Travel – The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

Travel – The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

Robert Trent Jones is a name synonymous with golf course design and architecture. Robert Trent Jones, Sr., is responsible for over 500 courses internationally, including Adair Manor, Spyglass Hill and, a little closer to home, three of the courses at Horseshoe Bay Resort, which is just a few hours south of DFW. 

Of the hundreds of courses the senior Jones had a hand in designing, there is one entity that is known to golf travelers and purists around the country, and that is the trail named after the great golf course architect. The Robert Trent Jones trail, or RTJ, as it is called by those native to Alabama, is not only a must-see for any golf travel junkie, but also offers a wide variety of architectural elements, places to stay, and attractions to see along with world-class golf. 

The idea for the RTJ Trail was hatched a little over 30 years ago, when Dr. David Bronner, the CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, wanted to diversify and grow the Alabama Pension Fund. When Bronner took the job with the RSA at age 28, the retirement systems had approximately $500 million of funds. Today, RSA has almost $44 billion in investments making the RSA the 50th-largest public pension fund in the world. Bronner celebrated 50 years at the helm of the RSA last May, and around 385,000 public teachers and employees credit Bronner and the RTJ for securing their financial well-being as they enter their golden years. 

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s first seven sites were constructed in Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Opelika-Auburn, Dothan and Greenville. These seven were completed from 1990 to 1994. The Prattville site opened, and the Lakewood Club courses in Point Clear joined the trail in 1999. Ross Bridge, which is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the Trail, opened in 2005.

RSA resort hotels were developed in affiliation with six of the golf trail complexes. The idea was to complete the entire trail in just 18 months, an undertaking that would be similar to following in the footsteps of Nick Saban’s legendary coaching career for the Crimson Tide’s football program. After reaching out to several architects and developers, many of which felt the timeline was too truncated to accomplish such a feat in just a year and half, it seemed the project may be delayed or broken up into phases. However, after a call to Jones Sr., who was already enjoying retirement at the time, a deal was reached, and though it seemed borderline impossible, construction on the Trail began. 

The RTJ Trail is a great destination for every avid golfer, with multiple affordable courses scattered across the state, and it should be on your radar for your next buddies’ trip or weekend getaway. Let’s take a look at some of the properties the Trail has to offer and give you a guide to your RTJ adventure.

Birmingham • Hoover

After a short, two-hour flight into Birmingham, our adventure began with 18 on the Valley Course at Oxmoor Valley, which is just a short half-hour drive from the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Upon arrival to the course, you are immediately met with majestic vistas, rolling terrain and eye-popping elevation changes you would never expect. Playing here in the fall, with the leaves changing colors, offered a sublime first look at the Trail. Oxmoor’s Valley course was completely renovated in 2021, with the addition of trees, bunkers and new TifEagle greens. The opening hole is a real stunner, presenting a tee shot that looks over the rolling hills in the distance and offers a downhill tee shot where your ball seemingly never wants to start grabbing for Earth. As you navigate the holes at Oxmoor, No. 13 is a visual delight and a hole you won’t ever forget. A massive, rectangle Biarritz green is also framed by five rectangular bunkers. One short that will collect any shots that are a bit chunky, and two on each side of the green that make for a nightmarish up-and-down attempt. Even finding this green in regulation is no guarantee at par, as the massive swale through the middle makes distance control very difficult, which can lead to some whimsical putts. It’s a fantastic hole, and one of the most memorable on the entire RTJ Trail. 

After finishing up your 18 on the Valley Course (the Ridge Course is also very worthy), head over to one of the newest attractions at Oxmoor, The Back Yard. The Back Yard is a nine-hole, par-3 course and is the RTJ Trail’s response to other nine-hole short courses like The Cradle at Pinehurst, The Baths in Kohler or The Hay at Pebble Beach. This is a great 45-minute loop with holes ranging from 59 yards to 132 yards, no water and only a handful of bunkers. While it is walking only, it is a great place to nurse a couple of Back Forty Beer’s Cart Barn Light, which are brewed by Back Forty especially for the RTJ Trail. 

