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The Robert Trent Jones Trail is considered one of the largest golf construction projects ever done. With the weather in Alabama moderate all year long, it is a natural destination for golfers. Taking that into account, Dr. David Bronner, CEO, of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, felt the greatest use of the pension money, and the natural terrain and climate of the state was to build a magnificent set of golf courses. He approached Bobby Vaughan to form Sunbelt Golf Corporation to bring it all together and to manage the process. Robert Trent Jones Sr. came out of retirement in the 1990’s to do the designs. Together the hope was to create a project that would grow in recognition as time went on. This is what has happened.
Perhaps no golf course designer is as well known as Robert Trent Jones Sr. His dynamic personality and gifted talent brought new life to American golf. Born in 1906 in Ince, England, a town located on the Trent River. He came to East Rochester, New York in 1911. He held several positions as golf pro and teacher before becoming the first person to study golf course design. He set up his own set of classes at Cornell University. His first projects were high profile. He created the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1947, a putting green for Eisenhower at the White House and a hole with three tees at Camp David. From there history has shown him to be the best golf course designer that ever lived. He died in 2000.
The 10 courses each have a friendly, feeling, but present to the public a set of courses that will challenge all levels of golfer in the kind of a setting often only reserved for the very wealthy. The end result is 10 courses with 432 holes. Each offers a variety of tee boxes and the pin placements to challenge all golfers. The Sunbelt Golf Corporation seeks to run it as a business supporting the Alabama Pension fund, but at the same time, with the thought to offer the world’s best golf experience for every ability level. From the power of name recognition, I would say that is exactly what they have accomplished!!!
Let’s start with the Cambrian Ridge. It is located in Greenville. Having three distinct 9-hole courses, it offers a real treat. The Loblolly Course has a quality similar to Augusta with tall pines surrounding rolling fairways. The Canyons is located on old hunting grounds with a target-style golf feel and still has deer blinds tacked to the tall trees. The Sherling offers several dramatic elevation changes with may make it one of the Trails most difficult courses. The Short Course offers 9 three par holes placed between the ridge and Sherling lake.
The Highland Oaks Golf Course is located in Dothan. It is best characterized by its positions in the midst of several lakes and wetlands. They add to the difficulty of the long fairways. On The Highlands Course, you see the openness plus the challenging placement around the locations of the lakes. The Marshwood is known for the incredibly long fourth and sixth holes that are complicated by the presence of the wetlands. The Magnolia consists of two plateaus traversed by a1000 feet wooden bridge that takes you through the marshland lined by tall Magnolia trees. The Short Course is more complicated than some with the presence of thee water hazards.
Hampton Cove is a 54-hole course located outside of Huntsville. The Highlands Course is a Scottish links course lined with thousands of trees and highlights the rolling terrain found in that part of the state. The River course is just that. It follows the Flint River and lies in the flood plain that once was the sight of soybean fields. It has the distinction of being the only Robert Trent Jones course without a single bunker. The massive oak tree on the eighteenth is over 250 years old. The Short Course here is also the links style.
Oxmoor Valley is located in Birmingham at the sight of a former mining land. As a result the Ridge Course has several holes that have 150 foot elevation changes and buttresses of limestone that jut out into the landscape. Set in the Appalachians, there are mature forest growth, and breath-taking views. The Valley Course is just that: a chance to follow the valley downhill for 2 miles and finishes the course with a long 441 par 4 hole nicknamed “the Assassin”. The Short Course is considered one of “Golf Digest’s best values” courses that offers a downhill shot on nearly every hole.
The Capital Hill Golf Course is located in Prattville and contains an extremely challenging layout. The Senator has 150 pot bunkers, some measuring as high as 40 feet, dotting the course. They block the cart path and the holes from the fairway. It is the sight of the Ladies Navistar Open each year. The Legislator is more traditional. It follows the bluff in and out of pines. The course is well known for its “Sky Bridge” which follows the bluff through cypress swamps. The Judge is the final course at the club. It follows the Alabama River. Its first Hole sits 200 feet above the river valley and 14 of its holes take the river into play.
The Grand National Resort is located in the Auburn-Opelika area of the state. Built on Lake Saugahatchee, the Grand National is the crowning glory of the trail. 32 of the 54 holes touch the lake with the 18th hole of the Links Course crossing the very tip. The Lakes Course follows the lake and the15th hole is considered to be the prettiest hole on the whole trail system. The Short Course is considered one of the best in the nation.
The Magnolia Grove Course is located in Mobile on land characterized by marshland, lakes and creeks. The Falls Course is just that- a course with a falls A difficult shot is needed on the 10th hole, taking into account a waterfalls and a green that has a massive slope. The Crossings crosses back and forth across an old railroad track taking advantage of the elevations created. The Short Course has a reputation for its difficult shots needed to hit raised greens.
Ross Bridge Resort and Spa is located in Hoover, Alabama. It has only 18-holes, but was created to be a spa and championship golf tournament destination. It is two miles from Oxmoor Valley Golf Course. The tournament length play offers almost 8,200 yards off the back tees in a park-like setting. It, too, was an old mining site and uses the land grades to create a variety of tough terrains. 10 of the holes follow the shoreline of two man-made lakes with a 80 foot drop between the ninth and eighteenth greens. The elevation changes and variety of pin placements will challenge the best golfers. This is a resort course sure to please the most discriminate visitor.
The Shoals is located in Muscle Shoals between the Wilson and Wheeler Dams. The Fighting Joe Course is named after General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler. He was a Confederate General who felt compelled, at 62, to volunteer to fight in the Spanish-American War where he reached the rank of General in the United States Army. Wheeler Dam is named after him. The course is 8092 yards long and considered one of the most challenging links-style courses in the country. The Schoolmaster is named after President Wilson, nicknamed “the Schoolmaster of Politics”, and responsible for getting the Wilson Dam built. It is considered difficult because its tree-lined fairways follow the banks of the Tennessee River and make the element of trial and error mostly error!!!
The Silver Lakes Course is located on the edge of the Talladega National Forest between Anniston and Gadsden. It incorporates the natural terrain to challenge the golfer. The Heartbreaker will do that to the golfer who thinks the course is too easy. The championship tees use water to its fullest element of difficulty. The Backbreaker follows the Appalachian foothills and makes carrying the bag a backbreaker of a chore. The Mindbreaker is sure to challenge your shot taking strategy. The Short Course is also known to be a challenge with water coming into play at many of the holes.
As you can see the Robert Trent Jones Trail has accumulated the largest group of courses by any one designer in any one area. It is sure to provide the experience of a lifetime for the golfer.
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