BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - If it has been more than a year since you played Highland Park Golf Course, I want you to forget all the mental images you may have stored up in your head. Because, for you and those who have never played the course, I will attempt to paint a new image. An image which hopefully reflects what heavy equipment and $4.5 million can do to a golf course that had seen better days.
Highland Park saw its first golfer tee off in 1903, making it the oldest course in the state. The city-owned facility enjoyed much success through the years. However, it began declining in recent years and eventually closed.
Bob Barrett, former pro at Shoal Creek and founder of Barrett Golf Management, spearheaded a renovation by purchasing a 25-year lease from the city and pumping the necessary funds into the course. He and designer Bob Cupp began by relocating several tee boxes and greens. Then the property was resodded wall-to-wall.
While designing the layout, Cupp had to take into account the many dales and hills that the land had to offer. What he came up with was a short, yet demanding, par-70 course, completed with flat bent grass greens. He presented his project to the public in December of 1998.
The course plays 5,801 yards from the blue tees, 5,368 from the whites and 4,793 from the reds. Cupp made up for the short distances by using uphill approach shots, heavily bunkered greens, and stingy landing areas. Lakes and a creek system also stand to be bargained with.
No. 5 is a nice 196 yard par-three from the blues. From the tee box you'll want to drop a shag bag and hit ball after ball. It is about a 60 foot drop from the tee to the green, which sits across a pond.
Certainly not lacking for distance is the 423 yard par-four No. 7. A creek runs up the right side, then takes a left turn through the fairway and continues along the left side of this small green. The approach shot with a five or six iron is made more difficult by two large trees which come together from both sides of the fairway to make for a narrow opening.
Another shag bag may come in handy on the par-five No. 8 tee. This time however, it won't be used for enjoyment. You may reach the bottom of the bag before you find the fairway.
Just as on No. 7, large trees converge to make your tee shot travel through a narrow passage. Cupp uses a unique two green system on this hole by switching between one to the left of the creek and one to the right.
Perhaps the most picturesque hole at Highland Park is the 382 yard par-four No. 10. Your approach shot must find its way across a lake and onto a large green with water on three sides. If you're going to miss, I suggest it be long.
The scorecard shows only 273 yards for the par-four 14th. But before you start lining up that eagle putt I recommend you take a look at the design. With the hole playing uphill, about 25 to 30 yards are added to the distance. And from the tee, the green is about as accessible as the Oval Office.
The smartest play would be a two or three iron to the left side of the fairway. This will help you avoid the trees and sand traps around the right side of this small green.
Situated just on the outskirts of downtown, Highland Park has a few holes running adjacent to public roads. On these holes, out of bounds is designated by fencing and white stakes. Yardage is readily available on sprinkler heads throughout the course and soft spikes are required.
Being from the Birmingham area, I am pleased to see this facility open its doors once again. And with a first-class product nonetheless. Golfers from all around should play this course, if for nothing else, to take advantage of the spectacular view of downtown which can be seen from the 17th tee.
Aside from being a nice course with a spectacular view, Highland Park has reasonable rates. Monday through Thursday it is $35; Friday, Saturday and Sunday it is $40; and after 3 p.m. the twilight rate of $27 goes into affect.
Greg Gossett and his personable staff work out of a fully equipped pro shop which is connected to a full service grill. Within walking distance is an irons-only driving range, and a large putting green is also provided.
I am sure the new image I attempted to paint with this review is superficial. So do yourself a favor and visit Highland Park, and I assure you that won't want another year to pass before your next visit.
Highland Park Golf Course
3300 Highland Avenue South
Birmingham, Al. 35205