When it comes to the topic of golf course architecture, the name Robert Trent Jones, Sr. definitely comes to mind. Both novice and professional golfers have tested their skills on his acclaimed courses (more than 500 in 35 countries), and major golf tournaments are held on RTJ courses around the world. RTJ courses require a high level of strategy and seem to blend in with the landscape as if they have always been there, which is why Jones is known as the father of modern golf course architecture.
In America’s Deep South, there are 468 holes of championship golf on 11 golf courses scattered across the state of Alabama. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail encompasses the entire state from north to south offering golf enthusiasts a full experience of different landscapes—from the rolling hills of the north to the wetlands and beaches bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
The Trail, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, has hosted tournaments from the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic to the Golf Digest/RTJ Couples Challenge and will soon welcome its 10 millionth golfer, says John Cannon, CEO of Sunbelt Golf Corporation, the company that manages the Trail.
“When it comes to the Trail, it’s all about the design and the value,” adds Cannon. “These golf courses are not designed between rolls of condominiums; it’s just the golf course and not much else. Our courses test every type of player and their game, and our team has done a fantastic job in keeping our courses maintained and renovated throughout the years to make them better than new.”
Golfers have 11 unique courses to choose from like The Shoals, which is home to two 18-hole championship courses nestled between the Wheeler and Wilson dams on the Tennessee River in the north, to Magnolia Grove in the south, featuring two renovated courses; it was also named one of the “Top 50 Public Courses” by Golf Digest readers.
But it’s not only Jones’ golf courses that make up the Trail.
There are eight luxury resort hotels that fly the Marriott and Renaissance flags and offer the best in quality when it comes to accommodations, spas, and you guessed it, championship golf.
The entire Trail resort portfolio includes: Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa; Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa; Montgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel & Conference Center at Capital Hill; Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel & Conference Center at Grand National; Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center; The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa; Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel; and The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa.
Two of Cannon’s favorite properties are The Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa in the north and the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in the south.
The Marriott Shoals in the city of Florence overlooks the Tennessee River and offers 200 guestrooms, including seven suites, with private balconies; a 6,000-sq.-ft. spa with a menu that includes the customary massage and body treatments; the 360 Grille, the city’s only revolving restaurant; a fitness center; and The Shoals golf course located only 9.8 miles from the property. Standard rates start from $159 dbl.
Meanwhile, every day at 4 p.m., there is a military salute and cannon firing followed by afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel Marriott in Point Clear, which opened its doors in 1847 and was used as a military hospital during the Civil War. The property features 405 guestrooms; a 20,000-sq.-ft. luxury spa; tennis courts; a croquet lawn; and bike and kayak rentals—all on 550 acres of property. Standard rates start from $159 dbl.
With the quality of the golf courses found along the Trail, you would expect overpriced greens fees, but on average, greens fees range from $46 to $80. So does this mean Alabama golfing is really for anyone?
“That was absolutely the goal when we first developed the Trail,” Cannon says. “That this would be golf for the masses and a great golf destination that anyone can afford.”
Cannon says that travel agents should speak to a call center representative directly for information on golf specials and hotel packages since reservations are not available via their website. “First of all, know who you’re booking for and talk with us. We will help ensure that your group or client walks away with a great
experience. We customize everything and can put packages
together to make sure we get the right product for your clients.”
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail: (800) 949-4444; rtjgolf.com