The longest of the three courses on the RTJ Golf Trail at Grand National, the Links layout can be stretched to 7,311 yards and some think this well-manicured course is the best on the entire Trail. Certainly, the water-laden par four 18th is one of the strongest finishing holes on any of the twenty-six member courses across the state of Alabama.
The Links course doesn’t quite play as firm and fast as its name might suggest. Instead, it requires a decent aerial game to manoeuvre the golf ball around tree-lined fairways, where water and wetland areas come into play occasionally, and there are several holes with significant elevation changes.
Notable holes include the left doglegged par four 4th, where the fairway wraps itself around the waters of Lake Saugahatchee, the par three 9th, which is played to a 150-foot long peninsula green, and the solid par five 12th, with its fairway narrowing at it approaches a sand-protected green.
The Links Course is a very tough, fun challenge. As one would expect from a Jones Sr. layout, there are lots of uncomfortable tee shots, owing to multiple holes with doglegs or forced carries, well placed bunkers, and strategy-altering contouring of the fairways.
On what felt like half the holes, there was a significant amount of elevation change from the tee to green. I also felt that, despite some of the tough tee shots, the Links Course is essentially a second shot golf course. If your driver isn't the straightest, put it away, as the only way to save par is from the fairway.
Multiple hazards usually guard the greens: bunkers, mounding, elevation changes, marshes, lakes, and native grass areas are among the many effective defenders of par.
Our group of eight had a different opinion to the other raters regarding the Links course versus the Lake as we thought the Links to be about equal. It has more holes on the lake (twelve) than the Lake course (eight although two other holes are on a pond). We thought it also had the more interesting layout as well and not reduced by a poor placement of bunkers. However, it does have greens that are too similar and a few holes suffer from poor placement of bunkers.
We were able to play the Lake course twice and the Links course only once as rain stopped our play on the third tee on the second round on the Links. We waited three hours in the clubhouse before we finally had to surrender in order to drive to our next destination. Perhaps having a second look at the Links course would have changed our opinion. Because I did not play a second round on the Links, my notes of the course are not as detailed. I summarized it to a friend as follows: “a terrific public course that I played horribly as I was too busy looking around. There are some truly beautiful yet strategic holes. Would be a tough walk (we took carts) due to twice getting around the driving range and over a bridge. Many holes on the water. Better bunkering than the Lakes but greens are repetitive and not as interesting as Lake. There is not a truly outstanding hole but there is a nice consistency to the golf course. It requires some decision-making as it is primarily a second shot golf course due to the angles and forced carries.”
The routing does a nice job of incorporating the lake and the hillier changes in terrain. The tees range from 7311 to 6574 which are the tees we played.
Of the holes I took note of I will mention the following:
The first is par 4 inland hole of 423/396 playing uphill dogleg left to a multi-tiered green with a false front. I mention it because I liked it more than the starting hole on the Lake course.
The second is an inland par 5 of 556/509 playing slightly right with an undulating fairway playing down to the lake. There are two centerline bunkers nearer the triangular green and a bunker on the right front. The marsh comes to the right and behind the green. It is another tiered green. I liked the hole because it offered adequate width on the tee shot but then decision-making. One of our players (a +3) had a nice chance for eagle but settled for a birdie.
The third hole at 206/182 requires a long carry over the water to reach another triangular shaped green with water on three sides. Playing too conservatively will likely mean ending up in a large bunker on the right. There is a small pot bunker on the front middle. I thought this hole to be the equal of any of the par 3’s on the Lake.
After crossing the bridge, one gets to a very sharp dogleg left par 4 of 425/409 where water is down the entire left side. The approach shot must carry the water and the bunker fronting the green. The green has ripples and a slant left towards the water. I liked the hole.
The fifth hole offers an uphill shot to a green placed on the top of a rise. This par 4 of 456/375 dogleg right has nice bunkering on the right corner of the dogleg.
I don’t remember much of six and seven other than consecutive 7’s on the par 5 sixth hole and par 4 seventh hole. On the par 5 sixth of 544/499 with water down the right side, I came up short with my third shot needing to cross the marsh to find the green set off to the right. The best player in our group made an eagle. On seven, a par 4 of 472/446 this inland hole has difficult bunkering on the left side of the fairway and a narrow, elevated green that is multi-tiered which I three putted after hooking my drive against the tree line.
