Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, CA


This is not as much a course review as it is an essay discussing the experience that is Pebble Beach. Reviews of the holes and strategy and so forth can be found a dozen times over on websites like Golf Club Atlas and any number of other places with a quick search on Google. These reviews have been written by golfers and golf architects with far more experience than I. There is simply little of real benefit that I could add to the architecture discussion that has not been said before. But I can add to the overall picture by describing my experience here.
As I began to play golf, as most do, I began to think of what courses I most wanted to play. Three courses have really stuck out in my mind over the years. Pinehurst #2, Augusta National, and Pebble Beach. As I started learning more about golf courses, the list grew to include any number of other courses, ones on Long Island, ones in the British Isles and so forth. But, still today, I would choose any of the three listed above over virtually any course in the world. Those three are still the top of the list for me. But other than Pinehurst #2, I wasn't sure if I would ever see any of them. I'm still not certain that I will ever play Augusta National. On April 2, 2011 though, I got to play Pebble Beach.
I found myself in California due to a school for the Coast Guard. I decided that I would try to play Pebble Beach after my mom agreed to pay the fare; many thanks are in order for that. I called on a Thursday with rather low expectations but to my surprise I was able to secure a teetime at about 11:00 am on that Saturday. I left out Saturday morning with my friend Nik who, having nothing better to do that day, decided to ride down with me.
As we pulled into the lot, the whole place really started to unfold. Walking down from the car park through a gap between the shops and the pro shop was unique. Once we got through the walk, the putting green sprawled out in front of us. It was, in no exaggeration, the largest putting green I have ever seen. I took some obligatory pictures on the putting green, by the Rolex clock, and by the wall of champions behind the first tee.
Finally it was my turn to tee off. To me, the first tee was just awesome. It really was electric from my point of view. The entire round was much the same. Any person who can stand around and say that Pebble Beach is anything short of fantastic needs his head examined. The Third hole offers you the first real chance to see the Pacific and it works really well as a teaser for things to come. It would be difficult for anyone to deny that the two highest points of the round, from a scenic point of view, are the 7th and 18th tees. The 7th hole at Pebble Beach really is a magical setting.
It's difficult to put into words how special a place Pebble Beach is. From the first tee to the eighteenth green, the whole place is magical. The setting is incredible. The history and tradition are incredible. There really is nothing else like it in the world. I really wonder if any golf experience that I might have in the future will ever compare to the experience at Pebble Beach. I'll get chance to find out this November when I play Pinehurst #2, see how that compares.
Pebble is a truly special place for golfers. I wait patiently for the day when I can return there to play again. Even though the cost is high, there is no doubt I would pay it. As I said before, it really is difficult to explain the feeling that I felt at Pebble Beach. I've played a fair number of high quality golf courses, I played Pacific Dunes only two weeks earlier, but at no time have I ever felt something like Pebble. It was, perhaps, something akin to Michael Murphy's round with Shivas Irons in "Golf in the Kingdom." At some point I think the round became something more than just a round of golf and went into something else, more fantasy. The day I played Pebble Beach is certainly a day I will never forget.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Destination Golf


What is Destination Golf? Recently it has come to be defined as golf where one has to travel significant distances in order to play a given course. Of the modern courses, one of the more obvious choices is Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. In order to get here a person must either take a small aircraft into a small airport in North Bend, OR or fly into Portland, OR and drive about 4 hours to get to the resort. This is obviously a significant outlay of time and money. Courses in the Nebraska and Colorado Sandhills, Ballyneal, Dismal River, Sand Hills, must be similiar in terms of distance traveled.
It is generally assumed that these courses and clubs requiring significant travel to play are a modern thing. I, however, disagree with this. Consider how long it must have taken golfers in the early 20th Century to get to courses like Pebble Beach and Cypress Point in California or Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America in New York. The same can also be said for resorts such as The Greenbrier in West Virginia and The Homestead in Virginia. The time needed to reach these places when traveling in cars that had top speeds of 20 to 25 miles per hour must have been great, after all, it takes close to three hours to reach Pebble Beach from San Francisco even today.
No, Destination Golf requiring long distance travel has always been around. What seems new about it is the fact that most people who play golf today would have grown up with all of the previously mentioned resorts being only 2-3 hours away from major cities and, in most cases, with a large network of "things" to do around the sites. Bandon Dunes does not yet have that network in place around the Resort. Perhaps in 30 years I will go to Bandon with my son and speak in reverent tones about how the place used to be so small and quiet as opposed to the new, bustling town that might be there. No, these destinations will grow, just as the ones before them did. And eventually Bandon Dunes might not be as much of a "Destination," stuck out somewhere in isolated bliss. But it will be more of a cornerstone of some resort type town such as what one sees in Monterey.

