6,588 yards, 127 Slope from the Orange tees (Valley)
Course: Oxmoor Valley is just outside Birmingham, AL and is part of the Robert Trent Jones golf trail. The RTJ trail is a collection of 468 holes on 11 different sites throughout Alabama. As you might have guessed, the courses were designed by RTJ.
The trail is probably one of the best public course ideas ever. I’m not the first to proclaim this, as it’s widely known that the trail provides some of the best public golf in the country for insanely reasonable green fees. And each facility is top notch, from the clubhouse to the practice facilities. The courses are listed on one main website, with links to each course included. The array of premier public courses in the South, and particularly on the RTJ trail, is refreshing. Aside from a few world renown clubs, most of the golf down there is public. I mean, how awesome would it be if there was a Billy Flynn, or Donald Ross golf trail in the Northeast? The only way you can play a number of the courses designed by either of these legends is if you have some serious connections or lots and lots of disposable income. Regardless, the idea is a dream come true for golfers and is executed superbly.
I found myself in Birmingham recently with a non refundable flight and work stuff ending a day early, so I decided to check out the trail for myself with an early morning round. This was no easy feat. I had no golf clothes or rental car, which meant I took a taxi both ways (which meant getting the driver’s number and praying he’d come back out to get me), renting clubs and buying a hat and glove. The hat and glove were necessary because it was in the low 90’s at 8:00 a.m. and humid. So after all was said and done, I was on the first tee with a golf shirt I wore a couple days before, my new hat and glove, a pair of khaki pants, and a pair of running shoes. Dressed to kill.
Oxmoor Valley includes 54 holes and is situated on land formerly owned by U.S. Steel for mining. Oxmoor’s three courses include the Ridge, Valley and Short course. The Ridge course features lots of tree lined fairways and elevation changes. The Short course is a par 3 that appeared in phenomenal shape, also fraught with elevation changes. I played the Valley course, which consisted of rolling hills, contours and swales along the fairways, perched greens and a good deal of water hazards.
The Valley course follows one of the cardinal (and one of my favorite) rules of course architecture; no holes parallel with one another. When you start to switch from one direction to another hole by hole, chances are the holes will start to meld together and become forgettable. You also get groups firing balls at each other with wayward shots and will probably find yourself ducking for cover like an infantry soldier in WW1. Parallel holes can be pulled off if a number of conditions and characteristics are met, but the odds are they detract from a course. One of the reasons I enjoy courses with no parallels is that you get that secluded feeling out on the course. That was definitely the case here, as the only surroundings were trees, creeks and lakes and the only noises were those of birds, animals and all other things nature based.
I found many features of the course similar to what I encountered at Jackson Hole, which was built by RTJ’s son, RTJ2. Mainly, the course challenges you on very shot and penalizes you if not executed properly. The bunkers were usually carved into hill sides, leaving you with severe recovery shots. What was different here than JHGTC was that the rough was unusual and difficult to get out of. That also meant you were lobbing to every green; the old bump and run was taken out of play. The rough was tall, but was airy, so balls would sunk right down to the ground. The grass wouldn’t stand straight up, but would rather curl around itself, similar to a clump of artificial turf. This made getting out of it a nightmare. The green complexes were fast, large and severely undulating. The course exposes every facet of your game and makes you perform well to score well.
I played solo and blazed through the round in a shade under three hours. As such, it’s tough to recall some of the holes, especially when most of them were dog legs that only distinguished themselves by varying elevation changes and placement of bunkers or water hazards. It’s not a knock on the course, but rather a theme or template. The holes were presented in different ways and called on different skill sets, just within that template. It was similar to Broad Run to some degree, but didn’t have the forced carries over ravines and chasms that you get a BR.
The First is a par 4 about 415 yards. Your tee shot hits down into the fairway, which dog legs left to an elevated green. Bunkers scare the tee shot area and there’s a bunker on the left side of the green. The Second is a 174 yard par 3 that requires you to carry a lake and bunkers to another elevated green. Definitely a gut check the shot early in the round.
The Third is a dog leg right par 4 about 390 yards. The green is narrow but long and slopes from back to front. The Fourth is the second par 3, about 170 yards with water along the left side and a larger bunker along the right side of the green. The entire green is also set to the left of the tee box, so really this hole is making you draw it in, or risk the water if you try to hit it straight on the green from the tee. A great par 3.
The Fifth is a par 4 at about 375 yards with a narrower elevated fairway that has a partially blind tee shot. A bunker protects the front of the green. It’s one of the easier holes on the course.
|Tee shot at the Fifth|
The Sixth is another par 4 at 370 yards that dog legs right to a green that is tucked into a set of hills. Bunkers collect any tee shot that is overcooked and any approach that is hit short.
The Seventh is the first par 5 at 500 yards. Trees on both sides of the fairway confine things a bit and then you have to deal with cross bunkers on your approach shot, as they protect the green. The Eighth does come back the opposite direction, but a creek and pond separate the holes. It’s a 400 yard par 4 that snakes its way to the green, with water along the left side and the green set just a little above the fairway. You also have to carry a creek on your tee shot.
|The Eighth, looking back at the fairway.|
The Ninth is the second par 5 on the front, at 540 yards. You get an elevated tee shot, with a fairway that descends slowly to a creek, which you must carry, then your approach must carry an array of bunkers on both sides of the fairway and in front of the green. A very nice hole.
|The Ninth, just forward of the tees|
Ranking the front 9, put me in for 9, 4, 6, 8, 1, 2, 5, 3, 7.