Accommodations after our first 27 holes were at the spectacular Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa. Just a few minutes away from Oxmoor Valley, and backing up to the course at Ross Bridge, this resort boasts comfy rooms, a spa, indoor and outdoor saltwater swimming pools and fitness center. 

Dining and drinks can be found in a couple spots, including JT’s Lounge, which has an abundance of local and national beers, as well as a cocktail program, live music, welcoming staff and relaxed atmosphere. We knocked back a couple drinks in JT’s before making our way to the recently renovated Brock’s Restaurant, which sits on the bottom floor of the hotel and features upscale dining with a casual, fun feel. Their new, updated menu features upscale cuisine like their beet salad, mussels, game hen and Japanese A5 Wagyu striploin.

Should you want to venture off-property for a bite, Saw’s BBQ and Soul Kitchen will scratch your southern fare itch. Some of the hits are the pimento cheese and pepper jelly appetizer, the fried green tomatoes and the Saw Burger… but the real star of the show are the loaded potatoes and the barbecue plates. Wash it all down with a fresh lemonade or any number of beers and cocktails. At Saw’s, there are plenty of options to satisfy as you fuel up for your next stop on the Trail. 

The most iconic course on the Trail has to be Ross Bridge. This behemoth has long been known for its bodacious tip yardage that pushes the envelope for even the longest players, with the back tees playing a whopping 8,168 yards. But, luckily for mortals, there are eight additional sets of tees, including one combo set, to make the course as playable as you like. Ross Bridge made unfortunate headlines in late 2022, when an agronomy mishap poisoned the greens, forcing a shut-down and complete overhaul of the putting surfaces. For most resort courses, this would have been a complete disaster, but for the management at Ross Bridge, they chose to use this opportunity to not only improve and renovate the greens, but also move some cart paths and spruce up the property. While unfortunate, choosing to play the cards they were dealt ended up making this magnificent course even better. 

I chose the combo White +, which was a far more manageable 6,546 yards and improved playability and overall enjoyment of this magnificent layout. While every single hole at Ross Bridge is bold, beautiful and imaginative, some of the highlights include No. 4, which is a stunning downhill par 3 which requires a carry over water to a green with a false front and a ridge splitting the putting surface into a pair of sections. Find the wrong side, and the slick green will make this a difficult two-putt par. 

The par-5 seventh hole is another stunner that plays sharply downhill and to the right off the tee. A good drive leaves a manageable second and a great opportunity at birdie. 

The final hole of the opening nine offers a stunning view of the Shannon Valley floor, the gristmill and the flowing waterfall that bifurcates the ninth and 18th greens. A narrow swath of fairway is guarded by a coffin bunker in the middle, but skirt it and players are greeted with a short iron into a large, undulating green that requires precision to avoid a difficult putt. 

No. 13 is another fabulous par 5 that tips at a whopping 698 yards. However, the hole does sweep downhill significantly which makes it more manageable, especially if you choose appropriate tees. Should you choose to lay up for your second shot, be sure to avoid the bunker on the left and leave yourself a solid wedge yardage. It’s a spectacular hole, lined by towering trees that frame the architecture wonderfully. 

The final hole at Ross Bridge works back toward the gristmill and that dynamic water feature you first saw on No. 9. The flowing waterfall behind the green makes this a visual delight, but be wary, as water down the right can make the tee and approach shots a diabolical challenge. 

One of the great things about Ross Bridge are the multiple tee options. You can truly choose your own adventure, from the gargantuan back tees to the more user-friendly forward tee options, I would recommend a couple different rounds playing from different tees so you can see the course in more than one light. 

Simply put, the whole experience at Ross Bridge is second to none for the overall value. If you love bucket-list courses that won’t set you back mid-five figures like Pebble Beach, Streamsong, Whistling Straits or Sand Valley, Ross Bridge is an absolute must stay-and-play. 


