Attraction of RTJ Trail's Magnolia Grove Golf Course comes from its difficulty

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

MOBILE, Ala. - Golfers are gluttons for punishment.

I'm sure you've heard it said before. How many of you have hit a great shot, only to watch it bounce wildly off a sprinkler head, or somepoorly placed acorn, sending our ball careening into the woods? Or how aboutthe random bad luck of hitting a shot so perfect, it hits theflagstick and bounds away into a waiting water hazard?

Such is the game of golf. It can test your very sanity. That said, it might explain why the golf courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail have become such a hit.

Golfers don't mind getting kicked in the groin by tough courses. They keep coming back for more, hoping that someday, someway they'll break 80 or 90 or 100, whatever their goal may be.

Golf on the trail is like basketball with a 12-foot hoop orsoccer with four-foot-high net. It's tough. And on days when the weatherisn't cooperating, it's downright mean.

Magnolia Grove, the 54-hole complex at the southern tip of the trail, fits that description to a tee. The two championship courses, the Falls and the Crossings, are long, tight and filled with hazards of all sorts, from daunting blind approach shots to greens so severe, they seem more like ski hills than undulations.

Hey, that's what we live for, right? That one chance to execute the improbable shot.

Roger Rulewich, Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s senior associate and chief Trail architect, said building difficult courses was the idea from the get-go. Dr. David Bronner, the CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, is the brain behind the massive project, using the assets of the retirement fund to build the trail's 378 holes in an attempt to diversify the fund's portfolio and help the state's tourism industry all at once.

"The directive (to build hard courses) really came from Dr. Bronner," Rulewich said. "It was his intention to not only build a lot of these courses but to make them extremely challenging. He had the idea that this was a thing that would interest people, building difficult courses. In fact he told us initially that every one of these courses had to be suitable to play the U.S. Open on."

Magnolia Grove isn't U.S. Open-quality, but it is certainly tough enough to test the pros, male and female. The Crossings course hosted the Nike Tour (now the Nationwide) championship in 1998, and the LPGA Tournament of Champions has been a regular since 1999.

Thanks to its location in Mobile near the Gulf of Mexico on Mobile Bay, Magnolia Grove could be a southern golfer's starting point on the trail, or a northerner's finishing point. But in reality, it is a bit isolated from the rest of the trail.

It is 127 miles from the nearest trail stop, Cambrian Ridge in Greenville, which is by far the longest drive between trail venues. To make up for the extra gas money you might spend to get there, greens fees at Magnolia Grove are among the lowest on the trail.

Priced between $35 and $55, Magnolia Grove has been awarded by severaldifferent publications as some of the best bargain golf in the world. Here'swhy.

The Falls Course

The Crossings course receives all the tournament play, but the Falls is actually longer (7,239) and considered the top course on site. The track is named for its glorious waterfall near the No. 10 green. This 570-yard dog-leg left is easily the best hole on the property. The green alone is memorable, falling eight feet from its high point in the middle to its lowest point, making for some roller coaster putts.

The tee balls are less demanding here, but five of the course's14 approach shots on par-4s and par-5s must clear some type ofwetland or water to stay alive.

A relative tame number of bunkers (52 in all) guard the course,but most of them (31) front the greens. Needless to say, your iron game willdictate how you score.

The Crossings Course

The 7,151-yard Crossings course, which double "crosses" railroad tracks (hence the name), has a lower slope and rating than its sister course (74.6 rating/134 slope to 75.1/137), but actually plays tougher. Its terrain has more hills, with several pulpit greens elevated well above the fairways. If blind shots to unseen greens are your nemesis, the Crossings will eat you alive.

As is the advice on most trail courses, play up a set of tees(the blues are 6,550 yards and the whites are 6,063) to ensure you hit somegreens in regulation.

Forty six bunkers are a mild nuisance considering seven teeballs require a carry to stay in play. The 18th, a 456-yard uphill par-4, isnicknamed the "Terminator," thanks to eight bunkers, which are visuallyintimidating on the tee.

The Short Course

Seven of the eight trail stops feature short courses (only Capital Hill in Prattville does not), but the best is found at Magnolia Grove. The 3,140-yard short course is widely recognized as one of the nation's best 18-hole executive courses, competing with the likes of the Threetops course at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich., home to the Tylenol® Par-3 Shootout every July.

The short course is every bit as tough as the championship courses, with the same treacherous carries off the tee to wavy greens. From the tips, only three holes are shorter than 155 yards. You'll hit the same club on the back-to-back fifth (137 yards) and sixth (135 yards) holes. Even the tiny 110-yard wedge shot on No. 15 isn't a gimme.

Other information

For information on lodging, where to eat and what to do while you're not golfing in Mobile, visit. For more lodging, the course's Web site lists Admiral Semmes (251-432-8000), the Airport Plaza Hotel (251-344-8030), the Drury Inn (251-344-7700), the Holiday Inn Express - Fairhope (251-928-9191), the Marriott Grand Hotel (800-544-9933) and the Ramada Inn near I-65 (251-342-3220) as nearby options.

Orientation

From Downtown Mobile: I-10 West to I-65 North. Travel North to Exit 5B. Travel west on Moffett Road approximately 6 miles to Magnolia Grove Blvd. Left to Golf Course.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.


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