An introduction to Alabama
Alabama as a state is renowned for its landmarks related to the American Civil Rights Movement. But one thing it is not renowned for is elite golf courses with few, if any golf courses in Alabama listed in amongst the Top 100 best golf courses in the country.
Clearly this is all a matter of opinion. But it does have a golf pedigree. It is a state known the world over for the awe-inspiring Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. This epic project, the largest golf construction ever made, consists of 26 golf courses across 11 different sites in the state.
Read more: The ultimate guide to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
Some of the courses designed by the iconic Robert Trent Jones Sr. can be found on this list.
The state is bordered by Tennessee in the north, Mississippi to the west, Georgia in the east and Florida to the south.
The main conurbations include Huntsville in the north, down to Birmingham, Montgomery and finally Mobile on the Gulf of Mexico.
In a nutshell, Alabama’s most recent history has revolved around its civil rights struggles as well as being the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. These are places you simply must visit when in the state.
And of course don’t forget its heart-warming Southern hospitality.
The best golf courses in Alabama
1. Shoal Creek Golf Club
16 miles southeast of Birmingham, is the outstanding Shoal Creek Golf Club.
It is the only golf course in Alabama to have hosted a PGA Championship. This it did on two occasions, in 1984 and again shortly after in 1990.
The club opened its doors in 1977, having been designed by Jack Nicklaus. This was Nicklaus’ first solo design although he was supported in this endeavor by Bob Cupp, who was his lead designer at the time.
Thick forest is endemic to the site. And the story goes when Nicklaus first visited, he thought it unsuitable for a golf course. But upon reflection, he came to the realization it was suitable for not just one, but two top class golf courses.
That idea was rebuffed by the two founders, Hall Thompson and Harald Lassan Jr. Instead, just the single 18-hole layout was devised and boy is it a good one.
For starters, it is one of the most attractive courses in the state. The course is routed through a valley skirting both Oak and Double Oak Mountain. Thick forests flank many of the fairways giving the course a stately presence.
Creeks and ponds will often come into play as will subtle elevation changes. This is without doubt a shot-makers course.
2. Country Club of Birmingham
This is a club whose history reaches right back into the 19th century, 1898 to be precise. This was the date the club was founded.
Although it was two location moves later and just shy of 30 years until we see the first golf course come into existence.
There are two championship courses onsite, the West and the East. Both were designed by the legendary architect Donald Ross.
The sublime West course was the first to open in 1925, preceding its sister course, the East, by a year. Routed through an Indian valley, it was a classic Ross course with notable small greens.
Fast forward to today, and it is no longer a Ross course but instead a Ross, Robert Trent Jones Sr, and Pete Dye course. Two major renovations happened throughout the course of the century, with major overhauls overseen by both subsequent architects.
But this hasn’t created a Frankenstein layout. Instead the course has retained a lot of its charm and is so highly rated it is the host venue to many major tournaments. These include USGA Qualifiers as well as a number of Southern Amateur Championships.
As for the East course, this has received very little in the way of major upgrades. It has arguably stood the test of time and remains true to its original design.
If you do get to visit here, you’ll nop doubt also enjoy the impressive English-Tudor style clubhouse.
3. The Ledges
Located in the most northern point in the city of Huntsville’s outskirts, is The Ledges. The club is approximately 1,500 feet above sea level, positioned on Huntsville Mountain.
The outstanding layout was the work of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, and opened in 2000. So well acclaimed was The Ledges, Hurdzan was showered with recognition including ‘Designer of the Year’ by Golf Magazine a few years later.
The goal was simple. Create a world-class golf course whilst preserving as much of the natural beauty of the mountain. And boy did they deliver.
Some may argue the presence of residential development takes something away from the layout. Nonsense. There is plenty of separation, it isn’t constant, and the properties are low-key enough to shy away into the background.
And to be fair, with some of the breathtaking views on offer, you’d be excused for being distracted.
Yet more importantly, the golf course is top class, albeit challenging. It is definitely a shot-makers course, with many precise approach shots required and accuracy off the tee essential.
4. Old Overton Club
Old Overton is a private, family and member-orientated country club. Golf is but one amongst an array of impressive facilities onsite.
The location is deep in the Vestavia Hills. Right in the heart of Liberty Park Community, a few miles south of Birmingham. Densely wooded with vast movement in the land, this is a wonderful spot.
The course was a joint effort between Tom Fazio, and the pro golfer Jerry Pate. Opening in 1993, within a year it was already being recognised by Golf Digest as one of the best new private courses in 1994.
There are some special golf holes, with gullies, rock walls and elevated tee boxes all coming into play. Likewise, Lake Overton comes into play several times on the back nine. To score well, you’ll need to play strategically, knowing when to hold back.
Be sure to enjoy great conditioning, impressive vistas and welcoming service. The clubhouse is a mere 20,000 square foot with fine dining options.
5. Capitol Hill (The Judge)
In the city of Prattville, just 8 miles north of Montgomery, is Capitol Hill Golf Club.
There are three superb 18-hole championship golf courses onsite; The Judge, The Senator and The Legislator. But it is without doubt The Judge which stands head and shoulders above the other two.
The course was designed by the celebrated Robert Trent Jones Sr. It was one of many built as part of the epic Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail for which the state is so well known. 26 golf courses across 11 different locations throughout Alabama.
Yet The Judge is recognised as being one of the highlights of the trail.
Over the years it has been littered with praise by all the major golf publications. GOLF Magazine ranked the course as one of the top 10 public golf courses in the country. Golf World readers rated it the #2 public golf facility nationwide. And this is just scratching the surface.
Breathtaking views across the Alabama River, which kick-start from the 1st hole. An elevated tee box, some 200 yards above the fairway, overlooking the river in the distance. As the round unfolds, throughout 14 of the 18 holes water comes into play.