No, Destination Golf is not new. It has always existed. Shinnecock Hills was always several hours travel from New York City. Cypress Point was always several hours from San Francisco. And Augusta National was always several hours from Atlanta. These were the Destination Golf courses of the early 20th Century. Places like Sand Hills, Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links are our Destination Golf courses of the early 21st Century.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley (Valley)


The Valley course at Oxmoor Valley starts off with a hole that plays greatly downhill, moves on to a stretch of holes that are dead flat, goes to a set of gently rolling holes, and ends with two significantly uphill holes. The course is more easily walked than it's Ridge neighbor due to being flatter, but some places still have significant distances from one hole to the next. Overall, this is a rather nice course and most certainly one to be enjoyed.

Holes to Note

Hole #1: Par 4, 440 yards
This hole plays significantly downhill off the tee and is certainly not a gentle handshake to begin the round. The safe play would be to take a fairway wood or perhaps a long iron and play towards the bunker on the right. The more aggressive player might attempt to take the tee shot over the bunkers on the left and give himself the shorter shot into the green.

The player who hits towards the right bunker will be left with a longer shot, obviously, but will be rewarded with a flat lie. The player who takes his shot over the left bunkers may get a flat lie, but may get quite a bad lie because the fairway beyond the bunkers is quite narrow with significant fall-offs on either side.

The green, like most at the facility, is rather nondescript, sadly.

Hole 11: Par 4, 361 yards
This hole gives the player a couple of options as well. The fairway is flanked with two bunkers (a feature this writer dislikes, for what it's worth). Playing towards the one on the left will leave the player with a flat lie, playing towards the one on the right might leave the player with an odd stance, and or course the player might try to hit driver over all the trouble and be left with a short shot to the green.

From the fairway, the green is significantly elevated, preventing the player from seeing the entire flagstick.

It occurs to this writer just now as he's writing that the terrain for this hole reminds him quite a bit of what he saw for the 2nd hole at Pine Valley. Which actually makes the quality of this hole seem rather poor...One has to wonder if Rulewich saw the similarity and somehow thought this hole was a nice homage to the 2nd at Pine Valley? In this writer's opinion, it's not. But that notwithstanding, the hole is not bad.

Hole 12: Par 5, 506 yards
This may be the most strategic hole on the course. The tee shot is a Cape style allowing the player to be as aggressive as his heart, mind and ego will allow.

While it would seem that the bunker on the left might be overkill, it's nothing to get worked up over. From the fairway, the player will have to navigate a minefield of bunkers to get to the green. If the player doesn't believe he can reach the green in two shots, he must decide whether to play short, long, or even with the set of fairway bunkers.

For the player who attempts to go for the green in two or is hitting his third shot from the lay-up area, he will be forced to contend with a large bunker fronting the green.

This is likely the best hole on the property and makes as good a use of natural features as this writer has seen in a Rulewich designed course.

Overall, this course is solid. While there aren't a great many special holes, they are all rather solid. The only real issues one might take with the routing come on the stretch of 12 through 17. Each of these holes have rather significant green to tee distances and while being decent holes, the routing takes away any flow the course may have had. Add in a few crossings of public streets and that goes away even more. Sad, really. Could have been much better. 4 of 10.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hundred Hole Hike Recap

The long awaited, for me anyway, start of my Hundred Hole Hike came at 5:53am on Monday. This after two months of asking pretty much anyone I saw if they would be willing to donate to my cause, walking 36, sometimes 54, holes in a day to see how fast I could play, and generally working outside to get used to the high temps and humidity again after our cool season.

The Hike was done at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail site in Mobile, Magnolia Grove. Trying to walk a Trail course once, even one of the Short Courses, is tough enough, it's tough to imagine the difficulty in trying to walk the courses six times. Overall, I ended up walking about 23 miles in order to complete the Hike. My feet and legs were hurting in multiple places, as I suspect was the case for all Hikers. Magnolia Grove has three courses on site, the Short course, a handy little par 3 course, the Falls course, a nice out and back loop design, and the Crossings course, a very open course that hosts the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic. My route took me to the Short course first, then to the Crossings, Falls, and then back to short for the remainder of the day.

