The Most Spectacular Site on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is a smorgasbord of high-quality, low-priced golf, but if you only have a few days to play, how do you know which of its 11 "stops" to make?

Well, if you're looking for "the most spectacular" golf, here's the site you absolutely must not miss. 

Of all the stops on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the one its namesake designer liked best was Grand National in Opelika, and I have to agree.

Located 10 miles from Auburn University and just two hours west of Atlanta, Grand National has two championship-caliber layouts and an 18-hole par-three course.

Part of the reason they're so appealing is that more than half the holes hug the shores and fingerlike coves of Saugahatchee Lake. Jones reportedly called it the most spectacular site he'd ever worked on.

Another plus is that the facility can accommodate hardcore golfers seeking a serious challenge as well as those primarily looking for a highly aesthetic golf experience.

That is, as long as you know which course to play.

The Lake Course is the more popular and playable of the two.

Despite having enough bite from the back tees to host numerous high-level professional and collegiate tournaments, the course is very manageable from the next two sets of markers: the 6,488-yard orange tees (126 slope) and the 5,948-yard whites (117 slope).

The longer and more undulating Links Course, on the other hand, can really beat up higher handicappers, from any tee box.

While it is generous and often downhill off the tee, nearly all of its greens are guarded in front by bunkers (and occasionally water), all but forcing aerial approach shots.

What can't be beaten, of course, is the price. Peak season (March to mid-May) green fees for the Links and Lakes courses cost $60 and up.

To be sure, you'll be able to find scenic and well-conceived holes at other stops along the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, but for the most -- and most consistent -- combination of the two, I'd argue that Grand National leads the pack.

What do you think? Please share your comments on this or another experience with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine, USAToday.com, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
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The Shoals 2 courses are outstanding. They have a great clubhouse, practice facility, and the Fighting Joe is always in great shape. I play alot in the winter and its just about the best condition as if it were May. The Fighting Joe is like a good movie you don't mind playing over again. Over 8000 yds from the tips I don't dare but the whites are over 6100 yds.

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I played the Grand National courses in September 2001 in a long-standing group of 12. Our first round was on the morning of 9/11 -- the ranger drove up and told us about the attack as my foursome was playing #12 on the Lake Course. It was a different golf trip that week. I thought the courses were magnificent and I would like to go back sometime, but the consensus of the group was that they were too tough.

We played the RTJ Trail several years, gravitating to Prattville because of 3 courses in one spot. The Judge was brutal, and visually intimidating to boot, but even now (I was last there in September 2003) I remember many more of the holes at the Judge than at the Senator, where every hole looks pretty much the same.

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I've played all of the courses on the RTJ Golf Trail in Alabama, and I have found that each of them have some beautiful signature holes. The last one I played was Ross Bridge, near Birmingham, a truly beautiful layout, however, Capitol Hill near Montgomery, has some beautiful holes, such as No. 1 on "The Judge." Also, one of the more recent additions near the "Quad Cities" in NW Alabama, The Shoals, has some spectacular holes, especially No. 18 on the Fighting Joe course, and No. 14 on the Schoolmaster. I could go on with the examples, but each course has a couple of holes that simply take your breath away if you are a nature lover.

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I agree that the Opelika courses are the best on the Trail. Close behind are the three 18s at Prattville and Cambrian Ridge at Greenville, which is often ignored since it is off the beaten path. Silver Lakes in Anniston is the hardest for me - some incredibly devilish pin positions.
Magnolia Grove is a good track but often in less than stellar condition.
I have to say I disliked Ross Bridge. It seemed very artificial, like a suburban housing development. I much prefer the Oxmoor Valley courses in Birmingham. I don't see how R T Jones could have designed Ross Bridge unless they communed with him beyond the grave.
PS: no journey on the Trail is complete unless you have eaten at the Highlands Grill in Birmingham, absolutely one of the best restaurants in the USA.

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never been there ,but looks great!

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Ross Bridge is phenominal and the grand national facility is great but as far as value Silver Lakes is excellent and a good test for anyone to play! Other great values is the all u can play at Farmlinks and Limestone springs.

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Grand National certainly ranks with the best locations for aesthetics and value. My other favorite locations on the RTJ Trail are Mobile, Florence, Capitol Hill, and Silver Lakes near Gadsden. Some have bermuda greens and visitors should ask about conditions of the greens in the transition months. Ross Bridge is an upscaled site worth the extra expense. Excellent condition and outstanding practice area. RB hosts a Champion Tour event in mid-May, so expect preparations in April and clean-up work in late May and June.

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The two courses in Muscle Shoals are fabtastic. They were both in great condition. They are as good as any of the courses on The Trail.

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Grand National is great, but don't ever pass up a chance to play the RTJ Ross Bridge course in Hoover/Birmingham. It's an awesome course, plus the hotel and associated facilities are second to none!!!

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We played the Grand National courses in ´07 on a weeklong trip. They´re really good. The only other Trail course we played was The Judge, and we thought both GN courses were clearly better. The RTJ Trail is of course great value but even better is Ol´ Colony in Tuscaloosa and The Capstone Club in Brookwood.

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The Most Spectacular Site on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail