The Country Club of Birmingham was founded in 1898, moving two years after its inauguration to Lakeview then on to its current location at Mountain Brook in the mid-1920s, when Donald Ross was engaged to set out two 18-hole courses for the club membership.
Robert Trent Jones Sr. since modified the West in the 1950s before Pete Dye was called in to make further alterations in the mid-1980s. The work was actually carried out by his son P.B. Dye but not everybody was satisfied with the result of his efforts.
Pete Dye finally appeared
in 2009 to carry out a further renovation so it’s certainly true to say that
the style of today’s course is more modern than classic. Holes 15 and 16, which were created by Trent Jones, remain in place, but much of his penal bunkering has
Measuring 7,226 yards in the modern era, the West course plays more than 500 yards longer than its older sibling and is rated as a much tougher test of golf. Noteworthy holes include the par fives at the 4th and 10th and the formidable 431-yard closing hole.
Michael McCoy won the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur
Championship here on the West course. His 8&6 win margin was the third highest
since the Mid-Amateur went to a 36-hole final in 2001.
The West course of the Country Club of Birmingham goes on my list of gems. While it is highly rated and often listed as the number one course in the state of Alabama, I think it deserves a higher level of praise on a national level. This is a course that offers nearly everything that one could want in a golf course. Perhaps it is not as highly regarded because the original course designed by Donald Ross was later revised by Robert Trent Jones, Perry Dye and Pete Dye and therefore is a bit of a hybrid. It might also be rated lower on a national level because it is difficult and in today’s rankings, “forgiveness, playability, and eye candy bunkering” are often more highly desired.
The course is challenging and deserving of its high index and slope, yet it has several holes that are good chances for birdie, or at least a chance to save a round. There are holes that surprised me, but that was likely due to the rushed nature of our round as we were under constant threat of having the round end due to bad weather. Several holes demand a shot that is well executed and if one does not, they will definitely play a price unless a miracle occurs.
The routing is excellent incorporating land which is rolling and undulating, offering a good variety of uphill and downhill shots. It is land that is ideal for a golf course, reminding me of sections of Kirtland Club and Brookside near Canton. I recall only holes twelve-fourteen that are flat. There is a good use of water, both streams and ponds, on the course. While the land is excellent, the shaping of the greens and the green surrounds are very good. One has to keep their focus on every hole. A putt that can look straightforward is not, a chip that looks fairly easy is not. The green complexes and surfaces are never unfair, but they are demanding. I very much like how many of the greens have angles to them and the mixture of significant valleys near them and false fronts. The land movement near the greens at the West course are some of the best I have seen on a parkland course.
Within the state, I would rate it above Shoal Creek due to more interesting greens, the near continuous land movement on all but a few holes, and the green surrounds. Shoal Creek is a fine course, but Birmingham West is terrific. I have not played the Ledges Country Club, which is often listed in the top three in Alabama.
I did not get the greatest look at the course nor see it in prime condition. The previous day had been gorgeous, but May 25, 2021 turned out to be a day of bad weather ultimately resulting in substantial damage to Shoal Creek as well as the deaths of five people nearby from tornados. It had rained a bit overnight, so the course was already damp. The day was dark and windy as bad weather was expected. We went off at 9, the only two to play that day across both courses. We made it almost to the fourth green before being pulled off due to nearby lightening. After thirty minutes we went back out, completing the twelfth before the weather sirens went off again. This time we went into town for lunch. After a 90 minute delay we went back out again. This time we heard the sirens from the city went off indicating nearby tornados. As we were almost finished we rushed up to finish our putts on 18 and made a beeline for the clubhouse. We took shelter for another hour in the men’s grill which is in the basement of the club, then waited another fifteen minutes for a heavy downpour to end. I would have liked to have studied the course more but at least we did finish. We had a high wind all day, at times there were gusts of 35 mph.
I would say this is one of the most welcoming professional staffs in the pro shop that I have come across not to mention the staff in the men’s locker room and men’s grill.
The course has numerous golf holes that I liked which I will cover in the overview by hole. There are at least ten holes I thought to be very good. If I had more time and better weather I might have listed a few more. If possible, I would like to see the course returned to its original design by Donald Ross although taking away the efforts by Robert Trent Jones might be impossible. I like and respect Pete Dye, but some of his contributions, more noticeable on the back nine, do not fit with the course.
