Category: Alabama

January 06, 2014

Budget Breaks: Pop the cork on great golf deals in 2014

Posted at 12:10 PM by Pete Madden

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Credit: Courtesy of Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf and Spa Resort


SAVE $120: Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club Palm Harbor, Fla.

Don't get snake-bit this winter. Try Innisbrook's Tour-tested Copperhead course -- and its 54 other holes -- with the Classic Golf Package. It includes lodging, one round per golfer per night, $10 retail credit, unlimited practice and fitness facility use, and club storage. January rates start at $458 per room, per night, based on double occupancy. 888-794-8627,

SAVE $105: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail [Grand National] Opelika, Ala.

Already one of the best deals in golf, Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Trail is an even bigger bargain with its Winter Unlimited Package. Available at all sites except Lakewood and Ross Bridge [with a $10 surcharge for the Judge at Capitol Hill], the package gets you all the golf you can play in January for $75 per day. Price includes cart and unlimited range balls. 800-949-4444,

SAVE $115: Omni Amelia Island Plantation Amelia Island, Fla.

Pete Dye and protégé Bobby Weed crafted 36 holes at Amelia -- including a fistful that skirt the Atlantic Ocean. The Stay and Play Package offers ocean-view lodging and one round at $100 per person -- with a second round, rental clubs and a $40 beverage-cart credit free. January rates start at $319 per room, per night, based on double occupancy. 904-261-6161,

SAVE $105: The Biltmore Hotel Coral Gables, Fla.

Its venerable Donald Ross design -- not to mention legendary swimming pool -- made the Biltmore one of Babe Ruth's favorite hangouts. See it yourself with the Hole-in-One Package, which includes lodging, unlimited golf, and practice facility use. January rates start at $589 per night, based on double occupancy. 855-311-6903,

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March 23, 2013

Course Spy: Capitol Hill (The Judge)

Posted at 12:24 PM by Joe Passov


"Y'all have a good time now," the starter says, sparing us the usual first-tee soliloquy about 90-degree cart rules and the like. It's a light, Southern send-off, and it perfectly sets the tone at a friendly place where the only thing they lay on thick is the Alabama drawl, y'all.

Pace of Play
This is not a wide-open course that easily forgives errant tee shots. The aptly named Judge can be penal. It's longer than War and Peace, features more than a few slender fairways, and peril awaits on 14 holes that adjoin water. Expect your round to last at least four and a half hours.

With big greens, sprawling fairway bunkers, and long, forced carries off many tees, this course is great for risk-reward-loving players who can live with punished mis-hits. And the Alabama River's beautiful backwaters give this heart-of-Dixie course a winning sense of place.

The tough but playable holes and gorgeous views make this perhaps the best deal on the RTJ Trail. Twilight rates let you play for less than $50, about what you'd shell out for a cart and a bucket of balls at many top resorts. Here, it gets you on one of the highest-rated public tracks in Alabama.

If the course was judged by a jury of its peers, some might deem it too penal for the average player. Our ruling? Play it from the right tees—hey, there's no shame in using the 5,910-yard whites—and you'll have a blast on an entertaining layout that delivers one of the best bargains in the game.

Capitol Hill (The Judge)
Prattville, Ala.
7,813 yards, par 72
Green fees: $71-$92

(Photo: Michael Clemmer)

October 16, 2012

Celebrating its 20th birthday, Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail remains the best value in golf

Posted at 2:51 PM by Joe Passov

With the state's loyalties divided between the Alabama and Auburn football teams, let's break the tie: Alabama's No. 1 sports draw is the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. As golf attractions go, it's unequaled in the U.S. simply for offering a large quantity of world-class golf at municipal course prices.

Two decades after it opened, the Trent Jones Trail now boasts 11 sites, each within 30 minutes of the interstate and no more than a two-hour drive from course to course.

Since kicking off in 1992, tracks such as Ross Bridge, near Birmingham, and Lakewood, in Point Clear, have upped the quality and made fine lodging a higher priority than it was in the early days. Still, the Trail is defined by the consistency and value of its 468 holes. Every one of the 27-, 36- and 54-hole facilities features pristine, back-to-nature settings and challenging layouts that are relentlessly long, tough, and boldly bunkered, with most tee times priced between $46 and $81 year-round.

Other regional and themed course collections have sprung up to challenge Alabama's supremacy, but none has enjoyed this level of success. Happy birthday, RTJ Golf Trail—here's to another 20 great years.

