Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
By Burt Carey
Golfers have bucket lists just like everyone else. Well, maybe the lists aren’t alike, but they are bucket lists nonetheless. For duffers, images of playing the old courses in Scotland, Ireland and the UK are almost redundancies among the purists at heart.
Then there are the oldest courses in the States. South Carolina’s Savannah Golf Club, established in 1794, and Royal Montreal Golf Club, founded in 1873, make it onto a few bucket lists. And today’s big championship courses – Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills, Bethpage Black – have a luster all of their own.
All of those a worthy of due respect and yearning. And so is Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Arguably the premier golf course architect of the 20th century, Robert Trent Jones Sr., built more than 500 golf courses in his career, and he did some of his finest work in Alabama. His original construction of 378 holes has been expanded to now include 468 holes of championship-caliber golf on 26 different courses at 11 locations throughout the state.
What began in the 1980s and was finished in 2005, Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is the largest golf course construction project ever attempted. Today all 26 courses are open to the public, providing a challenging array of shot-making scenarios that will become the highlight of any golfer’s bucket list.
What sets the RTJ Trail apart from other public venues is that each course takes advantage of the area’s natural topography, allowing Jones and his companions to design unique layouts that promise to test golfers regardless of their handicap. His rationale for creating such challenges is simple: No one talks about or remembers the easy courses.
As difficult as they can be, the courses do offer flexibility. The tee markers are pegged to ability level, not age or gender. The courses were designed to measure as short as 4,700 yards and as long as about 8,200 yards from the tournament tees, with as many as 12 tee boxes in-between.
The courses were built and are managed by the SunBelt Golf Corporation, founded by Bobby Vaughan, the former director of golf at Tanglewood in Clemmons, N.C. He was hired by Dr. David Bronner, who was the CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama in the 1980s. Bronner’s plan was to diversify the state’s pension fund by building an economic engine around the game of golf that would attract retirees and boost tourism.
The result is a series of golf courses and resorts that draw thousands of golfers to Alabama each year. Bookings can be made up to seven months in advance to allow for proper vacation planning, and tee times are required at all courses. They issue rain checks for inclement weather that are redeemable for one year. And if you’re really serious about completing the trail during this lifetime, you can get an Alabama Trail Card, which gives you priority in making tee times and other reservations.
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail awaits your reservation this spring. Find out more information online here. Then all you have to do is add such names as Cambrian Ridge, Capitol Hill, Grand National and Highland Oaks to your bucket list.