Twin Bridges has grass-roots values in RTJ Trail area

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

GADSDEN, Ala. - In northeastern Alabama, for instance, golfers have the choice between two different stops on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, or a lesser known course like Twin Bridges in Gadsden.

Two of the options are part of an eight-location (soon to be nine) organization that dominates the state's public golf arena, bolstered by a national advertising budget. The other is a modest community-based course that exemplifies everything still pure in golf, such as affordable fees, an interesting and walkable routing, and an honest sense of leisure and relaxation.

Not to say that the RTJ Trail necessarily lacks any of these grass-roots values (except the walkable courses part), but the system does cast a long shadow across a state that is vastly underestimated in terms of public golf.

There's no argument the Trail has helped take the sting out of the words Alabama and golf while justifiably earning its reputation as one of the country's premier public golf destinations. But often this success comes at the expense of lesser-known but equally worthy golf courses that haven't yet figured out how to draft off the Trail's popularity.

Fortunately the decision doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. Twin Bridges, situated just over an hour east of Birmingham and roughly two hours from Atlanta, is a mere 20 minutes north of the Silver Lakes Trail stop and directly online between Silver Lakes and the Huntsville stop, Hampton Cove. The convenient location makes this 2003 Gene Bates design the ideal tonic for players worn out by the rugged RTJ Trail courses, or dessert for those looking to maximize their golf/travel time.

Not quite the flamboyant extreme that the Trail courses often are, Twin Bridges manages to scrape personality out of a difficult river basin property.

After dropping precipitously from the clubhouse ridge, the routing morphs into a myriad of holes that jump across and around fingers of the Coosa Bend River. Or does the Coosa bob and weave through the routing? Either way, the course frequently interacts with the riverbanks and feels secluded even though the property is just a mile outside downtown Gadsden.

Bates, along with lead architect Matt Swanson, deserve credit for coming up with a strong, innovative routing and for making difficult routing choices.

Navigating the small peninsulas, wetlands, and other prohibitive spaces - and admittedly there are some tight spots - the designers used all their wiles to exploit whatever arable land was available. What's remarkable is how spacious Twin Bridges feels despite it limitations. Even when quarters do get cramped, its seems like an almost welcome strategic challenge.

A perfect example is how the team chose to get from the first hole near the water all the way back to the fifth, where the property begins to stretch out over more rolling, interesting terrain.

Nos. two, three, and four play back and forth over an area that might typically be large enough for only two holes. Instead of cramming them in, making all three uniformly tight, the architects confined the most narrow, difficult portion of the section to the fourth hole, a 348-yard dogleg left. On the heels of the unexpectedly broad 335-yard second and a roomy mid-length par-3, and just before another large-scale par-5, the sinewy fourth comes off as simply a tough little, target golf hole.

On the second nine the routing similarly takes a few forced excursions (such as the leave-your-bag-at-the-tee-and-walk-to-the-green par-3 12th), but because the course is so compact and well linked it's hardly an inconvenience. And when players discover the payoff for these detours - dryer, more adventurous land away from the river - all possible grudges are quickly excused.

Indeed, the course is at its best when the routing hits these stronger segments of the property. After having to create interest in low places (there is no help from topography at the par-4 10th), the architects do well in taking advantage where the land moves naturally, such as the run from holes five through eight and the 14-15-16 triad.

The strongest moment at Twin Bridges might be the 407-yard seventh, a hole with wonderful, natural fairway movement. The landing area shuttles right-to-left before descending toward a hazard. Long drives will leave a difficult downhill stance for an approach to a narrow, elevated green that falls off execution-style long and right. A back right flag is easily the most inhumane pin position on the course, rivaling anything the RTJ Trail courses can throw at you.

Fifteen is a wonderful par-5 at only 477 yards. Players can gouge away as much as they can off the tee and still be in dubious position to attack the green because of the downhill stance on the second or the presence of an unusual grass bunker residing unseen exactly where most long drives are apt to end up. Complicating matters is the wetland hazard crossing hard in front of the shallow green.

Three of the four par-5's and a par-4 feature a wetland cross-hazard fronting the green. While these hazards guarantee that the holes aren't demolished by long players, they also strip away virtually all of the gamble, all of the temptation, that players might otherwise feel.

More interesting would be if the architects could have used them farther away from the greens, or playing at more diagonal angles. Taking a shot at the 322-yard 13th would be vastly more exciting than laying up with an iron. As it stands almost no one will be lured into going for these greens, and the only players penalized by the cross-hazards are apt to be the wrong ones - high handicappers who miss hit their approaches.

Overall, Twin Bridges is intelligent and entertaining, and the people of Gadsden are the real winners. Every town should be fortunate enough to have a course like it to call home, while still being near enough to the escapism that is the Robert Trent Jones Trail. You have to go a long way outside Atlanta, for instance, to find golf that's anywhere near as interesting, purposeful, or affordable they have in this part of Alabama.

The verdict

Compared to the nearby RTJ Trail courses, Twin Bridges is either a merry compliment, or a commuted sentence. The course is designed on the human scale, but still features an intriguing blend of long and short holes. It's a wickedly fun course to drive the ball: the fairways are generally roomy (the 18th must be the widest in eastern Alabama) but still ask advanced players to work the ball. And if the generally uncomplicated greens could have been punched up a little, perhaps they work best as contrast to the often surreal green complexes found at nearby Silver Lakes.

And did we mention Twin Bridges was walkable? And affordable?

Stay and play

Comfort Suites of Gadsden
96 Walker St.
Gadsden, Ala.
(256) 538-5770

Hampton Inn of Gadsden
129 River Road
Gadsden, Ala.
(256) 546-2337

Where to dine

For a known commodity, it's hard to go wrong with Ruby Tuesday's and its always lively bar scene. Locals may steer you toward The Fisherman Restaurant on Highway 77 just south of town.

The Fisherman Restaurant
1873 Highway 77

Ruby Tuesday's
113 Walker Drive
Gadsden, Ala.
(256) 538-9996

Fast facts

Opened: 2003
Architect: Couples-Bates Golf Design
Par: 36-36-72
Yardage: 4,735-6,711
Green Fees: $23-$33 weekdays, $25-$43 weekends

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in,,,, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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