appropriately a solid Hampton Inn a half-mile from Hampton Cove) and so much great barbecue you can blindfold yourself and follow your nose — or play some form of Restaurant Roulette with the 45 listings in the phone book (assuming you know what a phone book is … I don’t think any of my kids do). Speaking from personal experience: If you end up at Boarhog’s Barbeque, The Chuckwagon, Melvin’s or Pig N Out, you’ll be extraordinarily satisfied.
Spend the night in the Huntsville area, play the other two courses at Hampton Cove on Day 2, eat more phenomenal barbecue, ignore the hotel treadmill and try to sleep it off instead so you can get up early on Day 3. You’ve got some shopping (yes, shopping) to look forward to tomorrow.
Scottsboro Savings Time
Get up and go. I’m sure you have some leftover pulled pork you can heat up for breakfast. Otherwise you can grab something quick at the Good Company Café, then head east.
Ever had an inkling to “Live like the Joneses” — those people who get to go everywhere and do all these cool things? Well, if “The Joneses” have ever lost baggage on a luxurious vacation, you can buy their clothes (or whatever they had in their suitcases) in Scottsboro, Alabama, at the nation’s only Unclaimed Baggage Center. Yes, it is exactly as it sounds. There is a “mall” where you can literally buy other people’s property (everything you can imagine) accumulated from the 0.5 percent of suitcases that were never reunited with their proprietors (after a mandatory three-month waiting period). Think this is a joke? Nope. Not only is this place very real, it won the 2016 Alabama Retailer of the Year award in four different categories! Opened in 1970, the UBC is seriously one of Alabama’s most visited tourist attractions — a 40,000-square-foot store where new items roll out hourly and “lost” treasures are “found” by value hunters daily. (I had to stop in to see if by chance Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella had lost a bag — I was hoping to add to my Linksoul collection. No luck. He must not fly Spirit Airlines.)
It’s 41 miles to Scottsboro, then only seven miles from there to Goose Pond Colony Resort, a municipal resort on Guntersville Lake with cottages, The Lodge, a full-service marina and two golf courses. The 18-hole Lake Course is a George Cobb design that opened in 1971 and provides views of the Tennessee River from every hole. The 18-hole Plantation course is also good fun — if you have enough time and energy in your day for 36 holes.
My apologies to those of you who don’t like barbeque, because that’s all I eat in Alabama. And in Scottsboro you’d be wise to hit Holy Smokes or 50 Taters for dinner before splashing into bed back at the Goose Pond Colony.
NOTE: Should you have the option to expand your trip by an extra day it’s worth noting that Gunter’s Landing — a golf course that was ranked No. 1 by Golf Advisor for “value” in the entire U.S. in 2018 (among many other accolades) — is only 20 miles south of Goose Pond Colony Resort. You could easily spend a second night at “The Golden Goose” for that enhanced golf value.
Flexing in Florence
The early bird gets the warm car ride west across the northern half of the state to two more Robert Trent Jones Trail courses in the Muscle Shoals area — Fighting Joe and The Schoolmaster. Depending on what time you fly out on Day 5, you can play one course today and the other in the morning — or you can (daylight permitting) pack them both into today. Word of caution on that, though: These are two of the longest golf courses anywhere. At more than 8,000 yards from the tips, Fighting Joe is as loaded with beauty as it is length, with lakes and hills and a setting on the Tennessee River. It’s slightly shorter sibling was named for President Woodrow Wilson and, while also built on the bluffs along the Tennessee River, is more of a woodlands course.
The two courses have a home base in nearby Florence that has both spectacular food and lodging. Marriott Hotels are the primary partner of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and thanks (again) to that good ol’ Tennessee River this one has one of the most gorgeous settings. The hotel features a world-class spa, indoor-outdoor pool and splash area, a revolving restaurant called the 360 Grille and a casual bar-restaurant with one of the best indoor-outdoor vibes in all of Alabama: Swampers Bar and Grille.
As you can see, even a short five-day trip to the north of Alabama would be absolutely loaded with frills, thrills and likely some (barbecue) spills. Publication after periodical has gifted Alabama with the acclaim of being one of the best value golf destinations in America. If anything that’s underselling it. For my money, it has to be one of the best value destinations in the entire world.