In yet another joint post, LG and I review a place near and dear to both our hearts, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail–specifically, the course at Oxmoor Valley. Nearly two years ago now (Summer 2010), LG and I visited the RTJ Golf Trail for a 3-day trip through Alabama to play three sites of one of the most fun golf experiences in the Southeast, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (see www.rtjgolf.com) (Note: given that this was our second trip, the photos below will show the course at two different times). Although there are a number of trips in the Southeast that I am looking forward to taking some day (Pinehurst and Sawgrass to name a few), the RTJ golf trail is both reasonably priced and easily accessible (relatively) for both LG (who has relatives in Mississippi) and me (Atlanta)–in particular, the courses in Birmingham, AL.

Oxmoor Valley is one of two RTJ sites in Birmingham, the other being the Ross Bridge course. However, we have not played the Ross Bridge course because it is easily 3x the cost of playing the Oxmoor Valley, and, although we’re fanatical about golf, unnecessary cost doesn’t equate to greater value.

As previously mentioned, LG and I have visited multiple RTJ sites. For the price, there is little that is comparable to RTJ courses. For those that don’t know, Robert Trent Jones designed golf courses are typically long, undulating, and punshing while maintaining an understated elegance and natural beauty. 430+ yard par 4s and 3-teired greens are just some of the common elements of an RTJ course. But when he gets a hold of an excellent piece of real estate–as he’s done throughout Alabama–RTJ manages to produce excellent golf. And the courses are well-maintained, even in the winter and the dog days of summer.

What’s more, most RTJ sites include multiple golf courses in one site. Oxmoor Valley includes 36 holes of full-length golf and a par-3 “short course” that provides an excellent challenge. When LG and I visited the RTJ course several years ago, we opted to play the Ridge course and the Valley course in the same day. Halfway through the Valley course, we left and went back to the Ridge.

I have played about 130 holes of RTJ Trail golf (27 at Silver Lakes, 45 at Capitol Hill, 27 at Oxmoor, and 30-ish at Grand National, not counting short courses), and the Ridge course at Oxmoor Valley may be my favorite of all.

First, the clubhouses at all RTJ Courses are large and inviting lodge-type atmospheres, complete with full restaurants that serve very good meals to hungry patrons. The structures are adorned with memoirs of the great times one has playing golf and reminders of the history of the game.

A view from the first green back toward the tee at the Ridge course gives a great idea of what lies ahead. Rolling hills, meandering tree lines, green fairways, and precise layouts make shotmaking in critical demand for a good score. The visual obstructions often make tee shots intimidating experiences, seeing how many places one can miss the fairway. Still, little matches the natural beauty of a well-planned golf course, and RTJ has plenty of that.

Yet another indicator of the beauty of this course is seen at the par 5 3rd hole. A brave driver can place his ball in the fairway between the water.

Even if you manage to hit a career drive, RTJ leaves very little payoff. The uphill second shot to a pedestal green is an unlikely reach, even for the longest and most precise hitter.

What might be the signature hole of this course, the par 3 8th, is downhill and all carry over water. A nicely hit 7 or 8 iron (depending on pin location) will put you in a good spot for a birdie.  A quick story from LG here:  We have had two chances to play this hole in our time.  During our first trip, the pin was located in the back right section of this green, and during our second, it was located in the front left location.  During both trips, JK somehow managed to stick his ball in a position to have the longest putt imaginable on this green.  I think he would have had about 5 feet of putts total left had the pins been swapped.  I, on the other hand, have played this hole in even par for my career thanks to two nicely placed shots that left me a grand total of about 25 feet of putts on this green in two rounds.  The closeup of the green below allows you to see this for yourself.  Now back to JK.

As my memory serves, I don’t recall thinking this course was very long. Yet, at over 7,000 yards from the tips, no one can call it a short course. I suppose I was too focused on other features of the course to worry about the length.

Although I haven’t seemed to play well, I can’t blame the course at all for that.

Quick aside from LG:  JK might not be able to blame the course, but I’ll definitely throw in a complaint.  RTJ designs a hard golf course.  I love them and would love to have one be my home course some day, but man, they can kick your tail.  A quick example is the dastardly par-4 6th below.

The dogleg left hole measures 447 yards from the tips and requires a massive carry over a ravine.  The more that I think about this behemoth, the less terrible I feel about making a quadruple bogey 8 on it during our last outing.  The carry must be long and precise.  The fairway slopes left toward the ravine and it is impossible to tell from the tee where the fairway comes out to save an errant ball.  Moreover, the ravine cuts across the hole and makes any approach from the right rough a tall order.  Oh, and even if you hit that monster drive, heaven help you if you have anything longer than a 7 iron in because this three tiered green demands a high, soft shot to get within range.  Missing the green on any side, long, or short will provide a daunting up and down.  My advice:  play this hole as a par 5, or hope that your karma is better than mine.  In two rounds, I am collectively 7 over on this hole alone.  Now back to JK.

The drawbacks–it’s hard to say. The courses are not really walkable not only because of undulation but also because there is a lot of distance between greens and tees. They are typically out in the middle of nowhere, but Birmingham wasn’t bad at all. Not to mention, when you’re golfing, you typically don’t want to be in an urban center. The service is great. The cost is reasonable ($52/18 holes with cart).