The day started off much like all the other rounds I have played on the Short course, rather steady, making some pars and such, it took until the 8th hole to make my first birdie of the day. It was a strange birdie to make. I had told myself prior to the day that I was not going to take too much time lining up putts over 10-12 feet and only then lining up the birdie putts. Anything inside that, I felt like I had a decent chance of making, and I had promised to donate an additional $2 for each birdie I made. So in reality, the only putts that mattered all day were the birdie putts. The putt on 8 was about 30 feet and had a significant break, probably 4 feet. I took a quick look and hit away; I was almost startled to see it go in the hole. Really poor 9th hole, but onto the back nine...I shot 28 on the back nine, one over par, no birdies, for a total score of 60 on the first eighteen holes.


57:26 for the first 18 on the Short Course, 
then 1:33 to get to the next tee on the Crossings.

Second eighteen was on the Crossings course. Very steady start, even par through 5 holes, went for the green in 2 on the par 5 6th hole, up and down from the greenside bunker for birdie. Now 2 birdies on the day, $4 extra. Bogey on 7, then two pars....even par on the front, pretty good scoring considering it took me about 52 minutes to play the front nine. As I was finishing up on the 9th hole, the lightning alarm sounded. I walked up to the clubhouse and was told it was a false alert...back to golf. Uneven start on the back, but I made a birdie on #12, 3 total, $6. The next hole is a short par 5, easily reachable in two shots with an iron in hand...I made par and was quite disappointed. But I made it up with birdie on #16, then a bogey and par coming in. Shot two over on the back. But two more birdies, so now $8 total in the birdie pool. Played the round in under two hours, which is quite quick on this course.

Third round started on the Falls course, after a wardrobe change. Played through a group after my 5th hole on this round, asked them if they'd be willing to give a couple bucks to the Ronald McDonald House, all 3 broke out their billfolds, boom, extra $20 raised that I wasn't anticipating. Made two birdies on the front nine en route to shooting even on the front. Six Birdies: $12 in the pool. The back nine was rather troublesome, my back started hurting quite a bit and the worse it hurt, the less I cared about making solid swings, sadly. But I still ended up tooling it around the back nine at 5 over par. I played the same golf ball for the first 52 holes...hit a shot slightly too far right on the 53rd and couldn't find it. I was quite sad. Spent 2-3 minutes looking for the ball and this kept me from playing my third round in under 2 hours. 
1:52:04 for 18 on the Crossings course, 12:07 freshening up,
2:02:48 for 18 on the Falls, I REALLY wanted to get this in under 2 hours,
27:25 for a bite to eat, then 31:19 for 7 holes on the short, plus the ride back to the clubhouse because of lightning

After I finished on the Falls, my wife was kind enough to be at the club with a Subway sandwich for lunch and I took a short break prior to going back out. It was getting very hot, so it was a good time to take a break off my feet and just generally rest a moment. Once I was done, it was back out onto the Short course. I was playing decent through 7 holes, but had made no birdies, when the lightning alarm went off again. Had my wife not been out there with me, riding in a cart with my son, I probably wouldn't have walked back in as 7 is a substantial distance from the clubhouse, especially walking. So, 61 holes down and back to the clubhouse in 6:04:45 as you can see above.

I figured this rain delay wouldn't be long and I had some family members and a co-worker coming out to help me in my afternoon rounds. Well, the delay kept going and going. I stuck it out in the clubhouse for the entire time and it ended up being around 4pm before we were able to get back out. My co-worker, TJ, had hung around and he came out with me and caddied for the final rounds. The difference in actually having someone out there walking the course with me, just someone to talk to, was pretty huge. The fifth round was completed very quickly, I did not time it, but I can't see it taking more than 50 minutes...but perhaps the time just passed faster with someone else out there. Nothing special, two birdies, though the birdie on 17 was interesting. My shot from the tee didn't look very close at all from the tee, looked to probably be over 25 feet away. TJ just took off for the 18th tee and I just said I'd take a rap at my putt with my wedge. I get up to the green, ball is about 10 feet away. I was rather irritated I didn't have my putter, but TJ was all ready near the 18th tee, probably 75 yards away, so I didn't call him back. Just bellied a wedge...right in the hole. Birdie, no big deal, we don't need any putters around here. Now 8 birdies, $16 extra. Shot 63 this round.

