Mobile, Alabama: Home to Mardi Gras, college football and good golf

Mobile, Alabama might be best known for its love of college football -- it hosts a bowl game and an all-star game stocked with seniors with NFL dreams -- but there's much to love about this intriguing Southern city at the mouth of the Mobile Bay.

It's home to the original Mardi Gras celebration, an eclectic mix of downtown restaurants and shops, and some really good golf. An LPGA Tour venue highlights a versatile golf scene. The Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove, a stop on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, will host the 2014 Mobile Bay LPGA Classic May 22-25.

Here are the five best places to play golf in the Mobile area:

The Crossings at Magnolia Grove Golf Club, Mobile

Business travelers staying downtown tend to choose the convenience of Magnolia Grove. It's just 14 miles west of downtown and remains the best public facility on the city side of Mobile Bay.

An extensive $5-million remodeling several years ago made Magnolia Grove's Crossings Course more playable for everyday golfers and still maintained that challenge for the pros. More than 5,000 trees were removed, and the green complexes were altered and mostly softened.

New water features, such as the pond fronting the par-3 14th, add more excitement. Its tournament remains one of the better domestic events on the increasingly foreign-focused LPGA Tour.

The Falls at Magnolia Grove Golf Club, Mobile

The only par-71 course on the entire RJT Golf Trail, Magnolia Grove's Falls Course underwent a similar renovation as the Crossings, reopening in 2010.

Several holes were entirely redone to give the course a brand new look. Massive cloverleaf bunkers protect big rolling greens. Water comes into play on six different approach shots.

A waterfall defends the par-5 10th hole. Like most RTJ Golf Trail stops, there's an excellent 18-hole executive course worth playing.

Rock Creek Golf Club, Fairhope

Earl Stone, a virtually unheralded local designer, manipulated rolling terrain into pristine, pine-lined fairways along freshwater wetlands and the Rock Creek basin 16 miles from downtown.

Stone-shaped mounding helps keep the ball in play, but can also lead to awkward side-hill lies. Rock Creek Golf Club's second hole tumbles downhill off the tee before requiring a long approach over wetlands to a green backstopped by a 12-foot-high wall of wood bulkhead. It might be the prettiest hole in the region.

TimberCreek Golf Club, Daphne

Stone wasn't blessed with the same rolling land at TimberCreek Golf Club that he had at Rock Creek. Subtle elevation changes, though, do the trick at this 27-hole layout located just 13 miles east of downtown.

The most reckless land highlights TimberCreek's Magnolia nine. The 592-yard, par-5 fourth slithers back and forth through the hardwoods. The par-4 seventh on the Pines nine demands a heroic approach over a pond. Loblolly pines, dogwoods and magnolias give TimberCreek that Carolinas feel.

Azaleas Course at Lakewood Golf Club, Point Clear

Right across the Mobile Bay is Point Clear, a sleepy section of the shore anchored by the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort and its Lakewood Golf Club. The resort resides 23 miles from downtown, although it feels light years from all the hustle and bustle.

Lakewood's Dogwoods Course and Azaleas Course -- the original 18 holes were designed by Perry Maxwell in 1947 -- are the only layouts along the RTJ Golf Trail not built by the trail's owner, the Retirement Systems of Alabama. The Trail bought the historic courses in 1999. The semi-private club hosted an "all-star" golf shootout in 1959 where legends Billy Casper, Bobby Locke and Tommy Bolt (among others) participated.

A relatively flat site doesn't simulate the up-and-down drama of most of the Trail courses. Instead, ancient oaks draped in Spanish Moss stand as beautiful, formidable hazards. Lakewood's Azaleas Course tiptoes closest to the bay for a couple of highlights. The par-5 14th ends at an island green surrounded by a four-acre lake.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Mobile, Alabama: Home to Mardi Gras, college football and good golf