getaways & day trips

Golfing in East Alabama

By February 2, 2010No Comments
Those of us from Alabama know many treasures that lie in the Heart of Dixie —natural areas laden with the best hunting and fishing, football teams that bring excitement to each fall season, and succulent Southern fried chicken and vegetables. Yet that’s only the beginning.
What you might not know, and might be surprised to learn, is that east Alabama is home to one of the greatest golfing gems in the entire country — the Auburn-Opelika area. Out of 50 states and 330 cities, the combination of these Tiger-loving towns ranked No. 1 in Golf Digest’s most recent list of “America’s Best Golf Cities”.
“It’s kind of surprising, but just like the beach has sand and water, we can’t forget that we are a world-class attraction for golf,” says John Wild, director of the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau.
The rankings, which were derived from undercover “investigations” of each city’s courses, were based on access of golf (45 percent of the score), weather (25 percent), quality of golf (15 percent) and value (15 percent). Auburn-Opelika breezed through weather category with its crystal-blue skies and typically mild temperatures,
and Wild also says golf value in the area is almost incomparable.“The prices are a lot cheaper than some other more expensive but less quality courses,” he says.
The access to golf category also was no problem. With more than five public courses to play within Auburn-Opelika, a relaxing day on the green is always right at locals’ fingertips. And entirely worth the trip for visitors, Wild says.
But there’s no denying what aspect of the twin towns made the biggest difference in comparison to other cities, according to Wild. It was Grand National Golf Club in Opelika, one of the gently rolling, green paradises that’s part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. This sprawling three-course layout was quoted by Robert Trent Jones Sr. himself as the single greatest site for a golf complex he’d ever seen, according to GolfDigest.com’s “Best in America” article.
“We talk to different golfers at golf shows … they will walk up right away and say ‘We played Grand National,’ and we get a resounding ‘We liked Grand National the best,’” Wild says. “This is one of the most visitor-requested courses.”
Composed of the 18-hole Links course, Lake course and Short course, the Grand National complex is nestled on Lake Saugahatchee. Scott Gomberg, director of golf at Grand National, says his courses gives golfers the best of both worlds — a breathtaking backdrop and varying degrees of difficulty.
“As far as beauty, it is just unsurpassed,” he says.
Each course has its own special perks, from the adrenaline rush fueled by finishing the challenging 18th hole on The Links to the glimmer of the water everywhere you turn on The Short. Last but not least, The Lakes has a quartet of par-threes that could rival any in the nation, according to Gomberg.
Wild says Grand National visitors can appreciate a variety of aspects of the golf complex, namely the challenging contours of the three courses, the pristine landscape surrounding them and the reassurance of quality that comes with the Robert Trent Jones name.
“When you go out there and look at the beauty of the course, it just seems quiet and peaceful,” he says.
Grand National’s solid reputation made it a perfect choice to host notable golfing events such as the 1997 Nike Tour Championship, 1998 LPGA Tournament of Champions and the 2000 NCAA Men’s Division I Golf Championship.
“It’s definitely the Robert Trent Jones name that draws people in,” Wild says. “The golf community talks back and forth … they say if you are going to Alabama you have to play that (Grand National) trail.”
Despite the impact Grand National has had on golfing in East Alabama, it’s not the only golfer’s delight tucked away in Auburn-Opelika. Auburn Links, located just off Exit 51 on Shell Toomer Parkway, is also a favorite among visitors as well as locals. The unique course is known for its paw-shaped greens and sand bunkers, as well as its scenic and demanding layout. Along with water hazards on about five holes, the challenge of Auburn Links comes into play most on hole No. 1, a 400-yard, par four where a creek, hills and sand bunkers make the hole oh-so-elusive.
“We take pride in the condition of the course, and we think we have a layout that will compare to any around,” says John Karabasz of Auburn Links. And that’s saying a lot, since Karabasz also believes the entire city is a golfer’s gold mine.
“We are one of many fine golf courses in this area,” he says. “As a golfer, I wasn’t surprised that (Auburn-Opelika) was named the top city for golf. We are very lucky in this area.”
Indian Pines Golf Course, located in Auburn off East University Drive, also earned its spot among the surrounding prestigious courses. This popular three-star golf site is great for players of all skill levels, providing mostly flat greens that are relatively small and fast to finish. You might also have an interesting view between shots, as Indian Pines is nestled right near the Auburn-Opelika airport.
As rich in golf as this football town seems to be, you might think there’s no point in venturing beyond Tiger country. Capitol Hill in Prattville — another stop along the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail — might make you think twice. This three-course golf complex is composed of a wonderful variety of golf layouts, including the Scottish-style layout at The Senator course, with 20- to 40-foot mounds situated among the landscape. The other two courses have more traditional layouts, yet they don’t lack excitement or scenic beauty. The Legislator course winds in and out of tall pine trees and has a wonderful view as you play six holes along the “Sky Bridge.” Last but not least, The Judge course provides a stunning backdrop, as the majority of the green runs along the glimmering Alabama River. That, along with a breathtaking view from 200 feet above the fairway at the first tee and a beautiful bulkhead island green, makes The Judge one of the most attractive courses in the world.
“All the Robert Trent Jones Trail courses have their own personalities,” Gomberg says.
And these are just the public courses. If you consider the first-class private courses scattered throughout east Alabama — like the one at Saugahatchee Country Club in Opelika and Moores Mill Golf Club in Auburn — the list would go on and on.
“You can forget that this wonderful golf world is going on right in our backyard,” Wild says.
However, as proven by Golf Digest’s illustrious ranking of Auburn-Opelika as the top golf city, there are many people who will always remember the cities for more than just devotion to football and the best lemonade around at Toomer’s Drugs.
Those of us from Alabama know many treasures that lie in the Heart of Dixie —natural areas laden with the best hunting and fishing, football teams that bring excitement to each fall season, and succulent Southern fried chicken and vegetables. Yet that’s only the beginning. What you might not know, and might be surprised to learn, is that east Alabama is home to one of the greatest golfing gems in the entire country — the Auburn-Opelika area. Out of 50 states and 330 cities, the combination of these Tiger-loving towns ranked No. 1 in Golf Digest’s most recent list of “America’s Best Golf Cities.“It’s kind of surprising, but just like the beach has sand and water, we can’t forget that we are a world-class attraction for golf,” says John Wild, director of the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau.The rankings, which were derived from undercover “investigations” of each city’s courses, were based on access of golf (45 percent of the score), weather (25 percent), quality of golf (15 percent) and value (15 percent). Auburn-Opelika breezed through weather category with its crystal-blue skies and typically mild temperatures, and Wild also says golf value in the area is almost incomparable.“The prices are a lot cheaper than some other more expensive but less quality courses,” he says. The access to golf category also was no problem. With more than five public courses to play within Auburn-Opelika, a relaxing day on the green is always right at locals’ fingertips. And entirely worth the trip for visitors, Wild says. But there’s no denying what aspect of the twin towns made the biggest difference in comparison to other cities, according to Wild. It was Grand National Golf Club in Opelika, one of the gently rolling, green paradises that’s part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. This sprawling three-course layout was quoted by Robert Trent Jones Sr. himself as the single greatest site for a golf complex he’d ever seen, according to GolfDigest.com’s “Best in America” article. “We talk to different golfers at golf shows … they will walk up right away and say ‘We played Grand National,’ and we get a resounding ‘We liked Grand National the best,’” Wild says. “This is one of the most visitor-requested courses.”Composed of the 18-hole Links course, Lake course and Short course, the Grand National complex is nestled on Lake Saugahatchee. Scott Gomberg, director of golf at Grand National, says his courses gives golfers the best of both worlds — a breathtaking backdrop and varying degrees of difficulty.“As far as beauty, it is just unsurpassed,” he says.  Each course has its own special perks, from the adrenaline rush fueled by finishing the challenging 18th hole on The Links to the glimmer of the water everywhere you turn on The Short. Last but not least, The Lakes has a quartet of par-threes that could rival any in the nation, according to Gomberg.Wild says Grand National visitors can appreciate a variety of aspects of the golf complex, namely the challenging contours of the three courses, the pristine landscape surrounding them and the reassurance of quality that comes with the Robert Trent Jones name. “When you go out there and look at the beauty of the course, it just seems quiet and peaceful,” he says. Grand National’s solid reputation made it a perfect choice to host notable golfing events such as the 1997 Nike Tour Championship, 1998 LPGA Tournament of Champions and the 2000 NCAA Men’s Division I Golf Championship. “It’s definitely the Robert Trent Jones name that draws people in,” Wild says. “The golf community talks back and forth … they say if you are going to Alabama you have to play that (Grand National) trail.” Despite the impact Grand National has had on golfing in East Alabama, it’s not the only golfer’s delight tucked away in Auburn-Opelika. Auburn Links, located just off Exit 51 on Shell Toomer Parkway, is also a favorite among visitors as well as locals. The unique course is known for its paw-shaped greens and sand bunkers, as well as its scenic and demanding layout. Along with water hazards on about five holes, the challenge of Auburn Links comes into play most on hole No. 1, a 400-yard, par four where a creek, hills and sand bunkers make the hole oh-so-elusive. “We take pride in the condition of the course, and we think we have a layout that will compare to any around,” says John Karabasz of Auburn Links. And that’s saying a lot, since Karabasz also believes the entire city is a golfer’s gold mine. “We are one of many fine golf courses in this area,” he says. “As a golfer, I wasn’t surprised that (Auburn-Opelika) was named the top city for golf. We are very lucky in this area.”

