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Fall Vacations

Two girlfriends tackle five courses and soak up luxurious spas along Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
By Pam Grout

For most golfers, the 19th hole is the bar or restaurant where they commiserate or celebrate after a day on the links. For my girlfriend Robbie and me, the 19th hole was the massage table at the five spas which were recently added to Alabama’s illustrious Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

Golf course

Above: A welcome site after playing the challenging Falls course at Magnolia Grove in Mobile is the gracious clubhouse. The 10th hole features a cascading waterfall for which this course is named. Roert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove photo

Below: So what if you didn’t shoot par. Chances are, there’s an inviting spa waiting for you at the end of the day when you play an RTJ Trail course. Grand Hotel Marriott Resort photo

Spa

In the mid-1980s when David Bronner, chief executive officer of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, first suggested investing Alabama teachers’ hard-earned pension funds in golf courses, eyebrows, doubts and strong objections were raised. Golf? Alabama? The only notoriety Alabama had in the way of golf at the time was Shoal Creek’s 1990 debacle on the PGA tour when the media grabbed hold of its glaring lack of black members.

Tired of watching America drive through his state on the way to the golf courses of Florida, Bronner lured Robert Trent Jones out of retirement with this juicy offer: “How would you like to design the world’s most ambitious golf project?”

Bronner’s vision of a trail of seven locations for PGA-worthy public golf courses ended up being as innovative as tees in the 1890s and titanium drivers a century later. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail catapulted a $500 million retirement fund into a $28 billion bonanza, completely revamped Alabama’s image and increased tourism five-fold. Today, there are 11 locations and 26 courses. Needless to say, when Bronner decided to add luxury resorts to the trail, everybody just bowed. The Spa Trail, added in 2009, was frosting on an already-delicious cake.

At the southern point of Alabama

We started in Mobile Bay, an area noted for golf according to Golf Digest, and home to two of our chosen spas. After playing Magnolia Grove’s The Crossings, a stunning roller coaster carved out of the gulf’s pine forests, we were ready for some of Mobile’s trademark hospitality. The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa, a AAA four Diamond property that overlooks the downtown waterfront, was the perfect spot for unwinding and comparing our shots to Angela Stanford’s (we finally pleaded no contest) who won the 2008 LPGA tournament held at The Crossings.

Originally built in 1852 on the site of Andrew Jackson’s military headquarters, the opulent 238-room Battle House was brought back to life in 2007 with a $220 million facelift, a renovation that like other Bronner projects, initially raised questions, but his plan panned out. The hotel’s 10,000-square-foot European-style spa has Venetian plaster ceilings, an outdoor pool and a relaxing fire pit.

Next spot on our tour was Lakewood Golf Club’s Dogwood and Azalea courses with a 19th hole spa within walking distance. The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa–located on Point Clear–dates back to 1847. Katrina tried to put an end to the 405-room landmark, but $55 million later, this AAA four Diamond hotel roared back to life with all the old amenities like croquet, horseshoes, cozy-seated bicycles and balconies with porch swings and fishing poles. Those perennial favorites are now joined by the award-winning 20,000-square-foot spa and a gorgeous nine-quadrant herb and vegetable garden lorded over by head chef Mike Wallace. Cannons are fired every afternoon at 4 p.m. followed by afternoon tea.

Centrally located

Our march to Montgomery landed us at another AAA four Diamond property, the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa, located about 10 minutes from Capitol Hill in Prattville with the challenging Judge, Senator and Legislator courses. This luxurious getaway with postcard views of the Alabama River is joined to an 1,800-seat performing arts center, so in addition to getting pampered at the European-style spa, guests can catch performances of such shows as “Cirque de Soleil” or “Mamma Mia.” With its exotic spa treatments inspired from Bali, Bombay, Egypt and Singapore, it was easy to forget that embarrassing mulligan on the 14th hole.

Northern exposure

The 19th hole for Ross Bridge in Hoover is Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa. This AAA four Diamond hotel has roaring patio fire pits, a fine place to gather after hearing bagpipes played at sunset. Room balconies overlook the world’s fourth-longest course at 8,191 yards.

After all that exercise on the course, we had to try the aptly named “chocolate elevation” for dessert. Speaking of indulgences, the 12,000-square-foot bamboo-floored spa features what they call “the ultimate caviar facial.”

The Shoals is the trail’s newest course, and its 19th hole is Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa in Florence. Overlooking the Tennessee River, the restaurant at this AAA four Diamond resort, Bronzeback Café, pays homage to the area’s noteworthy bass fishing. Swampers Bar & Grill is a tribute to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section–nicknamed the Swampers–a group of studio musicians that helped craft the Muscle Shoals sound. Try specialties like bacon maple donuts and chocolate waffles for breakfast at Swampers Bar & Grill.

As for the spa, a 6,000-square-foot oasis of serenity, don’t miss the Diamonds Are Forever facial.

A spa trail card ($40) is good for free paraffin dips, make-up touch ups, a glass of wine after every treatment and big discounts on all spa services and hotel rooms. Make it to all five and you even get a free treatment. Maybe next time, we’ll just skip the first 18 holes and head straight for No. 19.

Pam Grout is a contributor from Lawrence, Kan.

Sep/Oct 2010 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

An interesting feature to courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is the tee location. Tee markers are pegged according to ability level, not age or gender. The courses were designed to measure as short as 4,700 yards and as long as 7,700 yards from tournament tees. For more information about Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, visit www.rtjgolf.com or call (800) 949-4444.

To visit Alabama, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Alabama through the Reader Service Card, found online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.


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