The course is 7226 yards from the Five tees, par 71, rated 75.4/146. From the Four tees the course is 6856 yards, rated 73.6/141. The Three tees are 6373 yards, rated 71.5/136. There are two sets of lesser tees. As the course was wet and we wanted to try to play as quickly as possible, we choose the Three tees. On a better weather day we would have likely bounced between the Four and Three tees.
The club has hosted numerous state amateur events and has notable members who have won the state amateur in both men’s and women’s competitions. Hubert Green, a winner of two majors, is likely their most recognized member.
1. Par 4 – 378/355. This is an excellent starting hole playing downhill to a fairway that tilts away from the two bunkers on the left. Trees are relatively heavy on both sides. The green sits right behind Watkins Brook, which is about ten feet wide with only the small portion of the far left not having the brook right against the green. At the back left and right of the green is higher ground that does not act as a backstop with the beginning having grass bunkers. A ball landing on the bank behind the green will likely stay on the back leading to an odd stance for a recovery shot. If one does hit the tee ball far enough, they have to make a decision to lay up with the left side of the fairway having Watkins Brook pinch in on a 75 degree diagonal line. We had a front right pin placement, possibly the hardest on the hole. The right side of the green has several bumps and swales while the left side is smoother but falls away left. As we left the hole I looked at the index which is 11 and I thought, “if this is the 11th, the others must be terrors.”
2. Par 4 – 469/424/384. I immediately had an answer to my question as I stood on the second tee even though the back tee was 65 yards behind me. The second is listed as the most difficult hole on the front nine. The Five and Four tees are elevated on higher ground and bring a small pond on the left more into play with the right side. Length is not the only reason for the lowest index, as the wide fairway turns to the right and gives away to a narrower chute as the heavy trees pinch in from the right opposite two bunkers. Near the green is a single bunker on the right eating into the green creating a smaller section to the back right green which sits in a bit of a bowl. The green has a lot of internal movement and feels like there are a couple of smaller shelves to it. Although I am not typically a lover of trees, I liked how the trees right at the front of the green framed the opening to the hole.
3. Par 4 – 426/389. Playing from another elevated tee this hole has heavier trees on the right whereas the left side has trees that have some spacing between them. There are three bunkers down the right staggered about 15 yards apart forcing a player towards those trees on the left. A final line of trees nearly overhand the fairway on the left side which creates a semi-dogleg right. The green has a large bunker on the front left corner and a small one on the right middle. The green again sits in a bit of a bowl but with small run-offs on all sides. The green has a couple of crowns and hollows with an overall tilt that seemed to defy the surrounding higher ground. It is another worthy golf hole.
4. Par 5 – 547/531/502. A stream goes down the right side eventually splitting the fairway. This dogleg right offers a lot of room to the right but the better line is down the left/middle due to having to cross the stream that has cut diagonally across the fairway. The land rolls until ultimately starting to rise about 100 yards from a long green that sits well above the fairway perhaps as much as 20 feet. There is a bunker on the right about 20 yards short of the green and a bunker on the back middle as the green is angled to the left. The more difficult bunkers are the two on the left that are deep and sit well below the surface of the green. This is an excellent long green where the length is disguised by the angle and the height of the green. The rain and lightning had begun and the sirens went off before we hit our approach shots into the green. I wished I could have had more time to study this hole but I do think it is one of the very best on the course and a par 5 that anyone would favor.
5. Par 3 – 233/213/188. As much as I liked the first four holes, the fifth might be the best of the starting holes. Playing just below the backside of the clubhouse but tree-lined for some privacy, this hole plays slightly uphill to a green angle to the right. The right side falls away allowing the two bunkers on the right to be built into the side of the hill supporting the green. There is a small middle left bunker. This is another long green and our pin was back right, likely the most difficult spot. The green tilts to the right but is not quite as banked as some of the other greens on the course. This is another long green so trying to play short of the danger will leave a long and difficult putt or chip to get close to anything near the rear.
6. Par 4 – 418/394/371. The start does not lessen on the sixth. We had to play around maintenance that was working on the elevated green. The land falls away from you as you get within 150 yards of the green with a substantial valley. Longer hitters will try to drive it to the bottom of the valley but on a wet day with wind in our faces that was a dream. This dogleg right has an early bunker left that is not really in play but the three bunkers on the inner corner are in play. If one plays away from them to the left they could get blocked by two tress that encroach on the fairway and green. The green has a set of rippling banks behind it but again a ball that goes long will sit on the bank. But getting to the bank is likely a preferred miss versus being short of the green and tumbling back down the valley perhaps leaving as much as a 60 yard blind recovery shot or if one ends up in the deep, large bunker on the front middle-right. Due to the grounds staff I did not get a great look at the green but did notice several inner swales and little plateaus. This is another very good golf hole.