Indian Pines Golf Course, located in Auburn off East University Drive, also earned its spot among the surrounding prestigious courses. This popular three-star golf site is great for players of all skill levels, providing mostly flat greens that are relatively small and fast to finish. You might also have an interesting view between shots, as Indian Pines is nestled right near the Auburn-Opelika airport.As rich in golf as this football town seems to be, you might think there’s no point in venturing beyond Tiger country. Capitol Hill in Prattville — another stop along the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail — might make you think twice. This three-course golf complex is composed of a wonderful variety of golf layouts, including the Scottish-style layout at The Senator course, with 20- to 40-foot mounds situated among the landscape. The other two courses have more traditional layouts, yet they don’t lack excitement or scenic beauty. The Legislator course winds in and out of tall pine trees and has a wonderful view as you play six holes along the “Sky Bridge.” Last but not least, The Judge course provides a stunning backdrop, as the majority of the green runs along the glimmering Alabama River. That, along with a breathtaking view from 200 feet above the fairway at the first tee and a beautiful bulkhead island green, makes The Judge one of the most attractive courses in the world. “All the Robert Trent Jones Trail courses have their own personalities,” Gomberg says. And these are just the public courses. If you consider the first-class private courses scattered throughout east Alabama — like the one at Saugahatchee Country Club in Opelika and Moores Mill Golf Club in Auburn — the list would go on and on. “You can forget that this wonderful golf world is going on right in our backyard,” Wild says. However, as proven by Golf Digest’s illustrious ranking of Auburn-Opelika as the top golf city, there are many people who will always remember the cities for more than just devotion to football and the best lemonade around at Toomer’s Drugs.

Article by Karen Mortensen

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