Trail Saddle Sore

“Keep playing them… it adds to our retirement fund” is how four members of my family responded to Rob and me during two different dinners this weekend. The Retirement Systems of Alabama owns the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in the state of Alabama. Rob and I gave over a $1000 to the Retirement Systems of Alabama this past weekend and all we have to show for it are sore golfing muscles (arms, hands, back, and legs) and golfer sunburns… oh, and a lost credit card… which the Hampton Cove golf course (Huntsville, Alabama) grill is supposedly mailing me. Never be in such a hurry to run from a golf course that you forget your credit card on the bar.

Rob and I attempt to go on golf weekends a couple of times a year. Rob is a good golfer. I am Rob’s entertainment… my golf game is highly humorous and Rob likes to laugh. As with all our golf trips, this was a whirlwind event that was planned to be golf first and everything else second… including visiting my parents and other family members. When it is a whirlwind of golf first weekend… my game becomes a whirlwind of comical shots and a running commentary of the assholeness of golf course architecture. Rob plays whirlwind golf, I play his funny bone.1

The weekend started on Thursday night with me flying out of Reagan National in DC and Rob out of Houston Hobby. We were both to arrive approximately 9:30/10:00pm in Birmingham, Alabama. I arrived on time, Rob was 30 minutes late. We flew home at 6pm on Sunday. Like all of our golf weekends, the weekend was a mix of pain and fun… but even the pain was entertaining. The following is the observations that I made during our trip, some of them are universal to Rob’s and my golfing, some of them are specific to the courses we played, and some of them have nothing to do with golf… but still interesting.

Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is the largest golf course construction project ever attempted. The Trail is a collection of 468 holes of championship golf on 11 different” courses. Rob and I, on two different trips, have played 99 of those holes. The Wall Street Journal states that the Trail “may be the biggest bargain in the country” and The New York Times called the Trail “some of the best public golf on Earth.” If you can get supposed conservative and liberal media to fawn about it… then it must really be a good thing. We, however, don’t suggest trying to play 81 of the 468 in one weekend though.

Upon arrival to the Birmingham airport, I was amazed to see so many smokers. Outside baggage claim was a haze of cigarette smoke. I commented on this observation on Facebook… but had to caveat it with the “pot meet kettle” because I was standing out there with all the smokers with a giant dip of Skoal in my lip. Seems I am not the only one who wonders “aloud” about cigarette smoking and socioeconomic groups. I got to enjoy this haze of smoke while I waited on Rob to arrive… his last text prior to taking off from Houston was “20 min delay… fucking Houston.”

Finally, I was tired of waiting in the smoker fog and wandered over to the rental car counter… we had a reservation for a standard SUV. Rob and I like to ride in style when we go on golf trips, plus you need a big ride for two sets of golf clubs. Honestly, we both like looking like old white golfers who have nothing better to do than rent big rides. We are practicing for the day when we are really old and demand others get out of our way as we slowly move down the highway to our next tee time. Our ride ended up being more pimp that old white golfer.2 The keys to a tricked out 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee was what I was handed. As I meandered down the rental lot I spied our ride. It was white with silver trim. The interior was leather, it had GPS and satellite radio… we were either going to look like old white golfers or two guys on the prowl for hookers and blow. The front dash resembled the control panel on a Lear jet… thankfully Rob was copiloting, so I didn’t have to attempt to figure anything out while driving. One complaint though… whomever rented this vehicle prior to me had a serious case of the “coolness.” The previous driver seemed to think that the driver’s seat needed to be programmed for a 60% backwards tilt and they must have had legs the length of a giraffe… it was way back from the pedals. Every damn time I cut the engine and exited the vehicle, the seat would move to this pimp posture. It was so laid back that it took almost a full minute for the seat to get in a proper position for my tiny ass frame. Needless to say, we were definitely more pimp that old white golfer.

Rob stumbled from his plane around 11pm and I picked him up at the terminal in the pimpmobile. He gazed in amazement when I punched the automatic back door opener, and we giggled as the Jeep made a space shuttle hatch “swish” sound as the door opened and closed. 21st Century golf weekend meet 24th Century Buck Rogers. Golf clubs and bags were stored… Rob worked the GPS and we rolled into the quiet Birmingham night in search of our hotel. Thankfully, IHOP was along our route and we kicked the weekend off right by scarfing blueberry pancakes at 11:45…. eating food bad for your body is the traditional golf weekend fare. By 12:30am we were settled into our hotel room… no we didn’t share a bed, but we did fall asleep with ESPNU playing women’s SEC softball tournament games. I had visions of thick legged college women soft tossing me pitches as I stood in the batter’s box in helmet and sans clothes… the weekend was starting nicely.

