Where in the world is Shanks? Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
Somewhere in my pea-brain, I harbored the notion that Alabama was a state comprised of flat terrain. Wrong! Just got back from an eight day golf trip to play some of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. This is a trip that every traveling golfer should make - at least once.
On the whole, the golf course designs are terrific, the terrain is often spectacular and course conditioning is uniformly good. Everyone in our group found these courses exciting and challenging as every course has a different flavor. There are five sets of tees to accommodate any type of golfer. So choose wisely to enjoy your rounds as these courses are anything but the typical resort-friendly tracks. These are tough challenges where your entire game will be examined. I should also mention here that you get the full country club treatment at every stop. The service outside and inside the clubhouse is also uniformly good.
The trip broke down for us into two base areas, the first of which was Birmingham. Several of the Trail locations have first class hotels right near the golf courses, if that is your preferred M.O. We picked less expensive accommodations at the Days Inn in Hoover, a suburb southeast of the Big Iron City. This location worked very well as it was immediately off the interstate and approximately 10 minutes from the 2 courses at Oxmoor Valley and the 18-hole Ross Bridge, which is the big kahuna of the RTJ Trail. This course is fabulous as you will see when the Champions Tour plays there during the first weekend in May.
For a non-chain restaurant type of meal in this area, give Jim ‘n Nicks BBQ a try. We also took a 75-minute ride east from this location to play the Silver Lakes course near Gadsden. Besides a very tough 27 holes, there is also a jewel of a short course that has to be seen to be believed.
We then relocated about 90 minutes south to the Best Western in Prattville, which is also just off the interstate and only a 5-minute ride to the Capitol Hill location that sports 3 courses. The Links course was fun and quite different than everything else we played but make sure to play the Judge course, for it is there that your game will be judged. Good dining choices in this area are Lin’s Asian Grill or El Torito for authentic Mexican food.
About 50 minutes south of there we encountered the sleeper location of the Trail, Cambrian Ridge. It is excellent and does not encounter the heavier traffic of the other locations. And the short course there is worth a try, just a half-notch below Silver Lakes. And finally, on our way back to the airport we intended to play our final round 90 minutes east at Grand National but were rained out. The pro shop then exceeded my ever-growing expectations by giving us full credit for the greens fees in the pro shop in lieu of a rain check, which would have been worthless as it was our last day. Bravo, RTJ Trail, bravo!
The only minor drawback of the Trail is for those whose health makes walking on hills and slopes a struggle. If it is wet and you can’t take carts off of the cart paths, you will get fair bit of exercise. Regardless, I would not hesitate to recommend a trip there to anyone who loves the game. And all seven of my playing companions will echo that sentiment, even the pair who don’t walk so good anymore.
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