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
Green fees: $46-$136

(Photo: Michael Clemmer)

March 29, 2012

Ask Travelin' Joe: Alabama, Orlando and Phoenix

Posted at 12:12 PM by Joe Passov

JoeDear Joe,
I’m going to Gulf Shores, Alabama, playing six days, in early April. I’m staying at Kiva Dunes and playing there and Peninsula. What other courses in that area would you recommend?
Terry Holleman
Champaign, Ill.

You wouldn’t suffer with multiple plays at Kiva Dunes, a linksy Jerry Pate design draped over a sandy plot between the Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico—and Peninsula (pictured) stacks up as second best in the region.

However, if you’re a course collector like me, here are three more to try. Best of the trio is Rock Creek ($55-$69; 251-928-4223,, which rolls through handsome pines, hardwoods and wetlands and is replete with strong par-4s and several risk/reward par-5s.

Next up is TimberCreek ($49-$59; 251-621-9900,, a hilly, forested, 27-holer on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, where the Dogwood/Magnolia combo offers the sternest challenge.

Cotton Creek at Craft Farms ($69-$89; 251-968-7500, is one of two Arnold Palmer designs on site. You won’t confuse either one with Bay Hill, but Cotton Creek in particular will entertain with its undulating fairways and numerous bunkers and water hazards.

Dear Joe,
I need your expertise and recommendations for an upcoming golf trip to Orlando. I previously read your Orlando review from March 2009 on, but I’m curious if the last several years have altered your must-play list.
Greg Moore
Alexandria, Va.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but fortunately, there’s no need to renew my prescription. Things stand pretty much as they were in 2009. Bay Hill remains king, thanks to the double-barreled aura of Arnie and Tiger, though you still have to stay there to play there.

Grand Cypress continues to impress, with its remarkable variety of golf offerings, from its now vintage Nicklaus “moundy” (80’s-style) original course, to its St. Andrews replica New course to the superior instruction facilities.

I’ll amplify on two surprises: First is Reunion Resort, which has dropped the Ginn name, but is bursting with new vitality, thanks to some TLC (and cash) infused from new owner Salamander Resorts, the same folks who have Innisbrook.

I have to admit I’m a huge fan of the Watson course, formerly known as the Independence, which inspires with intriguing angles and interesting greens, but which is the least dramatic of the three. I’ve picked on Reunion’s Jack Nicklaus design (formerly the Tradition course) for slapping mid- and high-handicappers with too much trouble, but unquestionably, if you’re a good stick, you’ll warm to it.

Finally, Rees Jones’ Waldorf-Astoria layout is a treat. Tranquil, with fewer bells and whistles than many modern designs, it’s simply a wonderful, playable spread graced with massive bunkers and multiple lakes throughout the back nine that offers plenty of golf when the breeze is up. The Waldorf service, conditions and facilities live up to the famous name.

Dear Joe,
I’m going to be in the Phoenix/Mesa area for business and am going to squeeze in one round. I much prefer to walk so I was wondering if there are any nice courses (up to $125 green fee) that allow walking?
Chris Manning
Via email

Right on the money is Longbow ($60-$135; 480-807-5400, in Mesa, a 1997 Ken Kavanaugh design that’s free of housing, but chock full of strategically placed bunkers. A small, if ripple-filled parcel makes for pleasurable walking—just ask Hunter Mahan and Paula Creamer, who have strolled to victories here in the AJGA Heather Farr Classic. It’s $125 to play Monday through Thursday through March, and $90 all week starting April 2.

January 09, 2012

Alabama versus LSU: What state wins the golf battle?

Posted at 1:24 PM by Joe Passov

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.

March 13, 2011

Worth Your Money This Month: Alabama's Cambrian Ridge

Posted at 12:58 AM by Joe Passov

Cambrian Robert Trent Jones Trail at Cambrian Ridge (Canyon/Sherling/Loblolly)
Greenville, Ala.
7,427 yards, par 72
Green fees: $45-$80

To most Alabamans, April means one thing: spring football practice for Auburn and the Crimson Tide. To golfers, it means prime time on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Among the quietest—and most spectacular—of the Trail's 11 courses is Cambrian Ridge, 40 miles south of Montgomery. Cambrian serves up 27 holes (the Canyon, Sherling and Loblolly nines) that showcase some of the steepest terrain, boldest bunkers and tallest trees on the Trail. With its challenge, variety and scenery—and its $64 walking rate in April—Cambrian is one of the country's best values.