When it comes to great golf, sometimes it doesn’t need to be a resort course or well-known destination to check the boxes for a fun round. While we are mainly focusing on the RTJ Trail for this trip across Bama, there are certainly plenty of other great options for golf while in Alabama that aren’t on the Trail. One of those courses is Ol’ Colony in Tuscaloosa. For the better part of two decades, the Alabama Crimson Tide football program has been as close to unbeatable as any program in the history of the sport. But, not too far away from Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the Tide hit the gridiron on Saturdays, sits the home of the Bama golf team. The Tide golf program has given us some top-tier talent over the last several years, from major winner Justin Thomas to players like Lee Hodges, Davis Riley, and most notably here in the last few weeks, Nick Dunlap, who just became the first amateur to win a PGA TOUR event in 33 years, and then promptly turned pro just a few days later. 

Ol’ Colony was designed by another Alabama great, Jerry Pate, and is a fine test for any golfer, with rolling, tree-lined fairways and tricky green complexes. No. 2 comes to mind as one of the most dynamic holes at Ol’ Colony, which is a drivable par 4 with topography that saunters downhill off the tee, before climbing back up a steep incline to the putting surface. It’s a literal roller coaster of a hole, and one of the most unique on the course.

Although it’s not a part of the RTJ Trail, should you be in town for a few days or on a Tide football game weekend, Ol’ Colony is a great option for an affordable course with plenty of character. 

While in Tuscaloosa, be sure to book a room at the Alamite Hotel, which is an upscale spot for your stay with comfy rooms, a great lounge in the lobby and the dazzling Roll Call Rooftop Bar, which has plenty of libations as well as wood-fired pizzas, a variety of sliders and sharable plates for you and your group. While at the Alamite, check out some of the dynamic Tuscaloosa nightlife, which is just a short walk from the hotel. Session is a wonderful lounge that has a speakeasy feel and delicious unique cocktail program. I highly recommend the Tea Time, which is Earl Grey-infused Tito’s Vodka mixed with honey and lemon. It is not only refreshing, but with each one sold, a donation is made to a local charity. That’s a win-win all day long. 


As our trek through the Yellowhammer State continued, the group made its way to Capitol Hill and two more unique layouts on the RTJ. The first course we experienced was the aptly named Judge Course. While its name is actually taken from the judicial branch of our government, this course can be so tough in spots you actually feel as if your game is being judged as you play. The Judge sits on 200 acres in the marshes surrounding the Alabama River, and its spectacular views, rolling vistas and dramatic opening tee shot will leave you in slack-jawed awe the entire 18 holes. I can truly say I have never played anything like it, from the opening tee shot which descends a 200-foot drop to the first fairway, to the final hole, which stuns with a meandering waterfall just right of the green that invites one final photo opportunity of many throughout the round. The Judge is a majestic combination of perfectly manicured turf, water features on 14 holes and dynamic bunkering, while also boasting wildlife in abundance throughout the property. As we progressed through our round, we saw plenty of deer, fox and a multitude of birds, all of which added a magnificent, serene peace to the afternoon. 

After the spectacular opening tee shot, the course plunges into the river valley below and each hole stands alone in its uniqueness. No. 6 and No. 7 are both stunners, with No. 6 being a lengthy 229-yard par 3 with an island green that will test the most proficient ball-strikers. If the breeze is blowing, look out, as this can be a tough customer. 

No. 7 is one of the most unique par 5s on the Trail, with a hard dogleg left off the tee that must cover both water and a bunker at the corner of the dogleg. From the tee, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to hit it, but chew off some of the corner and tee shots will be safely in the short grass. From there, it will be two more shots to reach the green for almost everyone, as from the tips, this hole plays a whopping 675 yards. 

If a 675-yard par 5 isn’t eye-opening, then No. 10 at The Judge will certainly get your blood pumping. This monster reads 711 white-knuckle yards from the tips. Now, of course you don’t have to play from there, as there are five other tee options, descending in yardage all the way to just 405 for those who don’t hit it out there with the ultra-long. So, be sure you pick an appropriate tee to make this hole more fun. 

