RTJ Golf Trail at Grand National: Links Course (Opelika, AL on 04/28/16)

We grabbed a bite to eat at the grill and headed out for our afternoon round on the Links Course. Not having seen any of the course before, I was expecting a links layout given the name. It took me a few holes to figure out that isn’t what we’d be getting! Actually, there isn’t anything “linksy” about the Links Course, although that doesn’t make the course bad as it continues the great setting at Grand National. I say this just so you don’t expect a layout like the Senator Course at Capitol Hill.

Most of the Links Course requires you to play the ball in the air and there are multiple forced carries. There is a little more elevation change (compared to the Lake Course) and the Links Course has the same basic routing as the Lake Course, just on the other side of Lake Saugahatchee. You are going to face your share of uneven lies here too. Over half the holes have the lake in play with great views while the others play through the woods nearby. The middle section of holes (#8 through #13) have some target golf features and seem to be where the bulk of the trouble lurks.

We played the Orange tees which are 6574/71.5/127. Compared to the Lake Course, the Links Course should be slightly tougher. However, I didn’t think that was the case! To be honest, I’m surprised the PGA Tour doesn’t play on the Links Course because there wasn’t as much pressure here to hit perfect drives. I like being able to find my less than perfect tee shots! The fairways on the Links Course are wider and, for the most part, were inviting. The bunkers were staggered at different distances throughout the course, unlike the Lake course where all seemed to be 225 to 245 yards. I noticed the same thing around the greens, that I could choose to play 40 feet away from the flag or even miss the green and let my short game save a par.

I’m not saying that the Links Course is easy though. There are forced carries, mounded greens that fall off, and greens that sit on peninsulas in the water. For a high handicap or someone who plays the game along the ground, it is going to stress their game. I played great as a 6 handicap and still lost three balls, but all of those lost balls were deserved. Considering all the trouble around, I’d say that the Links Course is worthy of being called “fair”.

I’d like to do a hole by hole review, but because of time I’ll just be highlighting a few. The 4th is a mid-length par 4 that plays from an elevated tee. It doglegs left around the lake and you can hit driver, to be as aggressive as you’d like, or layup off the tee. I actually got a draw to work and smashed a drive down there leaving just a short iron into the green. Had I blocked it right, I still should have been able to find the ball but I would have had a long way into the green. The green is guarded by the water on the left too. The 6th is a short, but probably controversial par 5. My friend and I didn’t think it was a good hole because the layup area is occupied by a swamp. It is a forced carry to the green over the swamp. The layup area narrows and angles to the left so it seemed that laying up with a pitching wedge and leaving a 9 iron into the green is the best play. I like options on a par 5 and this one felt forced onto the property.

A little deeper into the round is the 9th, a brilliant par 3 with a peninsula green in the lake. The green complex slopes off into the water. The deeper you try to get the ball into the green, the longer club you have to hit and the higher your chances of finding the water will be. In some cases I’d intentionally miss the green short! The final hole I’ll mention is the 18th, which is one of the longest par 4’s on the course. The fairway is one of the narrowest ones and there are forced carries on the drive and the approach. I hit it in a fairway bunker and decided to layup short of the lake, leaving ~125 yards for my third shot. The green angles from front right to back left and drops off over the back into some rough that is below green level. You need to hit a good drive and second shot if you want to have a chance for a two putt par!

Besides enjoying the design of the Links Course better, I also enjoyed the conditions more. The improvement here wasn’t drastic but I’d certainly give the edge to the Links Course on the maintenance. I’m not exactly sure why it was in better shape. Maybe it was later in the day or maybe the Links Course is on a higher part of the property, but it wasn’t as squishy as the Lake Course. The grass looked a little greener and fuller and the greens didn’t wobble like the they did on the Lake Course. The greens were still a touch slower than they looked, but I didn’t have any trouble running home a few 15 footers. For what it’s worth, the breaks in the greens are subtle considering all the ridges and tiers in them.

We caught a break with the weather and the storms stayed away until after our round. “After” being the key word! As soon as we put the flag back in the cup on the 18th and started walking towards the carts, the horns sounded for lightning! The Links Course was my favorite at Grand National because I felt like I had a chance to score with good shots. My bad shots got a bad result, as they should, but in most cases I wasn’t penalized for an average one.

#1 (396 yard par 4):

1-1

#2 (509 yard par 5):

2-1 2-2

#3 (182 yard par 3):

3-1

#4 (409 yard par 4):

4-1 4-2

#5 (375 yard par 4):

5-1 5-2

#6 (499 yard par 5):

6-1 6-2

#7 (446 yard par 4):

7-1

#8 (319 yard par 4):

8-1 8-2

#9 (170 yard par 3):

9-1

#10 (326 yard par 4):

10-1

#11 (195 yard par 3):

11-1

#12 (500 yard par 5):

12-1 12-2

#13 (378 yard par 4):

13-1 13-3

#14 (422 yard par 4):

14-1 14-2

#15 (467 yard par 5):

15-1

#16 (152 yard par 3):

16-1

#17 (402 yard par 4):

17-1

#18 (427 yard par 4):

18-1 18-2

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