Played the final 18 of the day on the short course very quickly as well. Knocked in a long putt on the second hole for another birdie, played on quickly. Played very quickly on this side as well, probably finished in under an hour again, to be sure, and birdied 18 for #10 on the day. $20 in the birdie pool. 

After this, we were to 97 holes. I saw no need to try and play the last three on the Short course when the real courses were available, so we went off on the Falls course since there is a very easy three hole loop playing holes 1, 2, and 18. Made par on the first two, the I tried to go for to go for the green on 18 in two. I wanted to make one of those $20 bonus eagles to close out the round. Didn't work...ended up making bogey to close out the round. Wanted to finish on a high note, but it just didn't happen. So after about 9 total hours on the course, plus a 4+ hour rain delay, I'd finished 100 holes. 

There probably was time enough to play a few more holes, but the combination of having been at the course since 5:30 am and being pretty much the last person at the course holding up the staffers (having been in both the outside and inside staff positions, I know I'd have been irritated at someone staying all night playing like I was) I decided to call it a day once I got to 100. 

But this has been quite a rewarding experience. I've learned that in many things, I need to stop finding excuses not to do something, and find reasons TO do something. I've learned that some of the people you wouldn't figure to contribute anything, for any number of reasons, often become the ones who find reasons, and that the people you might think would "beat down the doors," so to speak, in order to contribute, wind up being the ones who find excuses. And I've learned that the feeling you get from knowing you've helped people is better than the awards that may come from it. 

This was very rewarding and I will certainly do it again next year.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hundred Hole Hike

Tomorrow is the big day for my Hundred Hole Hike. I will be starting at about 5:30 in the morning and going until darkness, hopefully. Should be a great, rewarding day. I haven't quite raised the amount I wanted to, but maybe I will be able to get some last minute donations tomorrow as I am doing the rounds. Anyone who is near Mobile, AL, feel free to come out to Magnolia Grove and follow me around. I'll write a good recap hopefully sometime this week after I am done.

What is Target Golf


People often wonder how to define target golf. Many will define it as golf that is played from point to point, hitting only high shots to a given yardage to a specific target.
This hole, the 15th at Mike Strantz's Tot Hill Farm in Asheboro, NC is a prime example of this definition.
There are no options or various plays to be had here. Of course the player could hit a draw or fade, possible higher or lower than usual, but this can be said for every shot on every golf course in the world. What does not exist on this hole is the ability to land a ball short of the green and have it roll onto the putting surface, such as on a biarritz hole, or hit a nice draw and have it kick off a slope and roll to the right down to the flag, such as seen on a redan hole. This hole really is a perfect example of the standard idea as to define Target Golf.

However, I tend to take a different view on Target Golf. I consider all golf to be Target Golf. Allow me to use a picture of a biarritz hole to illustrate what I mean.
On this hole, for those not familiar with the hole, allow us to assume the pin is in the position marked by the RED dot. The green is then broken into three distinctive segments, the front and rear portions are relatively flat, while the middle section, marked by a rough rectangle formed with the four GREEN points, will have a significant dip, very much resembling a half-pipe like that used by skaters and snow boarders. If the front run-up area is firm and maintained at fairway height, which it should be, the player has multiple options. He can aim some 60-70 yards short of the pin, by the PINK dot, and hit the shot with some speed, allowing it to roll all the way back, through the dip, to the pin. If he wants to get the ball in the air a bit more, but still run is a significant distance, he can aim at the front of the green, for the YELLOW dot, and once again, allow it to roll to the back. He can also play it to the BLUE dot or, if feeling very adventurous, can carry the ball all the way onto the back section, landing his shot where the ORANGE dot is located.

These shots all have one thing in common: in each case, the golfer must select a yardage to carry the ball, then pick a TARGET and hit the shot. As such, even though it has an abundance of options, the hole still amounts to picking a target and hitting the ball to that target, just like the hole at Tot Hill Farm.