I did like the eight, a short par 4 of 345/319 with another forced carry over marsh to the right to a raised green fronted by two bunkers. There are some nice views on the holes but not as good as nine.
Nine is a par 3 of 204/170 with a large green that we thought was pretty good.
Ten is a short par 4 of 363/326 where the water continues down the left from tee to green and the tree line comes into play as this becomes a narrower fairway.
Eleven is a much too long for me back tee of 260/195 for this par 3 requiring a forced carry over wetlands.
We thought the par 5 twelfth hole to be the best at 575/500 as you work you way inland to water coming in on three sides and a bunker on the front right. This hole gave the better player trouble as the fairway bunkers on the left were in play for him but not as much for the rest of us. Still, we felt they came too much into the fairway for a hole that has a heavy amount of penalty near the end.
Thirteen as a par 4 of 418/378 would be a fine hole if it was not a repeat of four. We also did not like the centerline bunkers given the penalty if one does not execute the forced carry to the green over marsh.
Fourteen is a long par 4 of 467/422 playing with the water to the left. The green has a significant fall-off on the left side. We thought the green complex to be more interesting than many others.
Fifteen is the final par 5 at 516/467 and once again we felt the fairway bunker on the left comes into the fairway too much for average length players. That is all I remember of this hole.
Sixteen is the final par 3 of 181/152 and the only inland par 3 on the course. There is a deep pot bunker fronting the green. As my score had blown up, I decided to play a trick and took an extra ball out of my pocket, pretended to swing, threw up some sand in my left hand and then threw my ball onto the green to about five feet. Everyone congratulated me because I could not see the green. I confessed and then hit a bunker shot to two feet. Golf sometimes has no rhyme or reason to it.
I do not remember seventeen to comment on it other than it plays downhill and the fairway falls off to the right. It is a par 4 of 429/402.
I do remember eighteen because everyone says this is the best hole at Grand National. It is a par 4 of 471/427 where the tee shot must clear the marsh and avoid the two large bunkers on the right. The lake is then on the left the entire way continuing behind the green. The green is raised with bunkers to either side. There is a second forced carry to a long but thin green. I hit my approach to four feet and made the putt. After playing poorly to finish that way it reinforces what I said above; golf sometimes has no rhyme or reason to it.
We liked the Links a lot. One other criticism is I wish golf courses would not use Links in their name unless they are a links or at least links-like. A golf course on a lake with twelve water holes and the other holes being tree lined is not a links course. I would liked to have played it twice so I could have done a better review and truly determined which is the better course. But as I said in my review of the Lake course, combined with an excellent par 3 course, of the three RTJ Trail complexes I have played, Grand National is clearly the best golf.
Home of the Barbasol Open at one time. It is a shame they lost it. A par 3 255 yard hole over water is no joke. I really enjoyed playing this course a week before the pro tournament. Just awesome.
Perhaps it could have been called Redundant National. Four of the first seven greens were identical: three tiered jobs. On the back nine, a new redundancy appeared: a ridge bisecting the green from right to left. There were still a few of the first redundancies, though. So by the time I’d finished my round, I felt like I’d putted on half a dozen greens at the most.
Or perhaps it could have been called “The Long Walk.” No, it wasn’t nearly the length of Slawomir Rawicz’s trek from Siberia to India during World War II, but it certainly felt like it. I knew I was in for it when the path from the 1st green to the 2nd tee was nearly a quarter mile….as was the walk between the 15th and 16th. There were similar forced marches on half the holes. Yes, I could have taken a cart, but that sport bears only a passing resemblance to golf…..kinda like the difference between downhill skiing and cross-country.
The course does have some redeeming qualities, including good condition and some interesting holes. My four ball rating is nearly a three, but I will concede it is an above average course.
While it is longer than it's sister, The Lakes, i do not think it is as demanding or fun. A few holes of interest include the par 4 4th which doglegs around the lake, how big is your appetitie? The 9th is a cute mid length par 3 that juts out into the water. Other than that, rather pedestrian, but , as with almost all of the RTJ Trail a very good value