Go mano a mano with Robert Trent Jones at Magnolia Grove in Mobile

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

MOBILE, Ala. - If you find yourself struggling to make par at either of the two golf courses at Magnolia Grove, take comfort in that you're playing the course the way its inventor intended.

The Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove
The Crossings course at Magnolia Grove is a shot-makers course.
The Crossings Course at Magnolia GroveThe Falls Course at Magnolia GroveMagnolia Grove - Elevation
If you go

"Robert Trent Jones' philosophy was hard par, easy bogey," Magnolia Grove Director of Golf Paul Martino said.

Magnolia Grove, in a hilly area away from the busy goings on in Mobile, is part of the well-regarded and well-publicized Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, and is a good example of that stern outlook. Both the Crossings course and the Falls course can throw you for a loop, especially the latter and especially for women, even though there are four or five sets of tee boxes.

"The Crossings is a shot-makers course," Martino said. "On a lot of the holes, you need to be on a certain part of the fairway, depending on where the pin placement is. All of our greens are elevated, so you really need to be in position for your approach. People who play it for the first time tend to struggle."

It's easy to lose golf balls out here. You can be off only slightly on your drive and find a hill that will carry your ball to deep woods or the bottom of a ravine.

And this one is the easier of the two.

The Falls makes you work even harder. It's long (7,239 yards) and while not quite as hilly as the Crossings, it features more forced carries. As if that weren't enough, the fairways will squeeze you when you're down.

"It's tight for the average player," Martino said. "You've got a lot of tight courses, but they're usually not that long. This one is both."

The Falls also has oversized, contoured and cloverleaf bunkers.

If your knees are trembling by now, ease up. Don't let all this talk about tight fairways, forced carries and the need for pinpoint accuracy dissuade you from playing either course because this is one of the better facilities in the Mobile area - maybe the best - and a fine representative of the RTJ Trail. Just don't come out here expecting to shoot a career low.

First of all, both are beautiful layouts, with creeks, marsh and lakes decorating the rolling Alabama land. All three courses - there is also a short course - are nicely wooded with hardwood forests, and showcase the classic Jones stylings.

The verdict

With green fees in the $40-$62 range, this is another example of the excellent deals to be had in the Mobile area. Magnolia Grove is a first-class facility, with an excellent clubhouse and practice facilities and service.

You want to test your game sometimes, and this is the place to do it. Besides, if you're accurate off the tee on either course, you can still shoot good numbers and know that you've done it on a tough test.

Beware, though: women and beginners will have a tough time on the Falls course.

"Too hard, too hard," said Christine Nash, from the Netherlands, playing with her husband John, from Scotland on a recent day. "I have to skip too many holes."

Stay and play

The Grand Hotel in Point Clear has that tucked-away, semi-isolated feel. It's located along the Eastern Shores, down a long, scenic road away from bigger small towns like Fairhope. The hotel overlooks the bay, and most guests are right above a small marina, with sailboats bobbing in the bay winds.

The place is lucky just to be here. It sustained quite a bit of damage from Hurricane Katrina, and is still rebuilding, though it's obviously open for business.

It looks like it would be a historic place - walking in the shade of classic, moss-draped ancient oak trees - and it is. A portion of the hotel served as a Civil War hospital; about 300 Confederate soldiers are buried in a cemetery located on one of the two golf courses.

The hotel has 200 rooms, and it expected to be back to its pre-storm state by this fall.

The Riverview Plaza Hotel in downtown, waterfront Mobile, which is soon to be the Renaissance Riverview, is a great place to look out over Mobile Bay and watch working barges ply the river and, closer, watch the trains go by. Make sure you get a room up high, because the whole Mobile area spreads out before you - cruise ships, shipyards and cars coming over the bay bridge - and is quite a sight, particularly at night.

It's in the heart of the business and entertainment district, and easy to reach off Interstate-10. Be aware the hotel is undergoing a $55 million renovation, which isn't expected to be completely finished for another 15 months. The entire fourth floor, including the fitness center and pool won't be open until 2007.

It's a towering, 28-story, 377-room building that's connected to the Mobile Convention Center by a skywalk. It's also surrounded by museums and restaurants within walking distance, including an IMAX theatre next door.

The property has 32,000 square feet of meeting space and assorted business services. There's also an on-site restaurant, lobby lounge and gift shop. Plans include a new, state-of-the-art fitness room and swimming pool.

Dining out

The Riverview Café and Grill is on-site. Try the linguini with crab cake and shredded parmesan cheese. There's also room service.

Other Mobile restaurants in the downtown area are: Café 615, Downtowners, Oliver's. the Downtown Grill, Picklefish and Quartorze.

Fast fact

The LPGA plays every year at the Crossings course, the easier of the two, but that's due mainly to logistical reasons. The Falls has a no-return front nine.

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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