One thing, you may want to check and ensure that maintenance is not being done during your trip. LG and I had planned to play one RTJ course during our 3-day visit that we skipped because it was being aerated during our visit. Thankfully, we checked when we called ahead–not sure they would’ve told us if we hadn’t asked.

All in all, though, it’s a great place to play golf.

Value: 8/10
Condition/Maintenance: 8/10
Price: 8/10
Layout: 9/10
Challenge: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

PS, LG and I also STRONGLY recommend a trip to Saw’s BBQ after the round. Unbelievably good, if you like good BBQ: 1008 Oxmoor Rd, Birmingham, AL | (205) 879-1937 | sawsbbq.com

This post follows up on the Caswell Stainless Blackener post found at https://thepowerfade.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/restoration-and-review-caswell-stainless-blackener/ and on the Club Repair post found at https://thepowerfade.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/club-repair-restoring-a-putter-part-1/.

I decided that, although the Caswell was helpful, it was not perfect. Thus, I went ahead and smoothed out the dings. I used a flat file to take out the big dings (if you decide to do this, you must be very careful wit the flat file–it can do a lot of damage). Then, progressive sanding with 60 grit, 180 grit, and then 400 grit sandpaper smoothed out most of the dings. In some cases, I did have to go back with the 60 grit because the scratches with the flat file were very evident. Even then, I still haven’t totally gotten all of the marks off of it.

The reason I did not go beyond 400 grit in this case is twofold: first, I didn’t have the time to get everything perfect and make a mirror shine. The several dings that are there would be much more evident if the rest of the putter were mirror finished; second, I wanted to keep the mill marks on the face, which meant no sanding of the face of the putter. I reasoned that, if I didn’t go beyond 400 grit, the face wouldn’t look too far off from the rest of the putter (since I don’t have a bead blasting cabinet). The process and results are below.

Here is the head before significant sanding. You can see that the blackener worked well before. Part of the sanding will help me take off that blackened finish.


When the sole is partially sanded and partially blackened, it’s easy to see where the dings are. Ouch!

I’m staying away from the face as much as possible. The dings on the top line are hard to deal with when doing this because you can’t easily smooth them out without affecting the mill marks. I’ll do my best.

See how much smoother the heel is now that it’s been filed and 60-gritted?

The top line looks 1000x better now.

And now, after complete sanding with progressive grits, you can see there is a little shine to the head, but not like the mirror finish in other posts (see https://thepowerfade.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/club-repair-restoring-a-putter-part-1/)



I’ve cleaned up the face just a bit with 400 grit paper to help the blackener stay smooth.

Here’s the final top line. Looks a lot better

Blackening was virtually the same process. This time, I used much less blackening paste and it worked out about the same, so conserve that stuff. It aint cheap.

I worked the blackener around with a GLOVED HAND (wear a glove, or your hands will really stink) to smooth it out. When the blackening was about even and had been on for a minute or so, I quenched it in a bucket of cold water and rubbed all of the paste off. Then I smoothed out the blackener by rubbing any uneven spots with steel wool. The result looks pretty good. (The wet looking photos have the sealer applied).




Altogether, not too bad. Here’s the final product:



Adding a little paint fill (there’s still more to go)

The color is kind of hard to see in the photos. Here’s a comparison to my stock Newport Beach.

This post is a restoration of a Scotty Cameron Newport Beach that has seen better days. The purpose of this is to review Caswell’s Stainless Blackener product.

The putter is seen in the photos below before restoration.






As you can see, it’s had a rough time. I’m hoping to show that it’s possible to make a putter look better simply by blackening the finish. I’m not sure what I’ll get here.

The first step is to remove all of the paint fill. Don’t mess around with acetone, as it can take awhile. Instead, as LG noted in his post on removing paint fill from irons (see https://thepowerfade.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/quick-tip-new-life-for-old-irons/), automotive paint stripper works very well and very quickly with little work.

The process of putting the blackening on can be done several different ways. This blackener is gel. Once the blackener is applied, a sealant is used. Both are included with the kit:

First, you must clean the steel with water. Soap would probably help. The instructions say “clean until it passes a water break test.” Essentially, clean it until water flows over it evenly, without breaking.

The blackener is applied by simply placing on the putter and allowing it to work. I found that it worked best for me if I used a gloved hand (VERY IMPORTANT OR YOUR HANDS WILL STINK LIKE CRAZY) and continuously rubbed it around. This process helped get a little more even coating.





When finished, rinse with water and apply the sealant.


Once the sealant is applied, the putter is virtually done. Clean it up with water and take photos




This process was remarkably easy. Although it didn’t turn out as well as some of the professionally blackened putters, it nonetheless has real potential to turn out that way if continuously applied. A few more applications and I’m certain it would be nice and dark.

I got this kit second hand for $25. I believe they’re around $40 new, but there is enough to do a number of putters if you chose to.

As for results, well, it doesn’t look perfect. And, as I often find with putter finishing, the better-prepped the surface, the better the finish looks. For example, on this putter, the sole turned out the best with a nice dark, even color. However, it does look better than it used to, and it did give me a chance to play around with this stuff. I’ll do some restoration work, take the dings out, and then re-blacken it in the future.

Cost: 6
Value: 7
Ease of Use: 8
Finish: 8
Overall: 8

We’ll see how it turns out once the full restoration and ding removal happens. I’m sure it would probably give me a much more favorable opinion on this product.