We were loaded and on the road by 7:30am… golf weekends are about golf and sleep (and everything else) is secondary. The first course for the weekend was Oxmoor Valley’s Ridge and followed by an afternoon round on the Valley course. “Roller coaster fairways, heavy tree cover and precipitous 150-foot elevation changes” doesn’t accurately describe this hell-of-a-ride golf course. No even lies… the golf ball was either above our feet or below them. Tee shots gracefully arched into blind fairways… ground cover obscured errant balls. Uneven greens caused balls to roll at odd angles as we stumbled from cart3 anticipating another 3 putt. We were fortunate though, we were joined by Steve and Lisa. This couple was awesomely entertaining… they were our age and not fat or angry. Lisa was playing her first round of full 18 holes and I asked Steve if he was purposely punishing his wife… he said no, but I’m not so sure. For the record, Steve ended up buying all the drinks (bourbon) on the course because he ended up shooting his best game ever… 74 on the par 72 course. At the end of the round, Rob and I thanked Steve and Lisa and moved on to the Valley course.

We were paired with Steve (son-in-law) and Jim (father-in-law) on the Valley course. The Valley was less hilly than the Ridge course… but was marked with a lot of water and bunkers. Numerous lateral streams caused me consternation… hitting “good”4 tee shots resulted in me having to fetch a number of wet balls. Unfortunately we were only able to play 9 holes on this course… so we aren’t sure how well we would have scored… but we did leave totally amazed by Jim who was a 76 year-old beast of a long ball hitter. He was a tiny gnarled old man who swung a 1980s women’s driver… and whacked the ball a good 300 yards. His swing was one of those golfer’s attributes that is the result of decades of swinging a club and realizing you don’t have to swing hard to swing long. We marveled at his drive… we also had to watch his ball for him… 76 year-old men have really bad eye sight.

After 27 holes we piled back into the pimpmobile and rolled north to my parent’s farm in Fayetteville, Tennessee which was 2.5 hours away. Once we saw the giant “penis”5 at the Alabama-Tennessee line we knew we were close. To get to my parent’s farm, you turn off of I-65 when you see the “Boobie Bungalow” sign… yep it’s a strip club that sits in the middle of nowhere. Rob didn’t like my suggestion of stopping because he feared that the outside of the BB reflected the “beauty” of the dancers. The BB looks really shitty and sad… no one wants to see shitty and sad strippers. He is probably right, and as I stated earlier, our golf weekends are about golf and never include strip clubs.

Once we arrived at my parent’s farm, we quickly sat down to a dinner of grilled chicken, green beans (from my dad’s garden), grilled radishes (from the garden), corn bread, and my mom’s loose-bowl-inducing but delicious mac-n-cheese. Over dinner we discussed my parent’s impending 50th wedding anniversary (June) and I asked my dad what was the secret to such a long marriage. He smiled and replied with “give me another piece of your mother’s corn bread.” He was either avoiding the question or implying that to his heart was truly through his stomach… regardless, my mother laughed and the subject was dropped. After dinner we sat by a fire… one that my dad just built in the front yard.6 Between sips of bourbon,7 Rob and I laughed at my dad’s subscription to Barnyard Poultry… old issues were used to start the fire. The best article we could tell was “What does all those feathers mean?” Not sure if this was referring to your poultry loosing their feathers, or that certain feather configurations mean different things… who knows… but the article sounded interesting. Following this we stumbled off to bed… Hampton Cove in Huntsville, Alabama was calling our name at 8:30 the next morning.

Saturday morning around 5am, Rob and I were awakened by the movements of my old parents… old people rise early after falling asleep at 7pm. My dad is incapable of watching the morning news without the volume jacked to ear-splitting level, and my mother is incapable of not yelling at him about the volume. We chuckled at them as we drove to our next tee time in a morning drizzle.