No. 12 is majestic par 3, where players must navigate across the marshland backwaters to a green set in a natural amphitheater of towering trees. It is probably the most serene hole on the course and the one where you feel you are truly holding hands with nature. 

While the Judge can pose a superb test for superior players who boast low-single digit or even plus handicaps, with multiple sets of tees, this course can also be super fun and playable for the mid-handicapper. The par 3s and par 5s on the Judge are all sublime, and you couple that with the stunning opening and closing holes, and you really have something special. 

After your round at the Judge, get yourself checked in at the Montgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel and Conference Center and settle in for an evening at the Oak Tavern. This casual restaurant features great food, cold drinks and live music almost every night. There is also a great patio with fire pits and heaters for cozy comfort during the colder months. 

Of the three courses on property at Capitol Hill, The Senator is probably the most unique to the area. This links-style Scottish-inspired beauty is a complete 180 from The Judge or the Legislator, so much so that it’s hard to wrap your head around them being on the same property. The Senator offers dramatic mounding, wind-swept terrain and fewer doglegs than either of the sister courses on property. Visually, this layout appears at face-value to be a course that is right in front of you, but tall native fescue, pot bunkers and wild bounces off mounds that line the fairways can create awkward stances, lost nuggets and test creativity around putting surfaces. 

No. 4 and No. 7 feature a shared green, which is an interesting architectural element and a tip of the cap to some of the links courses across the pond. 

Of all the great par 5s scattered across the RTJ Trail, No. 5 on the Senator might be one of the best. Sure, from the tee, you can see the flagstick in the distance, as the hole plays about as straight as any you will find on the Trail. But the crazy mounds on both sides frame the hole wonderfully and can be helpful on marginal tee shots, sending them bounding back to the fairway, or they can be penal, sending balls that catch the outer half of them careening into deep native grasses that can digest a ball posthaste. It requires a pair of great shots to thread the needle of this narrow fairway, but execute and you can find a flip-wedge third and a possible chance at a birdie. 

As you head toward the clubhouse, No. 17 offers one final interesting test at the Senator. Of all 18 holes, this one might be the one that isn’t necessarily as linksy as the others, but it’s a great risk/reward hole that can yield some birdies as your round nears completion. Sling a drive down the hill to the left, and watch as the extra roll adds yardage and encourages players to give the green a go in two. Water short right of the green must be avoided to ensure a par or better. You also get a great look at the hotel patio as you navigate the 17th. 

Three courses, a quaint hotel with a hometown vibe and picturesque, unique tee shots make Capitol Hill a must as you make your way across the RTJ Trail.

Opelika • Auburn

As we embarked on the final leg of our journey, we were able to peel into Auburn and check out some of the attractions around this legendary college town. We already mentioned the Crimson Tide and their undeniable, forever legacy across the state, but Auburn is just as important in the history of Alabama and the University remains on the cutting edge of not only athletics, but academics. Auburn’s Laurel Hotel & Spa is one of the most upscale in the entire state, with rooms fetching top dollar, especially when the Tigers’ football team has a fall home affair. The rooftop at the Laurel features a spectacular pool, lounge garden and panoramic views of the campus and Jordan-Hare Stadium. Enjoy a Blackberry Bourbon Smash and take in the sights as you overlook everything great about the town. 

If you are looking for some killer college town grub, then look no further than The Hound Bacon & Bourbon. Yes, they have both bacon AND bourbon, and yes, you can’t go wrong with either. But they also offer a bevy of southern comfort food including Mama Sue’s Pepper Jelly with cream cheese, fried Brussels sprouts and a flight, yes, a flight of bacon which is a chef’s selection of smoky, salty, porky goodness that will delight the whole table. 

Shrimp and grits or the C.A.B. Ribeye steak frites will stick to your ribs as you near entering a food richness slumber. Wash any of these down with a dynamic beer selection or one of their over 200 whisky selections from all across the planet. From Kentucky straight, to blended Irish, single malts and even small batch options, you will most certainly find one you will love. 