7. Par 4 – 483/452/420. Because we were rushing I did not know what this hole held in store for us. There are heavy trees on the right and scattered trees on the left for a fairway that tilts left. There are early trees that create a bit of a chute that force one to the right which is not the preferred angle into the green. The only fairway bunker is perfectly placed on the left side. After a good tee shot I faced a blind second over a rise. As I did not know the direction I sent my second slightly left away from the heavier trees on the right. The land goes down as one nears the green and a ball, even on a wet day will roll out which mine did straight into a stream left of the green which sits well below the green. There is a back left bunker set hallway on the hill between the stream and green but I did not make it to that. So it was a lost ball for me but I did not care as I admired how treacherous this hole is from tee to green. The green is slightly angled to the left with a substantial tilt. We had a friendly flag on the right middle which allowed me to chip close and save a double bogey.
8. Par 3 – 189/171/154. As much as I liked the fifth hole, I liked the eighth even more. This hole plays strongly uphill. You play over the stream that cost me on the seventh but it is early. There is an early bunker on the right starting about 15 yards before the green and ending at the front set into the hill as the ground falls away on the right. The left side has both higher ground but with a dip between the higher ground the green. We had a front middle pin which is likely the easiest on the hole. The green is angled to the right and very tilted left to right and rising as you approach the back where it levels off. If one goes over the back of the green there is a collection area set about 12 feet below the green. If one misses to the right they will have a 15-30 feet uphill blind recovery shot as well. This reverse redan is very good. It is rated the “easiest” hole on the front nine but that is likely due to the fact that even the best players likely make bogey here.
9. Par 4 – 400/373. I felt this to be the easiest hole on the front nine but a charming hole. You play slightly downhill. There is an early bunker on the left side that is not in play. More dangerous are the two bunkers on the right as the land kicks that way. There are trees down the left that continue all the way to the green while the right side has its trees only near those two fairway bunkers. The green has small mounds at its front with a bunker on each corner. This green has the first rear bunker on the course and has an angle to the left. There are small swales on the green just after those front bunkers and it appears to have a vertical spine but we rushed here a bit as the sky was beginning to darken again. I very much liked the front nine.
10. Par 5 – 550/521/482. The back nine starts with a lovely par 5 playing slightly downhill to the green. There are scattered trees to either side of the fairway and a long bunker on the left off the tee that is nearly hidden. A pond sits left of the green, beginning about twenty yards before the start of the green. The green is long and fairly flat compared to the other greens. There is also less micro contouring near the green on this hole.
11. Par 3 – 180/170/159. This hole plays slightly uphill much like the eighth. The green is thin with a center line bunker and a bunker nearer the middle on both sides. The green narrows as you go towards the rear. There is a plateau here or that is what I recall as we began to take one look and hit the putts. I liked this hole.
12. Par 4 – 339/309. The second most forgettable hole on the course is the twelfth. It plays downhill from an elevated tee. The fairway appears narrow with housing on the right very much in play. A stream goes down the left side almost hidden in the tree line. There are numerous man-made mounds short of this greens, each about three feet in height. A few of these mounds are behind the large green. I suppose these mounds serve to disguise the green but I would have thought a smaller, pushed-up green would have been better, surrounded by bunkers. While I appreciated the look of them, these mounds do not fit with the course. The green looks flat but it is definitely not. One has to have a deft touch to judge the pace on this green which saves the hole and makes it compelling.
13. Par 3 – 183/151. This par 3 has a pond down the entire right side of the green beginning about 25 yards before the green. This is another large green. The left side has higher ground and serves as a useful bailout area. This hole plays level and for me it is the most forgettable on the course.
14. Par 4 – 450/430/394. While I was somewhat disappointed by the twelfth and thirteenth, the fourteenth is a star and likely the best hole on the golf course. You tee off over the pond from the thirteenth with tennis courts to one’s right, crossing over a road, and maintenance to the right. After the pond comes Watkins Brook which cuts diagonally across the fairway, then continues down the right side before disappearing into the woods. There is an early bunker followed by a bunker set into the hill and trees on the left and a small bunker down on the flatter land on the left. There is a pond which looks man-made that begins about 90 yards before the green cutting the fairway in half and cuts into the left half of the green. The right side of the green has a hill that is probably 35 feet in height. If one strays too far left on the fairway for safety, a final tree could block a shot into the left side of the green forcing one to play short or towards that pond. There is an unnecessary small bunker on the right between the green and the water which is the only blemish to the hole. The green sits about 3 feet above the water. The left side of the hole has a lot of man-made hollows and valleys built into the hill creating several grass bunkers. From the tee this is the most visually exciting hole. This completes the three level holes on the course.