I have a rare view of this situation, I know. But the truth is, with every shot in golf, the player has to pick a yardage and a target and hit the ball to that target in order for the shot to work out, or so he hopes. Therefore, I do break with the common definition of Target Golf and just go about saying that all golf is Target Golf. So, have fun, pick your targets, and go play golf.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley- Ridge course


This course, like all on the Trail that I have played finds way to get very picturesque holes while coming up with a very compromised routing and nothing of great interest. It's quite sad, really. This course really amounts to target golf, as most would define target golf that is, (I'll make a post one day about my take on "target" golf) in that the player is basically forced to hit it to specific spots in order to be given a flat lie to the green, most typically this is around the 150 yard marker. Anywhere much closer to the green than that and the player is likely to be faced with a very uneven lie. Another negative here is that the course requires aerial shots into all 18 holes (actually all 54 holes at the club require aerial shots) and that just gets repetitive after about the 6th or 7th hole. But this course isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just isn't anything of real goodness.

Holes to note:
Hole #3: Par 5, 539 yards
This hole is noted not because it's good or great, but because it is a photogenic train wreck. This hole plays significantly downhill off the tee to a tongue of a fairway sticking out into a clown's mouth pond. Any shot hit longer than 255 yards will go into the pond if not hit directly down the center. From there the margin of error gets lower and the fairway runs out at 305 off the tee.

From here the player is left with a forced lay-up to roughly the 150 yard post, as is the same for most holes, or to the upper fairway that is visible in the picture below. The forced lay-up is due to the green being perched up about 10 feet above the fairway level on a giant pile of shale stone; it is unknown if this pile was on the site when Jones/Rulewich first saw the site or if they took time to pile it up.
The view from the fairway, near the 250 pole:

The shot to the green is then as boring and one dimensional as the other 18 approaches: know yardage, pick club, hit. No chance for anything else here.

And finally a look at the clown's mouth from the green looking backwards.

Hole #5: Par 3, 179 yards
Fair par 3 hole. Not much going on here, certainly not much going on with the green, but I really like the crater bunker in front of the green. Sadly, given they have done away with some of these crater bunkers at other trail sites, I wonder how long it will remain?

Hole #6: Par 4, 447 yards
Nice cape hole from the tee. The fairway runs parallel to a deep ravine (which is horrible to walk through, by the way) and the player must choose how much of the angle he wants to take off. The carry to the fairway taking a ball right towards the edge of the trees in the ravine is about 290 yards, the carry if one plays to the far right edge of the fairway is about 215 yards.

From the fairway, the player who took the more aggressive line off the tee will be rewarded with the shorter club into the green and this is of major benefit on this hole because the green is significantly elevated and any shot will have to carry the entire distance to the green, a green that is not incredibly deep.

Hole 12: Par 5, 483 yards
This reachable par 5 offers multiple options off the tee and is probably the most strategic hole this writer has played on the Trail thus far. The safe play from the tee, down the righthand fairway will give the player a better angle to the green from a flat lie, but a much longer shot.

But the player who tries a play down the lefthand fairway will be rewarded, IF he can pull off the shot, with a much shorter play into the green, possibly with as little as a wedge.

From the left hand of the fairway, it is apparent that the angle to the green is not as good, having to play over bunkers and possibly around the trees the right, but as you can see by the significant slope of the fairway, shots can run out quite a long way.

Overall, I think the course falls short of what it could have been. The routing, specifically, green to tee distances, is rather substandard. The holes themselves are, as is pretty standard of Roger Rulewich, quite picturesque is many cases, but lacking a lot of substance. And the greens are lacking in the way of both very bold and subtle contouring. And of course, the green surrounds have virtually no features which the player can use to manipulate a shot. But as a whole the course is not bad and is certainly better than much of the public golf in Alabama, and elsewhere, within it's price range. Overall 4 out of 10, above average.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Good and The Bad...

I have been thinking lately about different features on golf courses and how they all work together to produce the final product. Ideally, the features should come together and produce something of high quality, often times they do not, but that is another matter. Of the times when the combination of features turns out to be of high quality, the course in question can be something like Heaven on Earth. However, this led me to ask why that is the case? And not only that, how many times does a person go into a course that has that other-worldly feel without some previously formed opinion on what they will think?

