As we prepared for this year’s getaway to beautiful Hilton Head Island and wait for Winter Apocalypse 2014 to pass , I’m taking this opportunity to look back at our “Inaugural Guys Golf Trip” from 2013.
In late April, four of us headed to “scenic” Birmingham, Alabama to tackle four area courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. After waiting out a torrential overnight rainstorm, we set out as the first group off the tee at the scenic Valley Course at Oxmoor Valley.
Since none of us had played a round of golf yet in 2013 prior to this outing, the rust of our swings was in full force as we headed out onto a sloppy, soaked course draped across the reclaimed iron mining site.
First up at sunrise, the Valley Course played to 6,588 yards with a slope and course rating of 71.3/127. from the Orange Tees.
I remember four things from this early morning round:
- This Course would have been very hard under ideal conditions;
- There were no flat spaces anywhere on the course;
- Collectively, we played into almost every bunker and water hazard on the course; and
- Not investing in new golf shoes before playing cart path only golf on a waterlogged golf course was the first of many tactical errors of the weekend.
The course setting was beautiful, with many of the elevated tees and greens providing some wonderful views of the undulating terrain surrounding the greater Birmingham area. The course conditions, deluge of rain aside, were phenomenal: excellent tee box conditions, lush fairways and rough, and nice, multi-contoured greens.
Conceptually, or strategically, I thought it was a pretty difficult course. All the greens were guarded by bunkers, in many cases multiple bunkers, and most of the approaches to the greens were protected with harsh angles or severe undulations and elevation changes.
All of the elevation change made for quite the workout, since even though we rode carts, the day’s cart-path-only rule meant our legs and backs got to experience every contour of the course.
The rainstorm had softened the course considerably. Even the most perfectly struck drive didn’t run out in the fairways, and even when the course contouring would’ve allowed it, there wasn’t really any opportunity to run the ball on to the greens with any predictability.
This meant that the nearly 6,600 yard Valley Course probably played closer to 7,200 during our round.
Despite grabbing the year’s first birdie on the par 3 16th hole, I remember the round being incredibly frustrating when compared to my own performance expectations. There was no evidence of all the range balls hit and putting practice I put in before the trip.
The Valley Course certainly punishes inaccuracy, even without the abundance of bunkers and water hazards. The course contains two general styles of fairways: plateaus or bottoms of bowls.
That’s to say that either the fairways were relatively flat, existing as plateaus above punitive, laterally sloping rough, or the fairways were bounded by rolling mounds hiding bunkers from which there was little realistic opportunity to reach the green in regulation.
We all ended up in triple digits for the morning round, but at least the weather was clearing up and the cart girl seemed to find us every few holes, which was typically of the entire RTJ Trail experience: fantastic service from the entire staff.
After a break for lunch sandwiches, a cooler refill, and a few minutes to heal our wounded pride, we headed out on the aptly-named Ridge Course at Oxmoor Valley in the afternoon.
The Ridge played to 6,527 yards with a slope and course rating of 70.6/123. What I remember most about this course was the unrelenting elevation changes seemingly on every hole.
There was less water in play compared to the Valley course, which helped as the course and my socks were slowly drying out. However, the endless elevation changes meant that any shot not perfectly placed to where the course design dictated left you with some mess of a sidehill/uphill/downhill lie.
And with the course remaining waterlogged, of course it played quite a bit longer than the scorecard indicated.
Back-to-Back par fives at holes number 2 and 3 were almost enough to break our spirits right out of the gate.
The elevated fairways and greens really took a toll on us physically, especially if you didn’t hit a cart-path friendly shot. I remember distinctly being completely mentally and physically exhausted by the time I reached the monstrous but scenic par 5 finishing 18th hole.
One lasting memory of the Ridge Course, and the Valley Course to a lesser extent, is that Jones’ mounding and bunkering created the most consistently irregularly shaped greens I’ve played.
In other words, topography and artistic flair replaced any semblance of geometry or functional form in shaping and contouring the greens. It was an interesting feature that I’d later find common across the RTJ Trail courses.
On the whole, we played Oxmoor Valley’s two courses under sloppy, less than ideal conditions. The courses overpowered our golfing abilities from the outset, but that didn’t stop us from having great fun and making the most of the day.
We played Wolf and a skins game on both courses, which kept everybody (somewhat) mentally into the rounds for the duration. I’m glad we got to play both courses, and were more than pleased with the overall experience at Oxmoor Valley. And yes, I want another crack at these tracts under drier, more player-friendly conditions.