Kathryn Tucker Windham was born in Selma, Alabama, and lived for over 90 years. She was a journalist, writer, and keeper of a portion of the folklore of the state. Her novel, Alabama: One Big Front Porch, will serve as an opening metaphor for this journey along a segment of the Robert Trent Jones golf trail, a remarkable necklace of golf courses in the 22nd united state of America. The Trail itself is a unique amalgamation of golf courses, united in dual purpose: to diversify investments of the Alabama state pension fund, and to bring tourists and retirees to the heart of Dixie. You can read plenty about the trajectory of the development of the trail here, so let it be sufficient for now to recognize the RTJ Trail, alongside places like Pinehurst, Bandon, and Myrtle Beach, as unique collections of golf establishments, centralized within a measurable location.
Our purpose this week is to explore a small segment of the courses along the RTJ Trail. RTJ was Robert Trent Jones, senior. Originally from Rochester, New York, Jones was the pre-eminent golf course designer through the midsection of the last century. He began designing courses in the 1930s, and continued for over 60 years. Nearing the twilight of his career, in conjunction with his lieutenant, Roger Rulewich, the great majority of courses along the spoor came from the vision of Senior. For someone versed in the diversity of golf course architecture through the decades, an immediate concern springs forth: will each course be a mirror, held up to the others? Can one firm find a way to build unique routings, varied and perhaps even contradictory enough to preserve the renewable interest of particular golfers? This is one task.
We set forth from the Niagara frontier on a Friday, with little of substance to note during the flights and drives of our trip south. The expected banter of men returned temporarily to boyhood, united in a common exploration of the unknown, offers little insight into what the Trail might encompass. Each had done research of the courses, and it was Eric who planted the seed for destination Alabama. In past years, we had traveled to North Carolina in February, and experienced snow-covered fairways. Pretty from the vantage of a photographer, but not especially rewarding for a golfer. The mandate was clear: find someplace with no snow, someplace where the weather, cold as it might seem to the locals, would be welcoming for us. Alabama was our first inspiration.
We crafted an itinerary, centralized in the central portion of the state. The coast would have to wait, as would the environs along the border with Tennessee. If successful, we would see 144 of the Trail’s 468 holes, including two par-three courses. The notion of the par three course, in my mind, is much more brilliant than it was in my youth. For golfers of a certain age, a well-designed short course provides the perfect complement to a the day’s first round. Fewer swings, fewer steps, but golf and exercise all the same. In addition, assuming a foursome and 18 short holes, that makes 72 attempts at an ace. The odds of holing in one are much longer, as we know, but to have that many attempts, adds to the drama and the fun.
Thanks to the handlers of Delta, our bodies and clubs arrived as intended, and our rental van sat in repose, awaiting our appearance. The 2+ hours from Atlanta passed by quickly, thanks to the absence of potholes indigenous to western New York. Our rooms gave us a proper greeting, with wallpaper from the courses and a book on the trail, instead of a bible. Alabama, thanks for the welcome. We’re glad to be here.