No, it’s not the end of my trip, but today was my final stop along Alabama’s famed Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail—at least for now. I hope to someday come back and play the seven sites I missed this time.
Today, I finally saw some blue skies and hopefully the pictures will look better. I don’t think the pictures from the previous Trail sites do any of those courses justice, but my camera doesn’t do that well with such gloomy gray skies. A little sunshine today really perked things up for me on all levels.
Though I’ve been calling this my “Gulf Coast Trip” for lack of a better description, it wasn’t until I pulled into Mobile last night that I actually got my first glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be riding right along it for the next couple days as I make my way through southern Mississippi and Louisiana…
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail – Magnolia Grove • Mobile, AL • 5/1/14
Magnolia Grove is one of two sites in Mobile associated with the Trail. Lakewood Country Club is the other, but that one is kind of a looser affiliation.
I got there around 6:30, ready to go after the best night of sleep I’ve had so far on the trip. It was much needed, and it’s funny I slept so well because it was a real sketchy Motel 6 that I was not comfortable in at all. Tonight, I’m staying at the plush Beau Rivage Casino/Resort in Biloxi, MS, so it’s a very nice step up. The fact I’m sitting here so early writing this review will tell you all you need to know about how well I did at the tables!
Though I was there and ready, it didn’t seem anyone at the course was ready for anything. Things are definitely more laid-back around here, so they’re not used to crazy dawn patrollers like me trying to play 54 holes in record speeds.
Like Grand National yesterday, Magnolia Grove features 54 holes of great golf with two regulation courses (Crossings and Falls) and a fantastic par-3 Short Course. I played the Crossings first and went off with another single. He was a very quick player, too, so we got around very quickly in about 2.5 hours as a twosome. After that, I headed straight over to the Short Course, where I was the only one there and played it pretty quickly.
After a brief rest and a turkey sandwich in the clubhouse, I headed off to the Falls, which as also pretty empty (Crossings was packed by this time) and I was finished with all 54 holes by 2:20! Not a bad day’s work, especially since everything here was playing as cart-path-only, and that’s a lot of extra walking to do for my sore feet at this point in the week.
This seems to be the feature course here as it was getting the most play today by far and will host an LPGA event in a few weeks from now. After all the storm damage and wacky weather lately, they’ll have their work cut out to get this course into ideal shape for the pros. It’s in nice overall condition now, but a little rough around the edges. Like elsewhere, the normally pristine bunkers took the brunt of it.
I was expecting a more “swampy” look at Magnolia Grove being this close to the Gulf, but outside of a few holes it has a more clean Southern style look winding through the hills and trees.
Most holes feature a significant dogleg one way or the other from tee to green. The fairways are wide and nothing ever feels super tight, so you don’t have to be perfect off the tee for a decent approach angle. There are a few places that tempt you to carry bunkers and bite off as much as you can, but most of it is pretty simple to figure out your strategy.
According to the guy I played with, they had renovated this course fairly recently, adding in some ponds for visual appeal, but flattening out the greens significantly. I guess they used to really have a lot of undulation and some were downright unfair depending on the pin placement.
There are a few standout holes on the Crossings course, which gets its name from a set of railroad tracks you have to cross to play holes 13-15 on the other side.
There are some memorable holes here like the par-3 8th hitting over a little marshy area and the 15th, which is a great par-4 with a tough second approach to a narrow green protected by a pond short and left. The 18th is also a nice finishing hole. It’s not overly difficult, but it is beautiful looking from the top sets of tees as you hit over some water down into the fairway and then the hole plays uphill from there.
The hole that I really liked was the par-3 13th—partly because I made a birdie, but mainly because it’s a fun hole hitting directly over the water to the green. On the right, the cart path runs through a small covered bridge, which is a quaint design touch.
I’m not sure if Crossings is on quite the same level of some of the best few courses I’ve played on the RTJ Trail this trip, but it’s a great course by any measure.
Some pictures from Magnolia Grove (Crossings) (5/1/14):
Consistently ranked as one of the best par-3 courses in the country alongside the one at Grand National and a couple of other Trail stops, the Short Course at Magnolia Grove deserves its praise. I would probably pick the one at Grand National over it, but that’s not a slight on Magnolia Grove’s version at all.
This is a fun course that takes full-size par-3s that could easily belong on either of the big courses and gives you 18 unique challenges. Like Grand National, there are multiple sets of tees if you really want to amp up the challenge or just focus on your wedges and short irons as you fire away at the pins.
The best set of holes here is right off the bat on the 2nd and 3rd holes, which both play over the same marshy area that runs through the 8th on Crossings. These are both fun holes that are also great looking. The rest of the course is a good mix of designs that will certainly make you work.
Probably what sets Magnolia Grove’s course apart from Grand National’s is the greens. They are relatively big and feature plenty of undulation, so your short game and putting will be put to the test throughout the round.
If you are visiting Magnolia Grove, the Short Course is well worth checking out.
Some pictures from Magnolia Grove (Short) (5/1/14):
Whereas Crossings is regarded as the more “championship” level layout, Falls is known as the “prettier” course. In my opinion it offers just as much as its counterpart.
I do agree it’s probably more aesthetically nice from 1-18, but the design is quite enjoyable, as well. Most holes feature a big dogleg and a semi-blind tee shot with somewhat tighter landing areas than Crossings. You can see roughly where you are hitting to, but you don’t always know what’s around the corner until you get there. In most cases you come over a ridge at the corner and are greeted with a beautiful approach view.
Holes 9, 10 and 11 make up the signature stretch on Falls. The 9th is a tough par-4 with a knee-knocking approach over water to a giant green. The 10th is the hole that gives the course its name as water feeds off a little pond down a little drainage canal for a little man-made waterfall.
The 11th is a great par-3 over that pond, where anything short and/or left is guaranteed to be wet.
Though not the most exciting or difficult hole, I did like the vibe of the 18th hole on Falls, too. The approach view has the nice clubhouse in the background. For me personally, I think it was just a bit of nostalgia as it hit me that this was my last shot for this visit of the Trail. I missed the green, just barely, but made the fringe putt for a birdie and that made me feel even better about it!
I have mentioned the destruction that the storms did to the bunkers everywhere I’ve been. I have to commend the maintenance crew at Magnolia Grove. By the time I started playing the Falls course around noon, they had already repaired almost all of the front nine bunkers. They had them back looking pristine and playing perfectly with fluffy white sand. I’m amazed at what they were able to do in such a short time.
Some pictures from Magnolia Grove (Falls) (5/1/14):
Day 5: Grand National (Lake, Links & Short) [Alabama]
Day 7: Fallen Oak [Mississippi] and TPC Louisiana [Louisiana]