Review: Robert Trent Jones – Oxmoor Valley (Ridge Course), Birmingham, AL

January 13, 2012

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

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