The starter at Oxmoor Valley described the experience of playing the Ridge course and then the Valley course as going from hell to heaven. I understood the context of the comment after playing the two primary 18 hole tracks back to back. With an excellent 18 hole par-3 short course added in, this 54-hole facility in Birmingham, AL on the RTJ Trail provided a fascinating and enjoyable golf experience. We played all three courses over two days on October 8th and 9th and it was a wild ride.
First up was Ridge with it’s tight tree-lined fairways, huge changes in elevation, and quirky pinball bounces. You definitely need a Sherpa with local knowledge to negotiate your way around this mountain. And playing directly after Ross Bridge, with it’s wide open expanses, we pushed the level of our comfort zones. Some of the locals said the best way to play Ridge was to try and land your ball as close to the 150 yard poles because that’s the only flat place on the course. I could see their point, but if you’re trying to get to a scoring yardage in close that becomes a problem.
Ridge has Bentgrass greens and Bermuda through the fairway and rough. I actually putted these greens quite well after coming from the Bent surfaces at Ross Bridge, but found that moving to the Bermuda greens on the short course and Valley a difficult adjustment.
On the day we played Ridge there were two issues. First, we found out that on all RTJ Trail courses, the driving ranges are closed for maintenance on Tuesday mornings. The pro shop staff offered to let us play a few holes on the short course as a warm-up, which we did, but unbeknownst to us was the difficulty and precision required to play the short course, and we ended up losing two balls each on the first two holes just warming up. Secondly, the tees and fairways on Ridge had not been cut. It appeared that a mower had been driven on each of the tee boxes, but no grass was taken, which seemed very peculiar and we pointed that out to the pro shop staff. The long fairways were actually a blessing in disguise, as some of our off-line tee shots did not roll out into the penal Bermuda rough. The main takeaway; you need to fully warm up your swing before playing Ridge. I shot a seven-over par 79 from the Orange tees that were playing at 6,527 yards and was quite happy with that score.
In the afternoon, we played the Short course. This is a collection of 18 legitimate par-3 holes that were pretty darn tough. Many of these played considerably downhill. Club selection was difficult and the Bermuda greens had some severe undulations. They were in good condition, but were hard to negotiate after playing on Bent for a couple of rounds. Four three-putt greens and an 12-over par 66 later, I finally figured out I needed to “pop” the ball with the putter like Brandt Snedeker to get a decent roll. Nevertheless, the Short course was a very fun and challenging play. We played the orange tees which measured 2,971 yards.
Next up was the Valley course on Wednesday, October, 9 and we found it also challenging, but much more open off the tee and more aesthetically pleasing with its gently rolling fairways and meticulously landscaped touches. Valley’s Bermuda greens were cut tighter than the short course and were in excellent condition, yet weren’t rolling as fast as they looked.
We were paired up with Charlie, a local, who gave us great course management tips and some interesting history of the Valley and Ridge courses. There is something to be said for local knowledge and more open sight lines; it relaxes you. However, there were strategically placed fairway bunkers on most holes in the 240-260 yard range off the tee. Hit them and you were in trouble, but well placed drives were rewarded with good looks at the greens. Valley was clearly the preferred play of all the locals and I could see why. I managed an 11-over 83 from the orange tees that were playing at 6,588 yards. This course felt easier than Ridge but I struggled again on the Bermuda greens.
Value (3.75 out of 5.0)
Booking fees for Ridge and Valley were $79.20 which included a cart. I actually saw some fool going out to walk on the Ridge, so it was permitted but I would advise against it. I hope they found the guy. We played the short course on a replay special rate for $22 which included a sleeve of Nike balls. This was a great value considering I can play my 9-hole executive course at home for $20 and the quality of golf doesn’t compare. Range balls had to be purchased separately but we found an ample supply left at the hitting stations for a free warm-up on Wednesday.
Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)
The range had about 25 hitting stations which were on good conditioned mats. Normally they hit from several tiers of grass but the range had been overseeded and mats were in order during the first two weeks of October. There was a large putting green near the clubhouse where chipping wasn’t allowed and a smaller green for short game practice near the range. The facility also hosts a separate range and short game area reserved for a golf school that wasn’t available for general use.
Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)
The operation shines at Oxmoor Valley with exceptional customer service. Our bag drop greeters were right there when we pulled up and very courteous and helpful with directions to the range, first tee, and general instructions on protocol. Special shout out to Tony who was working carts on Tuesday and recharged ours for the afternoon round on the Short course. Tony also hit us up with coupons for a free round at any RTJ course, which we greatly appreciated and took and used at Grand National later in the week. The pro shop staff moved my Wednesday tee time from 7:50 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. upon my request, despite the time not being available when I booked a month in advance. Bottom line, this was some of the most friendly service we’ve experienced in our travels. Only complaint is that the clubhouse food selection was very limited and the turkey and cheddar sandwich I lunched on was quite ordinary. Charlie, our Wednesday playing companion, also reiterated that the food was not that great.
Overall experience at Oxmoor Valley was very good. Valley is a must play and I’d love to come back and tackle that Ridge course again now that I have an idea of where to hit it.