Where did the largest golf course construction project ever attempted take place? Give up? The answer is Alabama.
Nearly 10 years ago, Retirement Systems of Alabama dreamed up a scheme to revitalize tourism by constructing a massive “trail” of championship golf courses throughout the state. The idea was to design the trail so courses would be no more than two hours apart — making it easy for golfers to pack and move from one to the other “collecting” courses.
What makes these courses even more distinctive is the designer — Robert Trent Jones. The noted golf architect designed all 432 holes of golf along the trail including the links at Cambrian Ridge (Greenville), Capitol Hill (Prattville), Grand National (Opelika), Hampton Cove (Huntsville), Highland Oaks (Dothan), Magnolia Grove (Mobile), Oxmoor Valley (Birmingham), Silver Lakes, (Anniston), Shoals (Florence) and Ross Bridge (Birmingham).
Magnolia Grove, the most accessible trail to travelers, is located just outside Mobile. It consists of two championship 18-hole courses, the Crossings and the Falls. Both have been named in Golf Digest’s “Places to Play” and both were listed in GOLF Magazine’s “America’s Top 50 Affordable Courses.” Magnolia Grove also has hosted the 1998 Nike Tour Championship, 1999-2001 AFLAC LPGA Tournament of Champions and the 2002-2005 Mobile LPGA Tournament of Champions.
The courses include creeks, marshlands and lakes all carved into the native pine and hardwood forest. The Crossings course — so named because of several railroad crossings that traverse its layout — consists of pulpit tee boxes and hillier terrain than the Falls course. The Falls, the top course at Magnolia, has large cloverleaf bunkers, elevated and undulating greens, and — in pure Trent Jones style — sloping contours into the woodlands and hazards that cause players think and re-think shots and distances.
Hole 1 (448 yards, par 4)
This starting hole features a dogleg to the left with a marshy area where you might decide to try to cut the corner. Aim for the magnolia tree right center off the fairway and sculpt your ball left to the hole. One large bunker guards the front of the green with a severe undulation on the back, making balls roll a little slower than expected. Elevated greens — a signature design element — make a missed shot a disaster.
Hole 3 (413 yards, par 4)
This dogleg right requires you to lay up to about 150 yards before the marsh area. Big hitters can try to cross, but the risk is not worth the reward. Depending on the tee box you play, this might be an option. Another marshy area protects the green and a bunker on the right will catch wayward shots. To the left are moguls that can, with some shots, redirect your ball to the green.
Hole 5 (582 yards, par 5)
Go for a big drive over the left hill and aim between the two fairway bunkers for a perfect setup for your second shot. Your next shot needs to land a comfortable distance from the pond in front of the green. The second shot plays less than indicated due to the slope toward the water. Shave 20 to 30 yards for a safe shot to the green, which is relatively flat with a hump left front.
Hole 8 (443 yards, par 4)
The beginning of the Falls’ “Amen Corner,” this hole runs adjacent to the course’s signature hole (No.10). The dogleg left requires a strong drive off the tee, but beware of the two fairway bunkers that line the right side of the fairway. Your second shot is to an elevated green that is fairly flat on top.
Hole 10 (570 yards, par 5)
The signature hole on the Falls course, Hole 10 requires you to drive over a marshy area to the first landing area of a split fairway. Big hitters need to control the ball left center as it is very easy to blow your ball past the fairway to the trees and rough on the right, leaving a difficult recovery. Your second shot requires you to position your ball in front of the stream fed by a man-made waterfall. Make sure you check placement for your third shot to this multi-tiered green.
Hole 11 (206 yards, par 3)
This is a difficult par 3 with multiple trouble spots. First, you need to carry the water to the pin, which juts out like a peninsula. A large bunker guards the front of the green. If you hit this bunker, it makes for a hairy recovery due to the water on the other side of the green.
Hole 13 (215 yards, par 3)
This hole plays much farther than it looks or reads in the yardage book. Prevailing winds also may come into play to keep your tee shot from reaching the green. The elevated green and the front bunker make for a challenging par 3 on this hole.
Hole 16 (437 yards, par 4)
Drive off the tee to the right side of the fairway for a clean shot of about 170 yards to the green. Marsh guards the front of the green-side fairway and runs all along the left side. If you position your drive left, you will need a near-perfect “miracle” shot over trees to clear the marsh and a newly constructed bulkhead left of the green.
7000 Lamplighter Drive
Mobile, AL 36575
tel 334 645 0075
Other courses in the mix of play around Mobile include two at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, just across Mobile Bay, and the Earl Stone-designed Rock Creek and Timber Creek. If you’re staying in the area, check out the newly renovated Battle House, a Renaissance Hotel in Mobile. The Grand Hotel in Point Clear is another option. Coming off a massive post-Katrina renovation, the hotel sustained damage, but the golf courses were open within three days of the 2005 storm.
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