Silver Lakes is one of 11 facilities within the famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail of Alabama, featuring four nine-hole routes. The cream of the crop, in most opinions, is the Backbreaker and Heartbreaker combinations. Jones was known for creating some punishing routes during golf course architecture’s most penal era, and the fact is advertised across the track names at Silver Lakes.
Although it does not feature some of the extreme elevation changes of other routes along the Trail, the Appalachian foothills northeast of Birmingham create plenty of awkward lies. Combine that with some of the demanding forced carries, and your handicap will be requesting a reconsider.
On the backbreaker side, both nos. 6 and 9 (a par four and five, respectively) will call for a lengthy carry over water to reach the greens. On the Heartbreaker side, the last two holes (a par three and another par five) will ask for the same.
If one has more to be broken, they can try the Mindbreaker nine next...but odds are, if they desire more of a beating after Backbreaker and Heartbreaker, their mind is already broken.
As golf destinations go, Gadsden, AL is well down most golfers’ lists; if it weren’t for the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, it probably wouldn’t even be on the radar. And, if the truth be told, the RTJ Trail course at Silver Lakes is what keeps golfers coming back.
I am speaking about Silver Lakes, a 36-hole facility on the outskirts of town. Surrounded by the Appalachian foothills and Lee's Lake, Silver Lakes features the most unique and aptly named courses on The Trail: Heartbreaker, Backbreaker, Mindbreaker. All 36 greens (including the short course) boast Champion ultra-dwarf putting surfaces, arguably the best on The Trail. Another trait they share is that they are all elevated; some more so than others. Silver Lakes takes you on a journey through hardwood and pine forests, wetlands, and grasslands. You’ll encounter dramatic elevation changes all while enjoying the beauty of Northeastern Alabama’s wonderful landscape. There is one thing for sure: any of the four courses will challenge you both physically and mentally.
Many golfers use the Short Course as a warm-up before heading out to play the championship courses. When I hear the words “short course,” I immediately think of conditions that are inferior to what you will find on a full-length golf course. Not so on the Short Course at Silver Lakes. It’s a collection of 9 par 3 holes of championship course caliber. You’ll find some significant elevation changes, well-manicured bunkers, and undulating Champion ultra-dwarf putting surfaces. Eight of the nine holes require a carry over water, culminating on the 9th, which plays 184 yards from the Orange Tees, and is primarily all carry.
The Heartbreaker 9 builds you up from your tee shot on the first hole right through to your last putt, but nothing is more challenging than the last three holes. Number 7 is the course’s signature hole and the first encounter with water. Your line from the very elevated tee box is the bunker on the right; that will take the ponds on the left out of play. Once your drive flies downhill and lands in the fairway – or wherever – the rest of the hole plays extremely uphill. While the landing area on your layup may seem small and complicated by the bunker on the left, you’ll have a short pitch shot into a very wide but shallow green protected by a deep bunker in front.
Number 8 is a challenging, downhill par 3 that plays 156 yards and is all carry over water. The green is large and could be a 3-club difference depending on pin placement. Deep bunkers await errant shots on either side of the green. Number 9 is a 353-yard par 4 that requires you to cross – and avoid - the water twice. This dogleg left features water all the way down the left side and in front of the green, with a wide landing area off the tee. A good drive will leave a short to mid-iron into an oddly positioned green protected with water in front and left. It’s the layout’s most difficult par 4 and the course’s #1 handicap.
Backbreaker starts with a stern test of golf; your approach shot will give you a good idea of how the course got its name. It’s a par 4 that plays 360 yards from the White Tees although because it’s predominantly uphill it may play closer to 400 yards. A good drive will leave a mid to long iron into a very elevated green protected in front by a deep bunker. The hills behind the green may provide some relief for approaches hit too long.
Heartbreaker starts with a demanding uphill par five. There is a large fairway bunker right starting about 165 yards out. The fairway wraps around it to the left, however, it is only about 15 yards wide. There is another large fairway bunker left about 100 yards out. There are also two pot bunkers front and one rear. Tough hole. The second hole is a long par four that leans left with a large fairway bunker on the left side. There is also a large front bunker and one left. The third is also a long par four that leans left. It has a fairway bunker left and one right. The green has a bunker left. The 4th also leans left. Off the tee aim at the right fairway bunker. Do not miss left, as there is a non-user friendly bunker. The first par three is long with a large deep front bunker. The 6th has a fairway bunker left that pinches the fairway about 150 yards out and a right front bunker. The second par five is downhill and has a landing area between fairway bunkers right and water hazards left. Your second shot will need to carry a water hazard that cuts across the fairway. You mat consider taking an extra club to this elevated green with a bunker in front. The 8th is a long Florida par three with bunkers left and right. The ninth is a tough hole, long and bends left with water all the way down the left side. The green seems to be floating in the water hazard.
Backbreaker starts with a long left leaning uphill par four. Take at least an extra club. The 11th is the shortest par three and is slightly downhill with a bunker in front. The 12th is another left leaning hole. It is a valley par four with a tabletop green. The 13th is long, straightaway and deserving of the number one handicap. There is a large fairway bunker in the middle of the fairway about 100 yards out. The 14th is the longest par three. Do not miss left as there is a large bunker or worse a steep dropoff. The 15th is a short straight away par four. However, there is a water carry. The 16th is a reverse S par five. Fairway bunkers right and water hazards left. Play it as a three shotter. The 17th is a long uphill par four. Definitely take an extra club and there is a bunker front right. The 18th is a downhill reachable par five that actually goes right!!! There is water in front so if you do not have a green light lie, layup.
The holes are too predictable and is the antithesis of a Nicklaus course.