Coach T's favorite golf course requires your 'A game' at Auburn Links

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

AUBURN, Ala. - Not every golf course has a reserved parking space for the head football coach at a major Southeastern Conference university.

Auburn Links is Auburn Tigers' coach Tommy Tuberville's favorite golf course in an Auburn-Opelika metro area deemed the best in the country by Golf Digest, and his personal space is one of the first things you see when you pull up by the shaded golf shop - it has the effect of either a shrine or an ad.

It's easy to see why Tuberville likes the place: Auburn Links is more informal than some of the area's other courses. It's an easy-going place, friendly without pretense. You can perform the unruly act of driving your cart to your car in the parking lot to pick up your bag. It's a small thing, to be sure, but it gives you an idea of the comparative informality.

That isn't the only reason Tuberville and War Eagles throughout east Alabama like the course, obviously. It's easier - "player-friendly" is the official golf term - than either Grand National's Lake or Links courses.

"Those are the scenic courses, but they'll beat you up," Auburn Links Head Professional John Karabasz said.

You certainly don't get the impression Auburn Links is a cupcake when you walk up to the first tee, a 360-yard par 4 that throws not one, but two carries over small canyons at you right off the bat. From the back tees, it is a prodigious challenge; you have to be not only long with your tee shot, but accurate with distance, lest you land in the second canyon. Or, you can carry both - if you're John Daly.

It eases up some after that, but there are some holes that will put a hat on you, like a charging Tigers' linebacker. Like No. 14, a 440-yard par 4 with trees pinching in on the left; don't land behind them or you'll be sacked.

It also has a great finishing hole, a 470-yarder with a downhill drive that, if struck too hard, will land in the creek that crosses the fairway about three-fourths of the way down of the hole. Beware, you'll get quite a bit of roll, so consider a 3-wood. Your approach is over said creek to a flat green with high, mounded bunkers back.

Those who haven't played the course in a few years would be pleasantly surprised at the conditions. A group of Japanese businessmen owned the course and their efforts at managing it from afar resulted in deteriorating conditions. The new ownership, as of 2003, has dramatically improved the layout, with its large, bentgrass greens and rolling fairways.

"You'd have had to see it before to appreciate the way it is now," Karabasz said.

The verdict

With green fees of $20-$37, this is another great bargain in Auburn-Opelika. The bentgrass greens are in good shape for the most part, though a few are spotty, due to the heavy summer rains.

"I thought it was in good shape," said John Peterson, a mid-handicapper. "It isn't the hardest course in the area, except for No. 1. That's a hum-dinger."

The course winds through Parkerson's Creek and a residential community, but the houses rarely make themselves known overtly; the chirping of cicadas mixes with the sound of lawn mowers.

It doesn't have as much elevation change as the Grand National courses, but the fairways have good movement. The rough, as most courses in the area, can be impenetrable at times, with the kudzu draping the vegetation like a fungus. Some of the bunkers are steep-sided and made of red clay.

The 6,790-yard course could be considered friendly to women and seniors, if they can manage the few forced carries from the forward tees.

Stay and play

The Marriott at Grand National is within easy driving distances to most of the courses in the Auburn-Opelika area and only a few minutes to the three Grand National courses. You know it's a "golf hotel" the minute you drive up, with its long, winding putting green out front. Still, it's away from what passes for hustle and bustle of the area, set back in the woods as it is.

It's a moderate-sized hotel, with 114 rooms and 15 suites, and caters to the business types with high-speed Internet access, for $10 a day, business centers and 15,000 square feet of meeting space. That includes 13 meeting rooms.

It also has concierge services, hot tubs and jacuzzis, a fitness center , swimming pool and sauna, hiking and jogging trails, miniature golf and tennis.

Dining out

The Marriott has the Fairways Lounge, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and serves casual food like sandwiches, hamburgers and salads. For ritzier stuff, the Lakeview Room is also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has steaks, seafood and game dishes.

If you want to venture further afield, try the Cottage Café, Cock of the Walk for seafood made from scratch or Chuck's B Que Incorporated or Byron's for barbecue.

Fast fact

Links Magazine named Auburn Links the third-best public course in the region.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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