The least talented of artists could draw a near-perfect “interstate rectangle” on a map from Birmingham to Montgomery to Atlanta to Chattanooga and back to Birmingham and find an awful lot of great golf in that easy-access rectangle. Whether you’re driving in from one of those cities or flying into one of their major airports, you’ll find that none of the courses within that rectangle are more than 250 miles away.
For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to have this Alabama golf getaway start in Birmingham, but you could easily spin this itinerary to any of the other three cities listed if that better suits your point of origin. We’ve already featured Birmingham in another itinerary, so this six-day jaunt will be more focused on the great golf in Western Alabama — from Guntersville in the north to Auburn down south (basically everything west of Highway 9).
Golf Life on the Lakes
Fans of TV’s “Friends” might be disappointed to learn that Gunther doesn’t hail from Guntersville (the actor James Michael Tyler is from Mississippi), but fans of golf won’t care. It’s a straight 70-mile shot up Highway 79 from Birmingham to Guntersville where you’ll find enough golf to shake 14 sticks at — and a variety of lodging to balance out any budget. Guntersville (on Lake Guntersville) offers you Gunter’s Landing, Eagle’s Nest and Cherokee Ridge in Union Grove. However you line them up, play one of the three on arrival day and the other two (36 holes) on Day 2. Find the lodging that best suits you from the options listed below, and lock that up for your first two nights.
Gunter’s Landing is a special place, and not just because of its beautiful lake setting. The course was honored by Golf Advisor as “No. 1 Course for Value in all of America” in 2018. The 18-hole routing winds through thick woods loaded with ponds and gives your golf group the enviable sense of being the only group on the course. If you’d like to stay there, the Kudzu Cove Cabins (2.4 miles away) offer six varied options dependent on group size.
On the Tennessee River branch of Lake Guntersville, Eagle’s Nest Golf Course is actually in the Lake Guntersville State Park, magnificently renovated by former PGA Tour Pro Jerry Pate. Set atop Taylor Mountain, next to The Lodge, the many elevation changes provide some stunning views and plenty of challenging holes. Lodging options also include cabins, camping and luxury chalets.
Then, a bit northwest of Lake Guntersville, Cherokee Ridge is an 18-hole championship course designed by Sammy Dean, with most of the front nine featuring a 17-acre aquatic ball-magnet. The back nine is more woodlands but showcases a signature 40-foot waterfall pouring into Lynn’s Creek. Bigger golf groups can capitalize on their area visit by booking The Lake House at Cherokee Ridge — Cape Cod-style retreat that can host up to 20 guests with seven guest rooms and great views over the aforementioned 17-acre lake.
Approximately 50 miles southwest of Guntersville, golfers have the opportunity to experience Silver Lakes, one of the most beautiful and brawniest stops on the world famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. This resilient property withstood the full force of an EF4 tornado back in April 2011 and was rebuilt bigger and better than ever to test the resilience of golfers across four nine-hole courses: Mindbreaker, Backbreaker, Heartbreaker and the stunning Short Course.
(For those of you who haven’t experienced the short courses of the RTJ Golf Trail, take my advice: Don’t overlook them. They might be the most fun you have golfing on any given day, and the one at Silver Lakes is my personal favorite.)
The truly adventurous among you, and those looking to check off some bucket-list-worthy stops on a trip like this, should look to Cheaha State Park for your lodging on Day 3. You can grab a bite in Oxford, or groceries at the Walmart Supercenter there, then head up the mountain to Alabama’s highest point. Watch the sunset from Bald Rock and sleep in the Group Lodge, Cheaha Cabins or Chalets — many of them built into the cliffs — at the park hotel. Tomorrow’s golf is at the base of the mountain, so this is pretty much a perfect pairing.
Sweet, Sweet Cider
As advertised, Cider Ridge is at the base of Cheaha State Park, only 10 miles or so away, and depending on when you get up and how much park exploring you want to do, you can schedule your tee time whenever you want this morning. Cider Ridge’s gorgeous 18-hole course, meticulously managed by Troon through Honours Golf, is a prestigious place to play on some pretty remarkable land. Chock full of elevation changes, ponds, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife, with the state park literally overlooking you, this is the kind of unforgettable setting that makes great golf rounds. And the local apple juice is pretty great too. Take your time around here, and enjoy it, then make your way 90 miles south to the Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort and Spa, to wrap up your trip in absolute style.
Another sensational stop of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Grand National is one of those “save the best for last” settings you’ll savor for somewhere close to forever. With three golf course — two championship 18s and an 18-hole short course — you can pack Day 5 full of golf (36 holes) and then play a quick round on the Short Course early on Day 6 before setting off for the airport or onto the road home.
It’s worth noting that of all the golf courses Robert Trent Jones Sr. ever built, he considered Grand National the greatest golf site he’d ever seen. For those looking for great value in golf, both the Lake and Links courses are considered among the 50 Best Golf Values in America (by Golf Digest). The 18-hole Lake Course at Grand National has a dozen holes on the 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee, with an “island green” 3-par that is both pretty and pretty absurd. The 18-hole Links Course is another beauty, with more holes on the lake and quite possibly my favorite closing hole of any course on The Trail.
And not to be outdone in really any way but length, the 18-hole Short Course at Grand National is both beautiful and sensational fun — a course that makes for a perfect conclusion to a golf trip like this one (especially if you get an ace like I did).
There are so many great golf trips to be had within the state of Alabama, any time of the year, of all shapes and sizes, ideal for pretty much any budget. Make the time, and make your way down. We’d like to impress upon you that you’ll be impressed. We always are.
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