The Grand National stop on the RTJ Trail is located on Lake Saugahatchee, near both Auburn (pronounced AWW-burn) and Opelika (pronounced oh-puh-LIE-cuh). Feel free to extend the LIE syllable for 2 or 3 seconds, and you’ll be welcomed with open arms. It’s a breathtaking, memorable site, home to 3 18-hole courses, one made up entirely of par-three holes. It was the last of our three stops along the trail, and gave us an agreeable send-off, along with a desire to return and sample more of the trail’s offerings.
The Short Course
This was our second short course of the trip. I highly recommend this approach to all golf roadies. If you are young, what’s more fun than having 18 chances at a hole in one? Multiply that by the number in your group, and you just might get one. If you are old, you know we hate to walk/ride 36 holes of full-length golf, but sometimes 18 aren’t enough. Anon, this short course is one of the best I’ve played, and I’ve been on the shorties at Bandon Dunes and Turning Stone. When I get to Pine Valley and Hamilton Farm (both in New Jersey and both uber-private) I’ll let you know how they compare. The holes on dry land, played over rumpled and bent ground, prescribing a cool appearance and the possibility of caroming the ball in. The ones over water were stunning. Nothing like an all-carry short iron or five, to get the nerves a-bristling. The longest club I hit in was a hybrid over water, and it was a blast to rip. The holes range from 50 yards to 230, and I encourage you to mix up the tee decks, to ensure you use all the clubs in your bag.
There are 2 things you need to know about the first hole at The Lakes. One is the double green it shares with the 6th hole. The other is, there is a TON of room to the right of that bunker you see, room that the starter might not (cough, cough) tell you about. That room gets you closer to the green, and you should play for it. The only other hole that is a bit disingenuous is one of the prettiest, the 15th. If you hit drive, you will run through your roster of curse words, as the ball will run through the fairway, into woods or the quagmire. You can play short-right of the central tree, leaving a longer approach. Or, you can go up and left, much deeper, leaving wedge into the green. In either case, play the numbers.
The reason we get these two notions out of the way, is to get to the remainder of this sparkling, unforgettable golf course. Everything on The Lakes is in front of you. No deception, no trickery, just good and fair golf. Hazards are scattered about, in random fashion, tempting you to take risky lines for great reward, yet still offering thoughtful alternatives. The Lakes course effortlessly ascends and descends sizable hills, winding its way around bends to greens sited in elegant locales. Seriously. Not using up every word in the thesaurus. You’ll agree.
If you need to play a links golf course, or even a linksy or links-style layout, go to Prattville and play The Senator. You won’t find it here. I joked that The Links is more lakes than The Lakes, except that it’s true. It doesn’t take away from the name of the course, but I would have christened it The Loch instead. Scottish name that means Lake, don’t you know?
The Links course cross the grand body of water down by the short course, but never intermingles holes. The middle of its back nine comes up behind the resort’s hotel, before climbing up to the clubhouse. If pressed, I would say that Links is more penal than Lakes, as its fairways seem less ample, its hazards a bit more punishing, and its exposure to the winds, of greater consequence. Once you cross the great bridge to the 4th tee, you wonder how you’ll return to the other side. After the 3-hole highland loop (holes 5-7) you return to the shore, and follow the leftward turn to the 15th tee. A trio of inland holes rises and falls, then its back to the lake for one final, demanding test of skill and nerve.