One course that comes immediately to mind is Pacific Dunes. I went there with the notion that this course would be pretty much perfect with no imperfections and that everything would be like playing golf in a fantasy land. After playing, after initial review, I agreed with that, I even had it down as a 10 on my course ranking page for quite a while. But upon further review, I am not sure if that is the case. The reason being, I don't feel like the entire product comes together as well as it should, or could. Places like the routing error from 11 to 12 and from 12 to 13 where the player has to walk a rather substantial distance to get to the next tee, in the case from 11 to 12 the player actually has to walk through the teeing ground of the 5th hole. Add this to the fact that the player has to walk roughly 75 yards directly back into the line of play on 13 upon leaving the green in order to begin the journey to the 14th tee and the routing comes off as a bit lacking. I have discovered some other things I felt lacking in the course as well, and this prompted me to downgrade it to a 9, rather than a 10. I do hope to make it back to Bandon reasonably soon (like within 2-3 years) and take another look.

But the course that prompted this thinking of how often do courses turn out to be great "because they were supposed to be great" was Sahalee in Washington. I have not played this course but an acquaintance of mine who has wrote a very detailed review about it and openly questioned how this course was rated among Golf Digest's Top 50 courses in the United States. My response to that was that I think most golfers are very susceptible to following their "conditioning" and saying that a course is great or very good simply because that was what they thought before and simply forced themselves to see the course that way. I also feel that many people might feel that Sahalee is a great course simply because it is said to be the finest course in the region (and in truth, probably is since the Pacific NW is not exactly known as a golf hotbed) and that, coupled with the fact that the vast majority of golfers play the vast majority of their golf in the same general area, can lead to possible skewing in the rating numbers. I know in my personal play, I have gone into courses with a biased opinion on what I was "supposed" to think and that has led to both good and bad things. But a previously formed opinion can most certainly cause a person to skew his "real" opinion of a course.

This, I think, is what happened to me at Pacific Dunes. I thought coming in that it would be straight out of a fantasy world and just looked past the small things. And in that way, how often do we look past small things when we play a golf course that is "supposed" to be great? How often does the golfer look past the routing oddities at Pacific Dunes, or the lack of (apparent) green contouring at Congressional, or the (apparent) lack of width and recover options at Sahalee simply because these courses are supposed to be great and that makes it all good? I am as guilty of this as anyone...but does that make it OK?

Overall, I think it is difficult to look past our previously formed opinions and come up with a true, unbiased opinion on a golf course that we have recently played. Sometimes this takes quite a bit of review and thought. In my case, with Pacific Dunes, it took a year of thought and playing about 40 more golf courses, some very poorly routed, for me to really think about how much the course routing meant to me and whether or not it was enough to bump Pacific Dunes from 10 down to 9. Perhaps in the case of Sahalee, the raters would be well served taking a step back and having a hard look at what, exactly, they feel makes a course great, perhaps not though.

In the end though, the only thing we can do as people, if we are to be in the "business" of rating courses on some particular scale, is to play as much golf as partical in as many different places such that we might have a better idea of what is good and what is bad and at the same time be able to get past our previous opinions based on supposition and form real, true opinions based on the facts as best we are able to see them.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Ross Bridge, Hoover, AL


This is a fantastic course. Better than this writer expected, to be honest. While the course plays nearly 8,200 yards from the back tees, it is quite playable for most players due to it's massive size and the fact that most fairway hazards are 300 yards or more off the tee. The only downside of the course is that it gets the massive yardage by keeping all the holes within what some would call an "acceptable" yardage range, with the par 3's ranging from 207 to 239 yards, the par 4's ranging from 454 to 518 yards, and the par 5's ranging from 571 to 698 yards (and the 698 hole plays 125 feet downhill). This writer would personally like to see more variety, perhaps with a par 3 of about 150 yards and also one of around 300. I'd also like to see a driveable par 3, or at least one that can be reached with a partial wedge, perhaps in the 350-360 range; this length could be offset by a par 4 in the 540-550 range. And it would have been nice for the 571 par 5 to be open enough to be attempted in two shots and one par 5 needing a mid to long iron approach would be cool. But these are standard arguments against many modern courses. Overall, this course has better variety for the long player than most, and of course, you can always move up on the tees to get additional variety if so desired.

Pictures and Holes to Note follows (please note, I started on 10, and in the late afternoon, so the sun affects the pictures quite a bit in some cases, sorry) Also of note, no negative comments, yes, I took a cart, it was mandated, Ross Bridge allows no walking, and I took few pictures of greens because in most cases, the contouring was not much of note. There were a few small run-off areas in the front of greens, but these were limited, because, lets just face it, the main defense and draw here is the length.