Maybe I started to wake up a little, but I enjoyed the back 9 more than the front. There was more character between the holes and along with that, more challenge.
The Tenth is a 420 yard par 4. The tee area is slightly elevated, then dog legs right to a wide open green. My tee shot went a little right near the trees. When I drove my cart over to the ball, there was a momma and baby turkey hanging out, only mildly interested in my shot. Do turkeys attack? I had no idea, but they didn’t bother me as I took some time to figure out my second shot. I believe that was my first wild turkey sighting, if you don’t count the number of times I order Wild Turkey when I’m out.
The Eleventh is a shorter par 4 at about 320 yards. There is a generous landing area from the tee just past a couple cross bunkers, so make sure your tee shot is straight. The green is perched on a substantial hill and is angled diagonally, leaving you with a blind approach shot. A nice short two shotter that makes you nail both or pay the price.
|The Eleventh. This photo doesn’t do the elevated green justice.|
The Twelfth was my favorite hole on the course, which is a par 5 at 500 yards. Your tee shot must carry a lake, but the fairway is on the left side of the lake, not straight ahead, so you’re able to decide how much you want to take off of the lake to leave yourself with a better second shot. A nice collection of bunkers makes sure you can’t take off too much while also requiring you to carry those in addition to the lake. A great tee shot. The fairway has lots of contours, leading up to a Bermuda triangle of bunkers from 20 – 150 yards before the green, demanding a precise and substantial approach shot to carry. The green allows for some long putts, rewarding you for getting there in regulation. You’ll feel accomplished with par or better here.
|Tee shot at the Twelfth|
|Approaching the Bermuda Triangle of bunkers on the Twelfth|
The Thirteenth is a great par 3 at about 180 yards. The tee area is elevated and you hit towards the green, which is about angled at a diagonal at about 11:00. There are trees along the right side, making it impossible to reach the green with a straight shot off the tee. There’s a drop off on the left side of the green, in case you thought you could line up on the right side of the tee and angle to the left. Alas, this is a great time for the fade, which I managed to pull off and get close to the pin. Yet another great par 3. The Fourteenth is a par 5 at about 530 yards that gradually pulls downhill. There are mounded bunkers that you much carry off the tee to a very narrow fairway landing area. The fairway continues to get a little more severe of a downhill to the green, which is surrounded by bunkers.
|The front of the fairway at the Fourteenth|
|Second shot at the Fourteenth|
The Fifteenth is a par 4 at 380 yards. Water is along the left and bunkers come into play off the tee on the right and on the approach. In fact, you have bunkers protecting both sides of the green while the water protects the left side. Oh yeah, there’s trees along the right side, so when my tee shot went right, I had to carry the trees to reach the green. It was a hero shot for sure and was excited when I pulled it off. Those are ones you put in the memory bank.
|Tee shot at the Fifteenth.|
The Sixteenth is the shortest par 3 on the course at 160 yards. It’s also downhill, with water front right and right of the green. The hole bends around the water a little, which leaves you with options off the tee. The draw is probably the best option, so long as your ball keeps turning away from the water.
The Seventeenth is a par 4 at 360 yards. The fairway rolls up then down until reach the green, which is elevated and protected by two large bunkers.
|The Seventeenth fairway|
|A closer look at the green of the Seventeenth|
The Eighteenth presents a dramatic tee shot, as you hit into a fairway that is a wall in front of you. It’s a severe uphill, which crests before going down until ending to yet another elevated green, which is rather high. It’s a par 4 at about 390 yards. The elevated green slopes severely front right to left and there is a bunker protecting the front of the green.
|Tee shot at the Eighteenth|
My ranking of the back 9 is 12, 18, 13, 11, 14, 15, 17, 16, 10. The Tenth was probably the only hole that didn’t wow me.
Generally, the Valley course was an outstanding play and was an insane value. In addition to the design, the cart girl came by very frequently, beer was cheap and good, the food was filling and the clubhouse, set on the highest point of the area, was picturesque. The practice area had you hit into a valley, as you teed off on a ridge.
If you’re looking for a golf trip with the buddies where you don’t feel like putting down a ton of money to play and also don’t feel like settling for blue collar or gimmicky courses with lower green fees, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend hitting the RTJ trail. It is by far a public course destination. I hope to one day have enough time to play more of the trail.
Gripes: Just a couple issues with the rental clubs. Mainly, they charged a good amount for them, but only gave me 13 clubs and didn’t have graphite shafts on the irons. And it was basically set up so I had to pay for all the extras in addition to the rental, but this is pretty typical any where you rent. The apparel was a little pricey, considering the green fees, but I guess they have to make their money some where.
Clubhouse: Very nice and big, with lounge areas with couches, a wrap around patio to take in the scenic views and a large bar with said cheap beer.
Bar/grill: The clubhouse and pro shop were all houses in one giant building, which was fashioned as a large Georgian mansion.
Nearby: Ross Bridge, another RTJ trail course that is more on the higher end in terms of green fees.
Getting there: Take a plane to Birmingham, ask cab driver to take you there.
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