Gulf Coast Trip: Review and Awards

Other than some terrible weather following me along my path, I was able to get in all the golf I planned on (and then some), so it was a successful trip to the Gulf Coast region. I was able to check four more states off my list and bring the grand total up to 32!

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LEGEND (in order of courses played):

A: Mountain Ranch Golf Club • Fairfield Bay, AR

B: RTJ Trail – Ross Bridge • Hoover, AL

C: RTJ Trail – Capitol Hill • Prattville, AL

D: RTJ Trail – Grand National • Opelika, AL

E: RTJ Trail – Magnolia Grove • Mobile, AL

F: Fallen Oak Golf Club • Saucier, MS

G: TPC Louisiana • Avondale, LA

H: Carter Plantation • Springfield, LA

I: The Bluffs Golf Resort • St. Francisville, LA

J: Black Bear Golf Club • Delhi, LA

And now, onto the awards…

“MOST SCENIC COURSE”

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1. Grand National (All 3 Courses)

2. Capitol Hill (Judge)

3. Fallen Oak

4. Ross Bridge

5. Mountain Ranch

The setting at Grand National is hard to beat, with all three courses running along the edge of Lake Saugahatchee and up into the surrounding hills. The hilly parts reminded me of Monterey, while the marshy lakefront parts had a style all their own. There were many scenic courses on this trip, so the rest of the list speaks for itself.

“MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE”

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1. The Bluffs

2. TPC Louisiana

3. Magnolia Grove (Falls)

4. Capitol Hill (Legislator)

5. Grand National (Short)

Though I knew The Bluffs was considered one of Louisiana’s best-kept golf secrets, I was really impressed with the layout. It’s a fun and challenging design in a nice setting. I enjoyed TPC Louisiana more than I had expected to after watching it on television. It’s still not worth the full rack rate, but at the twilight rate I paid it was a good experience. The rest of the courses on the list are some of the more overlooked offerings on the RTJ Trail, but they were all very enjoyable.

“BEST VALUE”

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1. Black Bear

2. Capitol Hill

3. Grand National

4. Magnolia Grove

5. Mountain Ranch

I’ll give this one to Black Bear. It’s well out of the way for most, but the prices are reasonable for what gets hyped as one of Louisiana’s best courses. The next three on the list all get the nod for the $99 RTJ Trail unlimited play rates during spring (except for Ross Bridge, which was $129 for a single round). Capitol Hill goes first as the only facility with three full regulation tracks that are all worth playing with this deal.

“BEST CONDITIONED”

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1. Fallen Oak

2. TPC Louisiana

3. Magnolia Grove

4. Ross Bridge

5. Capitol Hill

Though the fairways had some thin spots, the greens at Fallen Oak were the best of any I played on the trip. Ross Bridge’s were pretty nice, too. Coming off the PGA event the weekend before, TPC Louisiana was still in very good overall shape. I thought Magnolia Grove was the best conditioned of the RTJ courses I played, even though they were still working to repair the storm damage.

“MOST FUN LAYOUT”

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1. Capitol Hill (Judge)

2. Ross Bridge

3. Capitol Hill (Senator)

4. Mountain Ranch

5. Grand National (Short)/Magnolia Grove (Short)

I really enjoyed the Judge course with a lot of tough holes and a fun layout that uses the natural setting to its advantage. Ross Bridge is also very dynamic, along with the Senator course at Capitol Hill, which is a distinct change of pace as a links design. Mountain Ranch is a hilly target layout, which is my idea of fun. Both Short courses I played on the trip would also have to go under the category of “fun.”

“MOST CHALLENGING”

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1. Ross Bridge

2. Capitol Hill (Judge)

3. Grand National (Lake)

4. Grand National (Links)

5. The Bluffs

Though the USGA-raters wouldn’t agree, I thought Ross Bridge was the most difficult course I played. It’s a long layout with a lot of trouble to get into, and especially as a first-time player, definitely will put you to the test. The Judge course is generally the standard of difficulty by which all the RTJ courses are measured, but I found it a little easier to navigate than Ross Bridge. Both Grand National courses are tough and The Bluffs will certainly make you lose a ball or two.

“MY FAVORITE OVERALL”

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1. Fallen Oak

2. Capitol Hill (Judge)

3. Ross Bridge

4. Grand National (Lake)

5. Grand National (Links)

6. The Bluffs

7. Magnolia Grove (Falls)

8. Magnolia Grove (Crossings)

9. Capitol Hill (Senator)

10. TPC Louisiana

This is a tough one because I keep going back and forth between Fallen Oak and Judge. Both are fantastic, but my time out at Fallen Oak felt the most “special” during the trip. Perhaps it was the nice weather I finally got after all the storms I dealt with in Alabama or just the natural beauty and challenge of the course with a real “private” club feeling around the clubhouse.

Judge was definitely my favorite of the RTJ Trail courses, but you can see just about all the regulation courses I played in Alabama made my list. It’s hard to say where to rank the Short par-3 courses I played at Grand National and Magnolia Grove, so I kind of left them off this list. They are really worth playing, but I am not sure I’d skip over any of this top 10 for them.

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