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January 09, 2012

Alabama versus LSU: What state wins the golf battle?

We’ll leave the LSU-Alabama football game breakdown to our colleagues at Sports Illustrated, but here’s our take on which state wins the golf battle.

1. Marquee Golf Course

LSU: TPC Louisiana

Alabama: Shoal Creek

TPC Louisiana has never sniffed Golf Magazine’s Top 100, private or public. Shoal Creek is a gorgeous, early Jack Nicklaus design that twice played host to the PGA Championship.

Edge: Alabama

Nick Price hits a tee shot on No. 14 at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Ala. [Stan Badz, PGA Tour]

2. Public-Access State Golf Trail

LSU: Audubon Golf Trail

Alabama: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

What elevates the Audubon Trail is its superb variety as well as its lack of crowds. From the ancient Audubon Park layout in the heart of New Orleans that’s been skillfully reworked into a par-62 spread to the beauty and brawn illuminated by such remote tracks as Atchafalaya at Idlewild and Tamahka Trails to a PGA Tour site such as the TPC Louisiana, there’s something for everybody. Unlike Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Trail, however, there’s little to tie these individual properties together, except that they’re mostly flattish, value-oriented venues awash in both man-made and natural hazards. The Trent Jones Trail, on the other hand, remains the most successful golf trail of all, with 11 separate destinations, each no more than 30 minutes from the Interstate and each within a two-hour drive from another Trail course. What most RTJ Trail courses share are functional, semi-attractive cookie-cutter clubhouses, back-to-nature settings free of homes and roads, and courses laden with elevated tees and greens, making for attractive tee shots and difficult approaches. Finally, all of these courses are brutes—hilly, with lots of large tattered-edge bunkers, multiple water hazards and huge, multi-tiered greens. So while there’s a certain sameness to the shot demands at RTJ Trail courses, they deliver sufficient variety—and superior value.

Edge: Alabama

The fourth green on the Short Course at Cambrian Ridge, Greenville, Ala., [Michael Clemmer]

3. Tournament Pedigree

LSU: PGA Tour 1922-present, 1966 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur

Alabama: Multiple PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour events, as well as several USGA and PGA Championships

Both PGA Championships at Birmingham’s Shoal Creek were memorable, with Lee Trevino slipping by Gary Player in 1984 and the racial controversy in 1990. The senior set was enamored with their return there in 2011 for the Regions Tradition tournament. Louisiana, however, boasts a long and remarkable history of New Orleans Open events on the PGA Tour, with winners that include Byron Nelson in his record-setting 1945 season, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and Lee Westwood. Most memorable are local favorite David Toms besting Phil Mickelson in 2001, Davis Love’s playoff win in 1995 to get him into the Masters, and David Frost holing a bunker shot at the 72nd to nip the snake-bit Greg Norman in 1990. In 2011, Bubba Watson denied Webb Simpson’s first win when a breeze and a baked-out green caused Simpson’s ball to waver at address, resulting in a penalty—and prompting a rules change for 2012.

Edge: Louisiana

Bubba Watson won the 2011 Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana. [Hunter Martin/Getty Images]

4. Best Tour Player

LSU: David Toms

Alabama: Jerry Pate

Toms has enjoyed a long, stellar career, with 13 PGA Tour wins, including his dramatic 2001 PGA Championship triumph over Phil Mickelson. Most recently, Toms captured the 2011 Crowne Plaza Invitation at Colonial. He competed on four Presidents Cup teams and three Ryder Cup teams. Pate was brilliant early, with a win in the 1974 U.S. Amateur, then sealed the 1976 U.S. Open with an incredible 5-iron to three feet at the 72nd. Injuries cut his career short, but not before he took two unforgettable plunges into greenside lakes, at Memphis in 1981 to celebrate breaking a victory drought and again in 1982 at the Players, the first held at the new TPC Sawgrass Stadium course. Fittingly, both Toms’ and Pate’s greatest major moments occurred on the 18th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Edge: Even

Jerry Pate celebrates his 1982 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. [Lawrence Levy Archive]

David Toms at the 2011 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. [Craig Jones/ALLSPORT]  

And the Winner Is…

Alabama wins the golf competition by a field goal.

This story originally appeared in the Golf Magazine Front9 App. To download the weekly app, visit the Apple iTunes store.

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