After a night on the town in Auburn, make the 20-minute drive to Grand National. This was our final stop on our tour of Alabama, and with the Links Course, Lakes Course and the Short Course, this can be a one-stop shopping destination should you be looking for a weekend trip to catch a game and tee it up. 

The Lakes Course has a great quartet of par 3s, including the 15th, which is one of the most scenic holes across the entire Trail. 

The Links, which recently upgraded tees and bunkers to shoulder with their stupendous TifEagle Ultradwarf greens, doesn’t go unnoticed among this trio of tracks or the rest of the Trail. Although called The Links, this course doesn’t fit that billing in the standard architecture sense of the word. This course visually favored a more Americanized course, with tall trees framing the holes which are loaded with doglegs, some more severe than others. Plenty of water and mischievous bunker placement present a stern course-management challenge. 

No. 3 is a picturesque hole that plays to a heart-shaped green with a wonderful visual of the bridge that connects this nice par 3 to the following par-4 tee. Avoid going long, as that can lead to a watery demise for your ball and a bogey or worse on the card. 

No. 7 plays as the most difficult hole on the Links. This uphill, slight dogleg right really tests club selection, as the approach shot plays significantly uphill to a large, multitiered green that can give players fits should they not find the proper section. 

As we made the turn on our final round of the week, I felt a sense that we were close to the end, but also couldn’t wait to see what the inward nine at Grand National’s Links Course had to show us. As you enter the final stretch here, No. 15 is one of the most gettable par 5s on the Trail, even from the back tees. Playing one-in, it plays just 500 yards, but the second shot is a but uphill, which adds some distance. Hug the left side with a good tee shot, and a mid-iron might be in play for your second, really giving players a chance to reach the green in two, which could set up an easy birdie. 

No. 16 comes complete with some Augusta National vibes, as this par 3 is surrounded by towering pine trees and flanked by a trio of tough bunkers. Should you take this hole on from the tips, it is close to 200 yards, but from a couple tees in, it plays a more palatable 144. 

The final challenge on the Links Course is a daunting 18th. Players must carry marshland twice on this hole, once off the tee, and then again on approach. A slight dogleg right that requires an accurate tee shot to avoid a treacherous bunker on the right, a found fairway is only half the challenge. The approach must find a narrow front-to-back plateaued green that runs from front right almost 200 feet to the back left. Find the wrong section of the green, and let’s just say, may God have mercy on your soul. 

The Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort serves as your hitching post for your rounds at Grand National, and it is similar to other accommodations across the Trail. The spa serves as an oasis for soothing treatments pre- or-post round, and you can always belly up to the bar for a drink at the Southern Oak and get some extra swing lubricant before you hit the first tee. There is a featured outdoor pool, an indoor pool and even an adult pool should you want to relax and avoid a louder family atmosphere. Regardless, there is plenty to experience other than just golf. 

Of all the golf destinations I have been privy to over the years, I will say unequivocally that the Robert Trent Jones Trail is not only one of the most unique, but also one of the most diverse with its varied architectural elements across its lineup of courses. There are no two courses that are the same, making the variety worth the effort to bounce from place to place over the course of several days. From Lakewood Club, which is on the southern tip of the trail, to the Marriott Shoals Hotel, which is the northernmost destination, you are looking at a little less than 400 miles, or about six hours by car. Travel between Oxmoor, Ross Bridge, Capitol Hill and Grand National as we did, and you’re no more than a couple hours in any direction, making this one of the most convenient trips you can book anywhere in the country. 

RTJ is not only special for the way this dream was realized and for those who benefit from its ever-expanding tourism, but also for its incredible value. As golf resorts continue to skyrocket in price, the RTJ is relatively affordable, even should you choose the top of the food chain courses like Ross Bridge, the Judge, the Senator and Grand National. 

However you choose to RTJ, I can guarantee you won’t walk away feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth. And should you be a huge football fan, plan a trip in the fall and soak in some Auburn or Alabama gridiron action while you’re there. It’s a trip you won’t soon forget. 

RTJ! Roll Tide! War Eagle!

For more information on the Robert Trent Jones Trail, visit or For information on Ol’ Colony, visit