15. Par 5 – 610/561/541. The longest hole on the course seems to go forever going up and down across rolling fairways before finishing on the highest point of the hole. This hole is at the farthest part of the course from the clubhouse. The trees are heavy down the right and scattered down the left. The only drawback to the hole is that the second shot has the tennis courts off to the left, but given the bad weather, we did not have to consider any noise. There is an early center bunker followed by another. As the land is rolling but also cantered to the left, there are six more bunkers on the left side, another central bunker, and then a bunker on the front of either corner. This makes a total of eleven bunkers, with perhaps two-three too many. The green sits behind those two bunkers and has a defined spine and bank to the left near the front half. The back half seems more reasonable. We had a nasty front left pin placement and despite all of the rain, the ball still curved quite a bit and would not slow when putting from behind it towards the front of the green. I felt it to be the second best par 5 on the golf course.
16. Par 4 – 485/438/411. The most terrifying green is on this hole. This long par 4 has no fairway bunkers and has a strong slant to the left. The land has several rises and falls but overall plays slightly downhill to the green. The right side is heavily tree-lined. The left side has a lower shelf of rough running parallel to the fairway. Longer hitters will get a favorable roll-out. As one nears the large green there are three large bunkers on the left built below the green. The green is very long and angled to the left with a tiny back left location. There is a defined spine two-thirds into this green of almost five feet. We had a back left pin location and in order to have a reasonable chance for par one needs to get to the same plateau with their approach shot. I did not and my putt from the front middle of the green did not quite make the slope and I had a longer next putt which I also left short. I really like this hole even if I thought two bunkers on the left would have been adequate given the green.
17. Par 4 – 455/430/415. We were really rushing now as we saw the skies darken. This hole plays over an early pond to a fairway very tilted to the right. This hole plays as a dogleg right with the trees coming into play more on the second shot although in reach off the tee on the right. There are two bunkers on the right as well forcing one to the left. The green sits below you with higher ground to the left and a fall-off at the rear and right. There are no bunkers near the green which has a lot of internal movement, more so in the front half and right side. It is a strong hole.
18. Par 4 – 431/395/375. From the three tees this is a weaker hole but from the five and four tees it is good. The tee shot must clear Watkins Brook as the land rises from the three tees, although slightly downhill from the longer tees. There is a lot of sand on this hole with a large bunker left just over the brook followed by four more bunkers on the left. The green sits in a bowl on the left and behind at the bottom of the hill with the clubhouse above it. On a clear day it is likely a stunning view. There is a large bunker on the right that begins about thirty yards before the green eating into it creating a back right island. Another bunker on the right is just short of it. The left side has three staggered bunkers while at the back of the green there is a bunker. It is hard to say whether I appreciated the hole or not given the sirens went off during the playing of this hole but I walked away thinking there was too much sand for this hole and the shape of the bunkers were inconsistent with the rest of the course. If there are pictures of how the hole was first built, I would return the hole to that design.
The West course at Birmingham Country Club is very good, one of the better parkland courses one will play. There are so many good golf holes due to the change in terrain on the fairway or nearer the greens. The only criticisms I have is to return the course as much as possible to its roots and remove some of the man-made mounding and some of the bunkers, while re-shaping some of them.
One does not have to wonder why there are so many state amateur champions from this club because this is a course that demands good play and good decision-making. If one has an index less than 15 here, it likely travels well to other courses.
The front nine is very good, yet several of the better holes on the course are on the back nine. The mixture of holes is very good. I liked three of the par 3’s, all of the par 5’s, and all but two of the par 4’s. If one is in Birmingham, this is the course one should play even though I like Shoal Creek very much. The best trip is to play both courses at Birmingham and Shoal Creek.
The West course at Birmingham CC has the fingerprints of three of golfs most notable designers, Ross, Jones and Dye.
