Human Interest


I haven’t blogged about golf for awhile, so I think this is a good time to write about the The Robert Trent Jones Trail. “What’s that?” you say. Well, the name has several components so it requires a bit of explanation.

Robert Trent Jones was a well-known, English-American golf course designer who lived 94 years of the 20th century. He is credited with designing over 500 golf courses in 35 countries, and was the “premier golf course architect of his time.” In the U.S. he designed courses in 45 States, and in Alabama, alone, he designed 18. His name is on so many prestigious golf courses, the list is too lengthy to include.

In the late 1980’s, officials in Alabama who were looking for a way to “boost tourism, attract retirees, and spur economic growth,” came up with the idea to accomplish that goal by building championship golf courses at 8 locations around the state. The courses would be connected to one another by a “mythical” trail. For the “largest golf construction project ever attempted,” they chose Robert Trent Jones Sr. to design each of the 18 courses thus adding credibility and distinction to the project. Upon learning of the plan, Mr. Jones who was the best-known and most prolific architect of his generation, “jumped at the chance and emerged from retirement to tackle the project.” 

At each of the 8 sites, they constructed a beautiful, colonial-style clubhouse from which two 18-hole championship golf courses started. At two sites, there were three courses. Since each site was located in a different part of the state, the idea was for golfers to start at one location, play those courses and then migrate from that location to another, playing those courses over the next 1 or 2 days. Thus came the name Robert Trent Jones TRAIL; the trail leading from one golf course location to another. Of course, their isn’t really a trail, per se, but highways lead from one site to another and adequate lodging accommodations are nearby making it easy to play multiple good golf courses over just a few days. Signage identifying the trail was everywhere. The direction in which you navigate the “trail” is entirely your decision; there’s no set order.

The original 8 sites and 18 courses has expanded over 20+ years to 11 sites and 26 courses. As the RTJ Trail exists today, it is a golfing experience not to be missed. Our group went twice, each time for four days. Everything about “the trail” is very well done. The courses are excellent, the clubhouses are huge, beautiful, and provide any service one might need,** and nearby hotel options are numerous. And the price is very reasonable. Everything is paid in advance—greens fees, range balls, hotel fees—so you just present a voucher at the course or hotel and off you go. No waiting.

Our first trip started in Huntsville at Hampton Cove. After playing 36 holes, we drove three hours to Birmingham that evening. The next day we played 36 holes at Oxmoor Valley followed by an 86-mile drive to Prattville outside of Montgomery. The following day we played 36 holes at two of Capitol Hill’s three courses. The Capitol Hill courses were the most visually impressive courses on that trip. We then drove 212 miles to Florence/Muscle Shoals, stayed the night, and played the Fighting Joe course the next day. That was our last day, and we were exhausted so we only played one round. We still had a 7-hour drive home ahead of us.

The next year we started in Prattville, near Montgomery, stayed two days and played all three courses. We, then, drove back north to Birmingham and played 36 holes at Oxmoor Valley. Our last rounds were in northeast Alabama at Silver Lakes in Gadsden/Anniston, AL. The plan was to play 36 holes there, too, (4th day in-a-row) but exhaustion and lack of golfing talent convinced me to limit it to 18. 

Golf trips like these are to me the “ultimate male bonding experience.” You’re with your best male friends doing what you all love with no outside influences, disturbances, or disruptions. It’s just you, the guys, and GOLF! What could be more fun? BUT…..

I must interject a few words of warning and advice.

  1. Don’t try to cram too much into too short a time. Some of the driving distances between locations are long and tiring. To have to drive three hours after you’ve just spent all day playing 36 holes of golf on a hot, humid day in July is too much for old men! We did that three times on the first trip. It affects your sleeping, your golf game, your score, and puts a lot of stress on the guy driving the car. He can’t nap on the drive like the others can. Alabama is a big state and traffic on I-65 can be terrible, so give yourself ample drive time and down time.
  2. Robert Trent Jones golf courses are tough! They are largely “target” courses that favor golfers with some talent. Most greens are elevated, domed (shaped like the back of a turtle), and surrounded by bunkers. Unless you hit the green perfectly on you approach shot, you’re looking at a big score. Be ready to accept that good rounds are elusive.
  3. Robert Trent Jones likes golf course features that leave a golfer exhausted after the round. As mentioned, most greens are elevated with deep swails in front and behind, most tee boxes are elevated, and mounding of fairways is common. Thus, the golfer is constantly walking up or down a hill. After 36, or even 18, holes I was very tired. The more tired I became, the worse I played so a vicious cycle started. Sharpen your game and get in shape before you go.
  4. Schedule your golf rounds so you give yourself enough time between rounds to get lunch, cool down, and rest. You’ll need it to have the energy to go a second 18. In July, there’s sunlight until 8 pm so there’s no rush.
  5. Don’t play two unfamiliar courses one after another. Play the same course twice, instead. The second time around you can correct the errors you made the first 18. Not being familiar with where to go on a course makes for slow play, errant shots, penalty strokes, and a bad score. Yes, it’s a “trail” and you’re supposed to travel around, but don’t overdo it.
  6. Enjoy yourself—the clubhouses are exceptional, well run, and service is a priority. The food is good and is served without long waits. The Alabama topography is beautiful and varies considerably from location to location. 

**Speaking of service, on our second trip, one of the guys left his bag and clubs at the course in Birmingham. He didn’t realize it, though, until the next day when he found they weren’t in the car. Unfortunately, we were 100 miles away at a course in Gadsden. OOPS! He called the course in Birmingham, and they acknowledged they had his clubs and shipped them to his home at no charge. He rented a set of clubs to play in Gadsden, but this shows RTJ’s commitment to service. 

I loved those two RTJ Trail trips. I had a great time, as always, even tough I never, ever played worth a hoot on a golf trip. I always went hoping to play well, but I never did. I think I tried to do more than my body would tolerate. Whoever organizes such a trip (it was me) needs to consider the age, fitness level, and golf ability of all of the participants and schedule the route, the courses, and accommodations with those factors in mind. I didn’t take those factors into consideration and over planned. Not everyone has to beat themselves up and play 36 holes each day. Having someone collapse out on the course would be tragic. (I once went on a golf trip where a guy had a heart attack in his motel room before breakfast. He had had a coronary by-pass previously and was having angina during the previous day’s round. He spent 4 days in the local hospital)

Those RTJ Trail trips were at least ten years ago. I don’t know the current status of the trail or if COVID-19 has had a major impact on its viability. If it is still in business, and I hope it is, I highly recommend it, but take my warnings seriously and you’ll enjoy it much more. 



Related Articles


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button