Holes to note:
Hole #3: Par 4, 470 yards
Long, flat par 4 that plays along the lake and over it off the tee. The bunker in view on the right side is over 315 yards off the tee, so it does not come into play for most golfers, including ones good enough and long enough to play off the back markers.

The best play is to the left of the bunker, but as said before, the bunker is 315 yards from the tee so the player can take aim straight for it and likely take the water out of play.

The problem with aiming for the bunker is that the green is partially obscured, even if the tee shot is hit around 275 yards with a slight draw as this one was.

The look is better for the player who is capable of hitting a shot of about 320 yards off the tee and can thread it between the bunker and the water.

Hole #4: Par 3, 226 yards (note: picture take from 207 yard tees as the shading prevented a good image from the back markers)

This is a very scenic par 3, if not much else. This hole has no doubt been seen any number of other places and probably executed better than here, especially if the designer of a different hole allowed the player a run-up option. But all in all, this is a solid and scenic hole, playing back up towards the resort hotel and the halfway house. Note the run off area in the center of the green, an interesting addition here since the hole is obviously difficult enough without it, but a fair feature.

Hole #7: Par 5, 619 yards
This is a very scenic par 5 and probably the strongest of the 4, which is saying something because the par 5's here are all solid. The hole plays semi-blind off the tee. If the player decides to take his tee shot down the right hand side, he will likely not see where it stops. Up the left gives a clear view of the shot, but given this is a dogleg right, and all ready rather long, the player wouldn't want to go up the left if he could help it.

Of course, if the player could do exactly what he wanted off the tee, he'd likely be playing golf each week on top tier courses while you watched him on your television. The below picture is taken from about 285 yards off the tee, but in the left rough, leaving around 350 yards to the green; the stake you can see perhaps 1/4 the way in from the left side is a 300 yard stake, the first time this writer has ever seen such a yardage marker. Note the flag in the distance and how it would appear there are no hazards between the player and the flag.

Once the player crests over the hill, however, the player is greeted by a minefield of bunkers. The angle of the green prevents the player from knowing how far away from the green the bunkers down the left are (even just now, looking back at the picture I had to look at an aerial view to confirm that these bunkers do, in fact, go all the way to the green) The negative about this hole is that the player really has no chance to go for the green in two shots. The fairway between the bunkers and the rough slopes significantly towards the rough and the trees down below and any shot from 250 +/- yards would likely not be high enough to hold the green, in spite of the green being close to 50 yards deep. If this hole has a weakness, that is the one.

Hole 13: Par 5, 698 yards
This is the longest par 5 on the course and one of the few par 5's a golfer will see that exceeds the USGA maximum recommended length for a par 5, that being 690 yards; this writer does, however find it interesting that par 4's exceed the 470 maximum all the time and are accepted as normal, yet par 3's and par 5's almost never go over the maximum standard. But this plays significantly downhill so as to make it feel a little shorter. As a side note, any men who like to make the lewd joke about playing partners not hitting their tee shot past the "ladies" tee should go ahead and get over that on this hole as the forward tee requires a shot of 295 yards to reach from the back markers. This hole has no hazards in play off the tee, but it plays a significant dogleg to the left, so the player would be advised to play his shot down the center, to right-center of the fairway to avoid having to his a large hook on his second shot.

For the player finding the center of the fairway off the tee, this is the shot that awaits. The bunker on the left is about a 270 yard carry for the player who his a 290-295 yard tee shot. And, as you will notice in the image that follows this one, the best angle to the putting surface comes from a shot that flirts with the bunker as much as possible; this is quite probably the only time anything about angle of approach will be said here.

This shot taken from just over the bunker, looking down to the green. Note how this angle offers the best shot into any of the pin positions, while a second shot winding up down the right hand side would have to carry the bunker to a relatively narrow green were the pin cut on the right portion of the green.

Hole 14: Par 3, 239 yards (picture taken from 219 markers, by this time in the day I had all ready played 58 holes and had a blister on my left foot, I simply did not have the desire to walk back to the back markers as an aerial view of the hole will show they are nowhere close to the cart path)

This is a straight forward hole, as most par 3's are. That being said, it's rather scenic and could certainly be worse. The 15th tee is up on the highest part of the hill that is visible behind the green.

