Tag Archives: Short course

Grand National – Course Reviews

Summary

Early morning at Grand National
Early morning at Grand National

Grand National is the 54-hole facility on the RTJ Trail in Opelika, AL and is next door to the Auburn Marriott Opilika Hotel and Conference Center.  This was our final stop on the October 2013 trip and we played the two 18 hole courses and associated par-3 track over October 10th and 11th.  We did not stay at the Conference Center and opted for the Hampton Inn on South College Street in Auburn and were very pleasantly surprised.  The accommodations were quite comfortable and they ran a social from Mon-Thr where they served good food, beer and soft drinks.  All were complimentary.  On Friday’s before home football games (Auburn Tigers) they did a complimentary tailgate party.  We thought this was a great value and a great way to save a few bucks.  The hotel was only a 20 minute drive from the golf course.

First on the playlist was the Links course.  The name is misleading because the course doesn’t play anything like a traditional seaside links.  They fancy the name because of the mounding around a lot of the greens, but this plays more like a parkland course as you wind your way through tall pine trees that beautifully frame many of the holes.  In fact, standing on the second tee, I remarked that this course reminded me very much of Parkland at The Legends in Myrtle Beach.

Approach to the par-5 3rd hole at Links.  Note the sucker pin.
Approach to the par-5 3rd hole at Links. Note the sucker pin.

What strikes you about this course is the huge undulations in the Bentgrass greens and the significant bunkering protecting the approaches.  A traditional links course would permit bounce and run approaches but not here.  You need to bring everything in high and strike it pure.  The greens were smooth and rolling medium speed which was plenty difficult considering the slopes we had to navigate.  A considerable number of holes had pins cut on the edges making it very tough to get close and score.  I played my best all around golf on the trip at this course and shot a five-over 77 with 32 putts and thankfully only two three-jacks.  After play, I couldn’t help thinking that if they had the greens rolling faster, the course might be unplayable from a difficulty standpoint.  However, the conditions on Links were impeccable.   We played the orange tees that measured 6,574 yards and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.  In retrospect, we probably didn’t help ourselves by warming up on the putting green near the range which was Bermuda, was cut tight, and was rolling very fast.  Oh well, que sera sera.

Clubhouse at Grand National
Clubhouse at Grand National

What’s interesting about the clubhouse at Grand National is that it’s exactly the same layout and structure as Oxmoor Valley’s.  From the pro shop, to the kitchen, to the grill, to the rest rooms; an exact duplicate.  I also noticed that the golf carts were identical at all the sites.  Then I finally connected the dots:  all these RTJ Trail courses were built at the same time with the same architect and sub contractors, since the state of Alabama had sponsored the project.  The only significant difference between the clubhouses was the better food at Grand National.

After lunch we headed out on the Short course, and wow!  This track of 18 legitimate 100-200 yard 3-par holes was drop dead gorgeous.  Much of the routing took us down by the lakes and in the mid to late afternoon with nobody around to push or hold you up, this was some of the most serene and enjoyable golf I have ever played.

Lining up a putt on the Short course
Lining up a putt on the Short course

The greens were Bermuda and were running medium fast, but you didn’t have the undulations of Links or the elevation changes of the Short course at Oxmoor Valley.  We played the orange tees at 2,802 yards at a par of 54.  If you come to Grand National, you must play this one.

Beautiful par-3 along the water on the Short Course
Beautiful par-3 along the water on the Short Course

#9 Short course.  Playing 250 yards from the tips.
#9 Short course. Playing 250 yards from the tips.

On Friday, we played the Lake course.  I noted the need for precision off the tee, and it seemed like every tee shot had a complex set of fairway bunkers you had to avoid.  I ended up only hitting driver on two of the first five par-4s, and all the thinking left me mentally taxed.  There are many doglegs as well and even though the course rating is lower than Links, I found this play more difficult.  The course is all Bermuda and the greens aren’t nearly as sloped as Links, which should make them putt easier, but I found reading putts more of a challenge.  Perhaps it was the last day of our trip and we’d been shifting from Bent to Bermuda on almost every round, but I couldn’t get a good read on many putts.

My swing was on early and I managed a one-over 37 on the front with a couple of birdies, but alas, all good things come to an end.  I fell apart on the back nine, with the round punctuated by a quadruple bogey 7 on the signature hole (par 3 #15).  After splashing two 3-irons on the approach to the island green, I limped in with a 10-over 46 on the back and a total of 83 for the day.  We played the orange tees at 6,488 yards.

#15 Lake course
#15 Lake course

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Booking fees for Link and Lakes were $79.20 which included cart and range balls.  We used coupons given to us from Tony at Oxmoor Valley to play for free on the Short course and only paid $12 for a cart fee.  I can’t remember playing better caliber golf for such a great price.  Coupons aside, Grand National is a very good value for your golfing dollar.

Facilities (4.25 out of 5.0)

The range at Grand National is huge and has plenty of great grass hitting stations that were rotated daily.  Next to the range was a good size putting green and a short game green with bunkers.  Up by the clubhouse was another large putting green so there was plenty of room to warm-up and practice.  The range was a considerable drive away from the clubhouse via cart, but if you wanted to just come and practice, the range had it’s own parking lot and balls were for sale for those not on a golf package.  All practice areas were well conditioned and the quality of practice balls was good.  One interesting note:  the bunkers on the driving range were actually concrete painted white.  You didn’t know that until you hit into one and bounced your shot about 50 feet in the air.

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

Great customer service appears to be the norm across all the RTJ sites we visited, and Grand National was no exception.  On day one, our bag drop attendant didn’t just unload our clubs, he gave us the history of the place and provided directions to all the important stops and stations (very helpful).  Your clubs were loaded and ready to go when you walked out of the pro shop, and you didn’t have to seek out instruction, the cart guys were there to proactively ask you where you were playing and point you in the right direction.

Kayla in the golf shop was super nice when she checked us in on day one and was helpful as we purchased some souvenirs.  The professional (forgot his name) who checked us in for our Thursday afternoon round on the Short course told me we were going to “love it.”  I like that when folks show passion for their everyday jobs and for tasks that may be a little mundane but can make a difference to a first time customer.  He was right and the nice little touch sticks out in my mind.  And finally, the food was pretty darn good in the grill, and we ordered lunch after both rounds.  Overall our experience at Grand National was a great one.  Don’t miss it on your trip to RTJ!

Overall Rating (4.25 out of 5.0)

Short course at Grand National
Short course at Grand National

Oxmoor Valley – Course Reviews

Summary

Clubhouse at Oxmoor Valley
Clubhouse at Oxmoor Valley

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.

Par 5, #3 at the Ridge
Par 5, #3 at the Ridge

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.

3rd green at the Ridge cut into a mountain of shale
3rd green at the Ridge cut into a mountain of shale

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.

Short course downhill par 3 playing 200 yards
Short course downhill par 3 playing 200 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.

Jim on the par 4 15th tee at Valley
Jim on the par 4 15th tee at Valley

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 at Oxmoor Valley
The range at Oxmoor Valley

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.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Tee shot on par 5 #12 at Valley
Tee shot on par 5 #12 at Valley