Critics sniff that the hilly, long courses
of the Robert Trent Jones Trail are too
similar in design and too challenging
for the typical casual golfer, thanks
to the multitude of forced-carry approaches
over sand and water to greens that are
invariably massive and heavily contoured.
No other destination offers such a complete collection
of country-club-for-a-day courses at such
bargain-basement prices. The success of the RTJ Trail
makes it clear that some destinations are just worth
it, whether you’re Joe Six-Pack, or Joe Six-Handicap.
These are my picks as the best courses on the Trail’s
North to South, the RTJ Trail stretches 384 miles,
but many say its finest course is right in the
middle. Located 15 miles north of the state capital in
Montgomery is Capitol Hill, which might just be the
best three-course complex east of the Mississippi.
But it is the Judge that rules, right from the first tee,
which plummets 200 feet to the fairway. Toss in a
brutish quartet of par-3s and beefy par-5s (like the
711-yard 10th) and you’ve got one strong package — and an unbelievable value.
The Grand Old Man of modern
architecture — Robert Trent Jones
himself — declared Grand National “the
most spectacular golf site in the world.”
Some would argue it’s not even the best in
Alabama, but its Lake course is undeniably
tough, beautiful and memorable, especially
its topsy-turvy greens, sprawling bunkers
and the dozen holes that skirt 600-acre
whether the best track here is the Lake or
its sibling Links course. I vote for the Lake
for one reason: with all those lakes, trees and
wetlands, the Links resembles a links about
as much as I resemble George Clooney.
Located roughly 40 miles
south of Montgomery, this
27-hole facility is the hidden gem
of the RTJ Trail and one of the
nation’s best bargains.
The Canyon nine is a beast, while the Sherling
loop offers more drama via its
many encounters with Sherling Lake.
The cameras come out at the downhill
approach to the 428-yard, par-4 3rd,
which features a lovely lake backdrop,
but you’ll have to refocus by the 8th, a 636-
yard par-5 with a three-tiered green flanked
by water and bunkers. If there’s a cardwrecker
at Cambrian Ridge, this is it.
No, that back tee yardage is not a misprint. Ross Bridge really is almost
8,200 yards. But it’s not as fearsome as it sounds. Extra-wide fairways, soft
green contouring and vast but shallow bunkers result in a manageable backtee
slope of 135. But choose your tees wisely: par-3s from the back start at 207
yards, par-4s at 454 yards, and par-5s at 571 yards.
Ross Bridge also boasts the
Trail’s best lodging, the Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort & Spa (800-593-6419,
rossbridgeresort.com), a 2008 GOLF Magazine Premier Resorts Silver Medalist.
At the RTJ Trail, packages can
be golf-only or include lodging. While
prices vary, package rates at pre-selected
hotels average $52 per person, per night.
For golf-only, the Summer Unlimited
Special lets you play as much golf as
you want on three consecutive days at
most Trail stops for $48 per day.
800-949-4444 or visit rtjgolf.com.