Travel mailbag: What are Alabama’s best public courses not on the RTJ Trail?

The 17th at FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms.

The 17th hole at FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms.

Michael Clemmer

Welcome to GOLF’s Travel Mailbag, a weekly, interactive series in which members of our staff field your course- and travel-related queries. Have a question for a future mailbag? Tweet us at @golf_com.

I’m new to Alabama, aside from the Robert Trent Jones Trail, what are some of the best courses in the state that I can realistically play on a weekend getaway? — @HotSprots via Twitter

Hey HotSprots. New York without the Statue of Liberty. Paris without the Eiffel Tower. And Alabama without the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. As your question indicates, it’s hard to think about public-access golf in ‘Bama without thinking about the RTJ constellation, which today consists of 468 holes at 11 sites around the state. But those courses are far from the only options. And seeing as you’re keen to go off trail, as it were, a couple of recommendations come to mind.

The first is Kiva Dunes, in Gulf Shores, which anchors a resort of the same name. Inspired golf design all starts with the land, and former U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate was given a fine site to work with here, replete with white sand dunes and natural lakes, all within shouting distance of the Gulf of Mexico. “Links-like” is a well-worn term that drives some persnickety architecture buffs batty. But it applies to Kiva Dunes, in the lilt of the terrain and the raw sandy areas and the ever-shifting winds. Conditions are kept to a high standard, and the course itself is reliably good fun.

A caddie at Bandon Dunes.
Travel mailbag: What do I need to know when playing golf with caddies?
By: Josh Sens

Our second recommendation is thought by many to be the finest public layout in the state. If you were a turf-grass scientist (we’re going to take a risk and assume you are not), you’d have good reason to have heard of FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms, a golf course that doubles as an agronomical research center. It’s a great place to geek-out over grass varieties. But we’re also confident that you’ll dig the golf. Designed by Hurdzan-Fry Environmental Golf Design, the course is tucked into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, in a tranquil setting, on land with just the right amount of movement: lots of compelling shifts in elevation, but nothing that comes remotely close to being goofy. And as you might imagine, barely a blade of grass is out of place. The course is part of a nearly century-old family business. It’s also an amenity to a welcome resort with an amiable inn, cottages and cabins — ideal for the weekend getaway you asked about.

Hope that helps, HotSprots. And good luck settling into your new home state. Before long, you’re going to know the local golf scene far better than we do, so please keep us posted on any of your finds.

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Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.