Rain or not, we were going to golf… fortunately the drizzle stopped and the sun came through to properly sun burn us. Lightening is the only thing that will drive us from the golf course. Hampton Cove has two courses, one is the River course and the other is the Highlands. We played the River course and it is completely devoid of sand bunkers, instead it has water hazards on 16 of the 18 holes. If I thought I was tired of getting a ball wet the day before… Saturday morning was spent with me feeding the big bass of Huntsville golf ball after golf ball. We were joined by Eric and Eric, two local guys who enjoyed watching Rob and I consume bourbon after bourbon. Here is what a golfer looks like after consuming a lot of bourbon and attempting to hit his ball from a muddy water hole:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rob showed a little more style by at least attempting to do it pro golfer style:

 

 

Fortunately, the Highlands course didn’t have a lot of water (nor did we have anyone else join us… so no one watched us consume a little more bourbon), and we finished 36 holes for the day a little mud covered and slightly sunburned… even though the day had started with a drizzle. The golf weekend was in full swing and we were showing the wear and tear that made us smile.

At the end of Saturday, we once again piled back into the pimpmobile and headed back to Birmingham… we had our last round waiting for us the next morning. We rushed back down I-65 and did the traditional Cracker Barrel stop and gaped at the amount of people who patronizes CB no matter the time of day. Who doesn’t want old style ‘cool’ drinks and peppermint candy sticks after eating a pound of fried meat?

The front desk clerk at our Birmingham hotel smiled oddly at us. I was covered in dried mud and carrying the next day’s clothes in my arms… my golf travel bag seconds as my suitcase and I didn’t feel the need to carry the big thing in. If we hadn’t been dressed in golf clothes and staying at a hotel that serves Trail golfers, she probably would have thought I was some ugly male prostitute with his sunburned John. Once in the hotel room we showered off the day’s mud and grime and then quickly headed out to the Fish Market to meet a cousin and her husband for a late dinner. My cousin and I talked over each other about how our family talks over each other. Rob and her husband just looked at us… we, as a family, are entertaining that way. After a beer and dinner we stumbled back to our hotel looking less like a hooker and his John and more like tired golfers. Once again we fell asleep with college women’s softball playing in the background… don’t ask.

Sunday morning was cool but clear. Ross Bridge is a resort and community… it wants to be the crown jewel of the trail… instead it is a giant pain in the ass. From the tips it is 8100 yards… the fourth longest golf course in the world. The greens are slick and uneven. Robert Trent Jones truly wanted a bitch of a course and got one. It is manicured, it is beautiful, waterfalls and majestic trees are sprinkled across the course… all of this is used to suck you in and then you are bent over and taught a lesson in prison rape. This course may have been pretty… but she was mean and angry in her soul. Up and down, round and round it went… slick as glass greens were elevated and dog leg fairways beat us down. We had to stop from hurting and made ourselves enjoy the views. We weren’t playing golf… we were participating in a train wreck. We were joined by Derek and Kent… whose wives later joined them in a cart. These two ladies were nice enough to golf clap for the four of us golfers when one of us randomly made a decent shot. These claps seemed more sarcastic than the ladies meant. The four of them were there to celebrate a birthday and college graduation… the ladies’ mother had given them a trip to the resort and the round of golf for the guys as a gift… some fucking gift.

At 2pm on Sunday, we crawled away following the beat down and looked back at 53 hours of golf and smiled. It had been cold, hot, wet, muddy, bourbonly hazy, and dreamy with women’s collegiate softball. We parted Sunday evening at the airport stunned and tired… but happy. We had done 18 Trail holes a few years ago at Cambrian Ridge, now we had knocked out 81 more. “Only 369 more to go” I stated to Rob as he headed to his plane. He grimaced at me.

1. Stop it… it is a bromance, but it is not consummated.

2. While looking for a restaurant Saturday night, we got lost in a less than safe-looking Birmingham neighborhood, Rob and I started fearing that the two of us in golf shirts would be confused for guys looking to score hookers and blow instead of guys looking for a restuarant that my cousin was incapable of giving good directions to.

3. Carts are mandatory… even though Rob and I can walk and carry our bags faster than fat old golfers (in a cart) can move around golf courses… but golf course owners believe that walking is slower… thus we were forced to ride.

4. Fairly straight and fairly long.

5. A large Saturn rocket that harkens to Alabama’s connection to the space race.

6. When you live in the country on a farm you can start a campfire anywhere you want… regardless of the fire hazard. Freedom is burning shit without anyone caring.

7. This bourbon had to be at least 5 or 6 years old and was from a bottle I had stashed in my mom’s kitchen a long time ago. It had been a faithful companion for years… every visit I get a glass or two while sitting around one of my dad’s fires. Sadly, this old and faithful friend was finished off by Rob and myself.

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