Canyon opens with a 501-yard par-4 that freefalls 20 stories from tee to fairway, then clobbers you with a 275-yard par-3. Sherling offers more drama still. The serious eye candy emerges at the downhill 428-yard 3rd, where Sherling Lake is the backdrop, followed by a par-3 that demands a full carry over the water. Flatter—and shorter—is the Loblolly nine, but it's hardly a weak sister.

In a state that divides families over Auburn versus Alabama, there's no disputing the merits of Cambrian Ridge.

(Photo: Michael Clemmer)

April 01, 2010

Ask Travelin' Joe: Alabama, New Mexico, Austin and Providence

Posted at 11:57 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
Our group is having an argument about the destination for this year's trip. Some want to do Alabama (Grand National Lake/Links, Farmlinks, Oxmoor Valley and Limestone Springs) and others are thinking about New Mexico (Paa-Ko Ridge, Black Mesa, University of New Mexico Championship, Twin Warriors). We live in Chicago, so either destination is equally convenient. My opinion is the average quality of the courses in Alabama is higher, but Paa-ko and Black Mesa are spectacular. Any guidance?

Greg Roemelt
Chicago, Illinois

We're splitting hairs here, albeit blonde versus brunette. Do you like Cameron Diaz or Megan Fox? Point is, they're both stellar.

Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Trail is one of the greatest values in golf travel. So is New Mexico. However, I'm inclined to agree with you: The average quality of the courses in Alabama is higher, especially as you approach the second-tier courses, the ones ranked 6-15 in the market.

That said, nothing in Alabama packs the 1-2 punch of Paa-Ko Ridge and Black Mesa. Moreover, the best of the Alabama courses not only look similar to each other, but they also will look somewhat similar to your home courses, with wall-to-wall grass framed by trees. New Mexico's best are vividly memorable and completely different from anything in Chicagoland. Pass the salsa.

Dear Joe,
I have relied on your expertise for golf course guidance several times in the past. What would you recommend for a five-day trip to Austin, Texas? Our eight guys range from scratch golfers to a 22 handicap, with most of us in the low teens. We have traveled to many golf destinations, including Scotland and Ireland and are looking for some good golf in the Austin area this spring.

Michael F. Kaufman
Chicago, Illinois

For maximum variety and quality in the Austin area, it's impossible to top Barton Creek Resort & Spa (512-329-4000,; package rates from $181 per person per night). This Silver Medalist in our recent Premier Resorts awards boasts four courses spread out across different locations and terrain.

The Fazio Canyons course, ranked No. 67 in GOLF Magazine's 2008 Top 100 Courses You Can Play, is the strongest test of the four, but the resort's earlier Tom Fazio layout, Fazio Foothills, ranked No. 71 in 2008, contains the most distinctive hole, the par-5 closer which features a second shot over an abandoned limestone bat cave. For a great first round, and pure fun for the 22 handicapper, the (Ben) Crenshaw Cliffside course features a friendly 121 slope from the tips. The fourth course, called Palmer Lakeside (for its designer, Arnold Palmer) is dotted with quirky holes, but it's a quality shotmaking venue in its own right.

Worth the side trip is the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa (512-308-1234,; $120-$145), situated 20 minutes southeast of Austin. Its four-year-old Wolfdancer course is the handiwork of Chris Wilcynski of the Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest firm and sports three distinct playing landforms, from forested ridgelines to rolling prairie to a tree-studded valley. The Cliffside plunge at the par-3 12th is unforgettable.

Hi Joe,
I am taking my wife to a quilting show in Providence, RI in the middle of April. The show lasts for three or four days and I will be free to play golf while she is at the show. Thus my question: Do you know of any good/nice public or semi-private courses within a twenty-mile radius of downtown Providence that I would enjoy playing? I am 66 and carry a 15 handicap.

Frank Comer
Via email

Adjacent to downtown Providence is Triggs Memorial Golf Course (401-521-8460,; $40-$58), one of the nation's rare munis designed by the master, Donald Ross, back in 1932. Expect mediocre facilities and suspect conditions, but you'll also encounter a classic layout that opens and closes with Ross' specialty, tough par-4s with firm, fast, sloping greens.