The opening hole is welcoming, a short downhill par 4. You should have a short iron in, but the green is tucked behind a creek. The long uphill dogleg right 2nd is the number one handicap hole and deservedly so. Off the tee aim at the left fairway bunker. Anything right will be blocked out. This multi-tiered green with deep bunkers right only adds to holes challenges. The 3rd also bends right with a trio of fairway bunkers on the inside corner, thus favor the left off the tee. Greenside bunkers right and front left. The left side of this green has significant slope. The first par 5 is reachable, but my advice play it as a 3 shotter. The hole bends right with ample landing area, however the creek slices across the fairway at a 45 degree angle in the landing area. Choose your attack distance well and if the pin is back left go for the middle of the green. The first par 3 is long to a redan left to right green with two bunkers in front. The 6th ate me up. The hole leans right with a crest. You want to be short of this, my downhill lie led me to depositing the approach in the really deep front right bunker that I needed mountain climbing gear to extricate myself from. Depending upon the wind and the tees you are playing, it may make sense to layup off the tee. The 7th is a long left leaning par four with a blind tee shot. Favor right of center off the tee and take one less club for the downhill approach. You can boot scoot your approach onto the green from the right, however the left is guarded by the creek. The 8th is a mid-yardage valley par 3. The front ends with a good birdie oppty, downhill with fairway bunkers right and 3 small greenside bunkers.
The back starts with a good risk reward par 5. It angle left and there is a fairway bunker left so favor middle -right. Reachable, however there is a nefarious water hazard short left. Nothing worse than laying up to play smart and dunk in the water. The 11th is the shortest par 3 and the 18th handicap hole. The 12th is a driveable par four. However, OB right and creek down the left side and some crafty Dye moguls. The13th is a mid-yardage Florida par 3. The further right the pin is should act as a reminder that the middle of the green is dry and two putt pars are your friend. The 14th is a long demanding but pretty par four. Favor the left side off the tee, but be wary of the fairway bunker. Water hazard right and the green is raised. An interesting feature is the right greenside bunker that is almost at the water level creating the illusion that it is floating on the hazard. The 15th is a big boy par 5. As the hole contours left favor the right side, especially on your 2nd shot as there are half a dozen or so fairway bunkers left. The 16th is a long par four with a humungous green. Favor the right off the tee as the contour is left. There are three greenside bunkers left and the green wraps behind the final one. Hopefully, the pin will not be back there when you play. The 17th is a long par four that literally runs away from you. Favor left of middle off the tee and take one less club into this green, you want to land short as the green slopes front to back. The 18th is a pretty finishing hole with the clubhouse peering onto the green. Don’t let the left fairway bunkers intimidate you, the fairway is quite ample. The mogulling and greenside bunkers add to the 18ths charm.
I like the West better than the East. The West does not feel like a Ross course.
Either one of these courses would be considered excellent in my book. Great part of Birmingham and a lot of rich history can be found here.
I had heard many wonderful reports about this old Donald Ross layout at The Country Club of Birmingham, but the real experience is better than the already high expectations.
The West course could be described as a layout with formidable bunkering and extraordinarily tough. There are many penal moundings and aggressive shaping around the greensites (thanks to Pete Dye’s contributions). The daunting approach shots test your distance control, and watch out for the creeks running around the course just to keep you on your toes.
It was a true test of golf and an immense privilege to play here. Credit to Donald Ross for a wonderful routing and flow as you constantly change direct across this large property. Dye and RTJ Snr have touched the evolution of this course over time, but the resulting product that we play today is truly fabulous.
Country Club of Birmingham believes it’s the only course to feature the work of Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones and Pete Dye. The routing is Ross’s work and has changed little. The Donald Ross Society visited recently and Society President John Butler declared it the finest Ross routing he’d seen. When pressed as to why, he pointed out that “you go by the snack shack twice in the first nine holes.” There are, however, other less whimsical reasons to like Ross’s routing. There are few parallel holes and the ones that exist are so different as to be quite memorable. And the holes flow along quite naturally with never a question as to where the next tee is located.
Jones’s contribution was blowing up all of Ross’s greens and elevating them. When Dye arrived in 1984, the first thing he did was jump on an excavator and dig down through the 18th green to find Ross’s original green level. He repeated this move 17 times, but his objective was renovation, not restoration and today’s greens are Dye’s ellipticals rather than Ross’s square ones. The greens are nicely contoured, however—reminiscent of Ross’s work in that aspect. Dye also added mounding around many of the greens, most quite sizeable……as high as 15 feet. This writer found those features overused. Comparing drawings of Ross’s original work to the current version also shows that the strategic challenge from the tee was more present in the original.