This is top class golf in a top class location.
6. FarmLinks at Pursell Farms
South of Birmingham towards Sylacauga, is the 3,500 acre plot known as the Pursell Farms estate.
The Pursell family business has for many decades successfully operated in high-tech fertilizers. These have been shipped worldwide, helping to build a vast fortune and fortunately for us, a superb golf course.
To craft a beautiful course within their farmland, they called upon the architects Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry.
Hurdzan and Fry are known for their environmentally-friendly approach to design, something which aligned nicely with the project’s vision. The result is an elegant routing which maximizes enjoyment.
It is a fairly flat layout with wide sprawling fairways. On the first tee for example, the fairway has to be at least 60-70 yards wide.
On a couple of occasions the course gently climbs into the hills with some fine views on offer at various points. The bunkering is fine, albeit penal around the greens. Large expansive greens are true and firm.
If you are looking to test yourself, try playing from the backs. 7,400 plus yards make this a decent challenge. Although with the relatively forgiving fairways, being overzealous with the driver is allowed.
If you are visiting, it’s worth knowing there are many other activities to enjoy. There is a farm, petting zoo, pedal boats as well as activities like archery, axe throwing…you name it.
And if you want to spend the evening here, there are luxury cabin guest rooms, a wonderful spa and classy restaurant.
Although one thing you won’t see is the family home. Rumor has it, one of the family members didn’t want to see the golf course from their home! So Hurdzan and Fry were very selective about where to route the layout.
7. Grand National (Lake)
Another of the fantastic layouts on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, is the sumptuous Grand National Golf Club. The club is located within Auburn and Opelika, close to Columbus over the border-line in Georgia.
It is also arguably one of the most beautiful sites on the trail and within the state. This is an opinion shared by the great Robert Trent Jones Sr. himself, who designed the course.
One of the original layouts of the trail, the club features two championship courses, the Lake and Links. There is also a high quality Short Course for those developing their game or wanting a quick round.
But it is the Lake course which we turn our attention towards. As the name suggests, water plays a significant part in crafting the character of the layout. It comes into play on 12 of the 18 holes climaxing with an island green on the 15th hole.
There really is no letting up as you play. Numerous carries over water from the tee or in approaching the green. But boy is this fun. No wonder this has been chosen as the n#1 public golf facility by Golf World readers.
Take plenty of balls, trust your golf game, and have fun (I’m sure you will!).
8. Turtle Point Yacht & Country Club
There are a handful of golf courses in Alabama designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., but not part of the famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Turtle Point Yacht & Country Club is one of them.
The club is located just 12 miles south of the Tennessee state line. It is also 13 miles from the city of Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River.
The location is bliss. And coincidentally, right on the opposite shore to The Shoals Golf Club which does form part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
The course is routed through an elegant 200 acre plot. Despite its waterside location, very little golf is actually played on the water-front. Instead the course climbs northwards away from the river, crossing a valley which dissects the site.
There are many great holes, many of which follow a similar theme of elongated tee box, leading to narrow pine-tree lined fairway.
Two holes jump to mind as being superior to the rest. The par-3 8th where you are hitting over water to a well protected green. Not long, but miss the dance-floor and you’ll be lucky to make par.
Likewise the signature 18th hole. A fine drive is required on this dogleg before hitting over water to reach the green. And no doubt the welcome respite of something alcoholic.
9. Country Club of Mobile
Mobile is one of the most southern cities in the state of Alabama. And the impressive Country Club of Mobile is located right in the heart of the city, a few miles from downtown.
Having been inaugurated in 1899, this is without doubt a member-focused club. There are many golf clubs which attempt to juggle the needs of many different audiences. But here at this member-owned club, the membership has always remained front-and-center to its vision.
There are numerous facilities including tennis courts, swimming pools and a gym. Alongside this sits a magnificent clubhouse (its predecessor having burned down in a fire) with fine dining to enjoy.
Fortunately, the golf courses maintain these high standards, all 27 holes onsite. The three loops of nine are called the East, West and North Nines. The East and the West are played as the championship layout.
It was in 1917 shortly after having moved to the present site, that Donald Ross was engaged to design the routing. More recently, they were renovated by Ron Forse and in recent years, Jerry Pate, the professional golfer-come-architect.
Routed on sloping ground with forgiving fairways and large undulating greens, the course is challenging but fun to play.
10. Kiva Dunes at Kiva Dunes Resort
This is one of Alabama’s highest rated public golf courses.
It is also positioned in one of Alabama’s most stunning locations, the Fort Morgan peninsula. The peninsula is Alabama’s most southern point,with views out towards the Gulf of Mexico and north towards Mobile Bay.
The resort is called Kiva Dunes Resort and encompasses an array of holiday activities. There are vacation rentals including beach homes and condos. Swimming pools, restaurants and a massive 3,000ft private beach.
Due to its location, it comes as no surprise the golf course is links in style. Designed by the property owner Jim Edgemon and pro golfer Jerry Pate, it has been lauded with praise ever since opening.
Golf Pass, Golf Digest, Golf Week, Golf Advisor…you name it, they’ve rated it. And rated it highly, more often than not as one of the best golf resorts or best public golf courses nationwide.
The course is firm and fast and renowned for its great condition. The challenge here is knowing how and where to plot your way round the course.
A thoroughly enjoyable round of golf awaits, in a unique location. There are many great golf courses in Alabama, and this is right up there with them.
What is the best golf course in Alabama?
The best golf course in Alabama is Shoal Creek Golf Club, southwest of Birmingham. It was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened its doors in 1977. Shortly after, it was chosen as the host venue for the 1984 and 1990 PGA Championships.