Twenty-two miles south of Providence, in Middletown, is Newport National (401-848-9690,, the Ocean State's highest-ranked public course. Designed by Drew Rogers of the Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest firm in 2002, Newport National's Orchard/East course is magnificently groomed and a terrific challenge at a 138 slope from the 7,244-yard tips, not that you'll be playing it from back there. Best of all, it's only $65 to play there midweek, $75 weekend through May 6.

A word to the wise: Providence has been blasted with rain, 16.32 inches in March alone, and as of late March, flooding is widespread. Call ahead to check on current conditions before booking anything.

April 16, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: Albuquerque and Gulf Shores, Alabama

Posted at 10:52 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
My friends and I are taking our annual golf trip to Albuquerque and are overwhelmed by the number of great courses. We'll definitely play Paa-Ko Ridge, but can you recommend other "must-play" courses in the area?

Warren Dorn
Cincinnati, Ohio

You should certainly do battle with Twin Warriors ($89-$145; 505-771-6155,, a muscular Gary Panks design.

Beyond that, base your decision on convenience. If you're pretty good golfers who don't mind a healthy drive, then tackle the ravines and wild greens at Black Mesa ($62-$87; 505-747-8946,

If you're leery of the drive -- or the challenge -- Sandia Golf Club ($36-$85; 505-798-3990, is scenic, fun and a lot closer.

Continue reading "Ask Travelin Joe: Albuquerque and Gulf Shores, Alabama" »

December 04, 2008

Ask Travelin' Joe: Las Vegas, Alabama and Scottsdale

Posted at 12:59 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Travelin' Joe,
I'm headed to Vegas with friends for a quick weekend golf trip in December. We're scheduled to play at Revere and Badlands. We'll try to get in 36 in a day. Any thoughts on these courses?

Thomas Jones, Esq.
Washington, D.C.

Counselor, I'm advising that you sample those two venues on different days. Sunrise in Las Vegas on say, December 10, is 6:41 a.m., sunset at 4:26 p.m. and the two courses are a good half-hour apart, so it's not going to be easy doubling up. If you stay at the same property, different story. The Revere Golf Club has two Billy Casper/Greg Nash courses, the Lexington and the Concord, the latter the newer and less expensive of the two. Lexington is the slightly stronger product, but they're both good plays. I wrote about Badlands ($70-$150; 702-363-0754, in this spot a couple of weeks back, calling it "a 27-hole Johnny Miller desert target design that has plenty of quirky touches and a nice 'wow' factor." I haven't changed my mind.

Dear Joe,
I'm looking at property at Kiva Dunes, Alabama. I found a great value down there. I'm attracted because of its location and its challenging golf course. Can you tell me where does Kiva Dunes Golf Club rank in 2008?

Michelle Murray
Atlanta, Ga.

Kiva Dunes Golf Club ($72-$92; 251-540-7000, is a 1995 Jerry Pate design in Gulf Shores, 45 miles west of Pensacola that darts through wind-sculpted dunes along the Gulf of Mexico. It rates among the best in the state from every publication that ranks courses. At GOLF Magazine, it charted as the third-best public course in Alabama in our 2008 rankings that were published in September. Best reason to buy? Property owners pay only $50-$55 to play.

Hey Joe,
My family is taking a trip to see friends in Scottsdale over Christmas. I am planning on playing a couple of times. I'm looking for a couple of somewhat affordable courses and one high-end course. Are there some lower priced courses that you would recommend in the general vicinity, and if you could pick only one course to play out there, what would it be? Thanks for the info.

Matt Moore
Stillwater, N.Y.

Scottsdale is a legitimate golf mecca, but not for bargain hunters. Remember, too, that rates rise after the first of the year at many area courses, so try to tee off before the calendar changes.

That said, since you've come from New York, you should get a taste of desert golf. Start at Mountain Shadows Golf Club ($25-$49;, 480-905-8999), a lush, tight, par-56 executive track that's under $30 to ride most afternoons and features in-your-face views of Camelback Mountain.

Head next to the Sanctuary Golf Course at WestWorld ($71-$99;, 480-502-8200), an Audubon-certified desert target design from Randy Heckenkemper that juniors can walk for $31. You can ride after 2 p.m. for $45 and can walk during the week for $71.

Finally, splurge at We-Ko-Pa's Saguaro course ($145-$180;, 480-836-9000), a very walkable Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw creation just east of Scottsdale that has no homes or roads — just wide fairways, strategic bunkering, cleverly contoured greens and unobstructed cactus and mountain vistas everywhere you look.

Ask Travelin' Joe

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at


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