Hole #18: Par 4, 487 yards
And finally we come to the home hole. While it is probably a bit excessive having water running down the entire right side, having to be carried off the tee and on the approach on a 487 yard hole, it still photographs very well. In this writer's time in Alabama so far, he has discovered that Roger Rulewich, the designer of record here and the "real" designer of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, is very capable of making holes that photograph very well, yet they have less substance than many other "ugly" holes that he has played. This coupled with the fact that the Trail courses are typically poorly routed. But, back to the evaluation of the hole, the bunker down the right side might be in play from the tee given that it is 295 yards off the back blocks; the bunker to the right is 350 yards from the tee and this writer can't figure out any legitimate reason for it being there, other than to look cool in a picture. The obvious play from the tee is to get the ball in the fairway that tops out at 75 yards wide, with the preferred line being down the right side.

The shot to the green is very difficult, having to play over the corner of the water, over a bunker and must guard against going long because there is a stream/waterfall behind the green. This writer will freely admit he made no effort to try and hit a ball on the green from the fairway, choosing to basically play the hole as a par 5, hit his second shot in the bunker to the left and try to get up and down from there.

Overall, while there have been limited positive comments about this course in the hole reviews, it really is a solid, and very good, course. The negatives are the routing which is unwalkable for all but the most physically fit individuals even if walking were allowed (I commented to the Pro in the shop after the round that if they allowed walking in the summertime, I thought someone would  die, and I meant it) The course also seems a bit repetitive at times, the par 5's have pretty good variety, but the par 4's all require mid-to-long iron approach shots, with 9 actually requiring 3 metal to reach the green; 9 is the longest par 4 on the course at 518 yards, keep in mind that this writer had played 71 holes in one day by the time he got to #9. Being required to his a 3 metal into a par 4 is not a negative in and of itself, but coupled with several 2 and 3 iron approaches and no approach with less than a 7 iron, it became slightly repetitive. Same goes for the par 3's, tee clubs were 3h, 3h, 2h, 3h. Perhaps a 3 metal shot as well as a 9i-PW shot would have been preferred as well. But all in all, the course was very good. It was very difficult from the back tees, but the width of the course prevented it from becoming a slog. It really is quite playable. This is certainly the best course on the RTJ Golf Trail that I have played so far and probably not to be overtaken.

One other thing I enjoyed, and I know some of my friends will hate it, was the bagpiper who came out at 7pm and played until around 7:30. That was pretty cool, even though I know it's nothing more than a creation of false "atmosphere."


Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley and Ross Bridge

June 20th at Capitol Hill didn't work out. One of the courses was closed for green maintenance, so I drove on past there and went to Oxmoor Valley outside of Birmingham. Oxmoor Valley has 2 full length courses and an 18 hole short course. I walked all three courses, which was very difficult. These courses were not designed with walking golfers in mind, not even as an after-thought.

The Ridge course is, as one might expect, designed over the highest ground on the property. It has some extreme elevation changes but had some fairly solid holes. But in general is was nothing special, my overall review was 4 out of 10, which is solid.

The Valley course is much more easily walked. The first hole plays sharply downhill and then 17 and 18 play sharply uphill, but in between, the holes are reasonably flat. Flat enough to be a decent walk. But as is standard, there are sometimes huge distances between green and tee. Once again, course is decent, but nothing special. 4 of 10.

The routing of the short course is even worse than the other two. The hills are really out of hand. The course is decent, but there is a lack of variety in the holes. Not terrible, but not great. 3 of 10.

Ross Bridge, however, was very, very good. There is a decent variety in the holes, doglegs of different directions, straight holes, the par 3's are solid, par 5's are quite nice, and very good variety in the par 4's. Some differing lengths in the par 4's would be nice, such as one or two 300-350 yard holes, and perhaps make one of the par 3's a bit longer and a par 5 longer, but overall, the course was quite nice and varied to be nearly 8,200 yards long from the back tees. This course is, so far, the best on the Trail by a wide margin at 6 out of 10.

Individual reviews upcoming for these with pictures.

As a side note, I did walk the 54 holes at Oxmoor Valley. It was a very good "warm-up" for my Hundred Hole Hike on July 9th. Showed me that I will need to change socks more often than I expected and also change shoes. But in general, my hike should be a major success if I take time to make sure my feet and other body parts are doing well.