For as varied as its courses are, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama always welcomes visitors with a sense of home. A familiar clubhouse design exists at many of its destinations, one looking just like the last. A reddish brick lower exterior supports a white-fenced wraparound porch. A steeple of sorts extends from the roof. And the staircase off the main drive – a semi-circle that creates two walkways – might best be described as grand.
Only one golf location has the name to match. At the Auburn/Opelika stop on the Trail, Grand National is home to two Tour-quality courses and an equally compelling par-3 course. And in 2018 the amenities offered to stay there have never been better.
The already acclaimed Marriott Hotel on property becomes a Resort this year, one of 54 such Marriotts in the world and only 17 in the United States. Improvements and the addition of a spa helped earn that distinction.
“The Spa at Grand National will feature 20,000-square-feet of wellness, relaxation and motivation,” said general manager Kevin Cross. “With the bottom two floors dedicated to spa services and a state-of-the-art fitness facility on the top floor, our hotel guests and local residents will have a European-style spa experience with an Opelika address.”
Helping expand Grand National’s base is also the recent addition of nearly 100 guest rooms including a presidential suite that overlooks No. 14 on the Links Course and the lake.
That lake, named Saugahatchee, is the defining natural feature at Grand National. At 600 acres, it is rarely out of sight. In some form or fashion it lines 32 of the 54 holes.
A companion to the Links is, therefore, aptly named the Lake Course which played host the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship the last three years during Open Championship week. The putting surfaces on the Lake are certainly PGA Tour-worthy, too. Most are divided into distinct little sections which put a premium on accuracy and green reading. But perhaps the most lasting images after playing the Lake Course are the views of perched green complexes from multiple vantage points across the lake.
Off the tee the most memorable perched green may be at No. 15, a par-3 that can play up to 230 yards. From the shorter tees the peninsula green, which runs off to the water on three sides, plays a little more generous. Nonetheless, only well-struck shots apply.
Believe it or not that par-3 pales in comparison to No. 11 on the Links. A hole that can play up to 260 yards can only be navigated by an all-carry shot over wetlands to a pedestal green. Any golfer who takes a look from that tee may ask, “Where is the lay-up area for this par-4?” or “Is that a green for a different hole?” Indeed it is not. The hole plays to a par-3 on the scorecard. Thankfully it has a 150-yard tee box, which, based on the number of divots, is played by 99 percent of the golfers – either for their first shot or their third.
Though the Lake Course has hosted multiple PGA Tour events (including the Web.com Tour Championship), the Links is actually rated a little more difficult from each corresponding tee box. And it does not play “linksy” at all. The same strands of timber, flowing fairway contours, marshy areas and classic bunkering with white sand exists on the Links, which also plays to a par-72.
The Short Course on the other hand plays to a par-54 as its name would imply. The 18 par-3 holes, which range from 71 yards up to 250, are no joke either. Many of them mimic the challenge and memorability of the regulation courses. Considering the number of tee boxes on the layout, there are a number of ways each hole can be played. The Short Course is also a great option in a time crunch or for a second 18 when weary legs and sore backs may not be up for a “full 18.”
The same option could be said for the game rooms at the Marriott which feature poker and billiards if the golf alone could not settle the bets. The massive pool complex – complete with an outdoor bar, cabana and fire pits – is the ultimate spot to kick back for families or buddies groups with plenty of shady areas to beat the heat, too.
Opened as the fourth site on the Trail in 1992, Grand National has evolved into one of the top spots in virtually every category. At the top of that list are the welcoming hospitality and the course grounds, which Robert Trent Jones Sr. once said provided him with the single greatest site for a golf complex that he had ever seen.
About the RTJ Trail
From the Tennessee River north to the Gulf Coast south, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama was one of the most ambitious golf course construction projects ever undertaken in the United States. Opened in 1992, it has expanded over the years to the current 468 holes on 26 courses at 11 different sites across the state. Its combination of quality and value has been recognized as the best golf has to offer in the country. And for good measure the Trail has even inspired its own beer – Cart Barn Light – produced by the Back Forty Beer Company out of Gadsden, Alabama. For more information on the Trail, visit www.rtjgolf.com.
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Course Opening Dates
Magnolia Grove, Mobile (54 Holes)
Hampton Cove, Huntsville (54 Holes)
Oxmoor Valley, Birmingham (54 Holes)
Grand National, Opelika (54 Holes)
Cambrian Ridge, Greenville (36 Holes)
Highland Oaks, Dothan (36 Holes)
Silver Lakes, Anniston/Gadsden (36 Holes)
Capitol Hill, Prattville (54 Holes)
Lakewood (redesigned), Point Clear (36 Holes)
The Shoals, Muscle Shoals (36 Holes)
Ross Bridge, Hoover (18 Holes)