Day three of our trip to Alabama featured a morning 18 at the 3rd course at Prattville, followed by a drive toward Birmingham and our AirBnB. We enjoyed decent weather for late March, given the unpredictable nature of climate across North America this winter and spring. The courses were coming out of dormancy, but there was no mistaking the bones of the golf courses. Despite the reputation of Robert Trent Jones, senior, as a designer of overly-demanding courses, there is always a way around on the Alabama trail. You might not find yourself putting for birdie on every hole, but your route will be interesting, and if you take the proper, cautionary steps, you will find yourself enjoying the journey and putting for more than your share of pars. Day four of the itinerary brought us to the Oxmoor Valley and Ross Bridge sites, and the golf there was as enjoyable as expected, despite a dip in the temperature.
The most concise way to define this golf course is: a kinder Judge. The Legislator begins on the same flatland as the Senator, but does not exhibit the same playing characteristics. It descends on its back nine from the same bluff as its burly kin, but not in the same manner. As with all RTJ Trail courses, there is a beefy set of tees on the “Ledge,” should your game merit the challenge. The difference in length between the two, lowland courses at Capital Hill is about 5%. The Legislator is 5% shorter than The Judge, and at least that percentage more manageable. And yet, the style of play on each course is similar. Ironically, upon further examination, the slope ratings are higher on this course, while the course ratings are stronger on The Judge. Perhaps it’s in the eye of the beholder…who knows!
What is unique about the Legislator course, is the feeling that you’ve been there before. Whether the intuition is a Carolina lowland course, or a hole from Augusta National (no joke, I felt that way about the 13th) or even a mountain course from western North Carolina or New England, the well-traveled golfer will hearken back to a previously-played track. The front nine offers a number of opportunities to work the ball along the ground, into the green. The back nine is more of a carry nine, but not in an unfair manner.
There are moments when the most experienced of us simply lose our minds. In my case, it was a two-step process. The first was the decision to set my camera to the “Trip shutter without memory card” setting. As if I would ever leave the card slot empty. Well, I did. And I shot an entire day of wonderful vistas at the Short Course at Oxmoor Valley (18 wonderful, par-three holes) and the Ross Bridge course (the one I played from the tips, all 8500-yards-I’m-the-fifth-longest-course-in-the-world). Sum total: zero photos from the par-three course, and only iPhone Ocho shots from Ross Bridge. Thanks to the Ocho, it wasn’t a complete loss, but man, I’m crying tears of loss and frustration over those images. Ross Bridge is a stunning layout. It tips at 8200 yards, and I played every one of them. More on that later. As for Oxmoor Valley, it was a nice warm-up for our afternoon round. The weather was chilly, but the shots into greens were fair. Missed greens did not result in a lost ball. Not many bunker shots required, and the bend and break of the putting surfaces were mild and manageable.
When you arrive at Oxmoor Valley, the weather might feel a bit extreme. This is due to the location of the clubhouse: the highest point on the property. When you head to the practice range, the wind intensifies. Again, this is due to location of the range. Neither of these decisions impact play as much as one might anticipate. If the practice-area wind gets in your head, skip the warm-up and loosen up on the first tee of the short course, or either full course. You’ll be on your game in no time. All 54 holes wind their way down and around the central hill, so the meteorological impact is minimized.
After Oxmoor Valley, we headed to Ross Bridge (about 3 miles away) for our afternoon round. The course hosted a PGA Tour Champions’ event for 4 years in the late 2000s, but could easily host any tour, even today. How is this possible? The key is, the layout stretches to 8200 yards. I know this because I played all of them. We’re not about a fluffed-up yardage, either. Lots of carries (off the tee or into the green) from that distance, and the greens themselves can be diabolical, in the hands of the wrong superintendent! I went through my own 7 stages of grieving as I played the round, until I reached a sort of zen acceptance over the closing holes.
Here is my list of the seven steps of 8200-yard Grieving and Acceptance, in order:
- This is daunting, but if I hit the ball squarely, I will be fine;
- I have how much left to the green?
- I’m fine. The rough just shy of the fairway will give me a great lie;
- You’d think that the greens would be easier, with yardage this deep;
- You know, I can’t drive a ball as far as I need to reach that par-3 green;
- Why did I ever give up temper tantrums and club throwing?
- I love golf. I didn’t make a par all day, but I love golf~
Some folks run marathons, other bike for 100s of miles. I’ve run road races and ridden for distance, but my endurance play is always on a golf course. In the past, I played 100 holes of golf for charity, but this endeavor was for me alone. I may never play another course from the tips, so I wanted the last one to be memorable. It’s true that I didn’t make a par all day. I don’t recall having a short iron into any green, and I aimed at more flags with my metals than with my irons. My putting and wedge play let me down when I had a chance at par, but that is the risk you take when you go all the way back. One of my compatriots played the first 6 holes back with me, but gave in to peer pressure and moved up for the final dozen. I didn’t fault him; it wasn’t his challenge.
Ross Bridge is a wonderful golf course from any of its 5 sets of tees. It is imperative that you move up a set from what you would normally play, to counteract the advantage the course has over you. After all, it is the first time you’re seeing it. As I tell anyone who will listen, if you shoot a career-best round, which of these two explanations will you utilize: a) the course played easy; b) I was on fire. I thought so. Ross Bridge is also a scenic course, as it works its way up into hills, then down again in a turbulent, exciting manner. Never far away is the massive lake around which the course winds. Nearby, too, is the gorgeous hotel that (unfortunately for us that week) often acts as the site for corporate meetings. Of the courses we played on the trail, the single venue that cannot be missed is this one, and that’s before you hear the piper close the day with song. Check out the video below.