“Robert Trent Jones is an evil man.” – Vicki O.
Highland Oaks is on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Dothan, Alabama. There are 27 holes, plus a 9-hole par-3 course. I played the Magnolia and Highlands nines, which
was named by Golf Digest as the 7th best new public course in America in 1994 and 31st in their list of America’s Top 50 Affordable Courses. This combination was also named by Golf Digest’s "Places to Play" as one of the nation’s Great Value courses.
The greens on the Magnolia course are all elevated, in the style of Pinehurst #2, with closely-mown slopes going down to the fairway, or collection areas, or a lake (on 9). Each hole is interesting, and unique. No flat, boring, up-and-back par 4's here. The grass on the greens is similar to that on the Crossings course at Magnolia Grove, in that the grain always seems to grow downhill.
The Highlands course has the hardest pair of par 3's I've ever played, or seen on TV. Only the 12th and 16th at Augusta National come close, and the ones here are longer, and downhill, and exposed to the wind off the lake. The 4th is 256 yards from the tips, with water by the green in front and back and on the left. I played it from 181 yards, and did not aim for the green. Nevertheless, during the downswing, my unconscious mind screamed “DON'T GO LEFT”, which triggered an electrical storm of nervous system impulses, driving the shot another 30 yards right of the green. The 40-yard chip shot was over two large mounds to a green sloping away toward the water. Short-sided, of course. Another involuntary spasm left the first try halfway to the green. The second chip was stuck perfectly, but suffered from a lack of concentration and preparation, and broke an unanticipated 15 feet. I was uncharacteristically sanguine about my double bogey.
The 6th is the signature hole, the peninsula green, 206 from the tips. Fully 50 yards longer than the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, but, to be fair, a somewhat larger green with a much larger trap in front. I'll spare you the details, but it was another double bogey without a penalty stroke. It was while approaching this green that Vicki gave her opinion of Robert Trent Jones. You have to know that Vicki has never played golf, but has accompanied me a few times and we have watched golf together on TV. After the round we discussed why the various clubs have numbers, and what they mean. So, as you can see, her opinion was insightful far beyond what her golf experience would afford.
Just to set you up for these two holes, the third is a 457-yard dogleg left par 4 with the lake on the left all the way, like the 18th at TPC Sawgrass. Except that the tee shot is over the lake to a fairway that runs at an angle, like the 18th at TPC Scottsdale, where the farther left you go the longer the forced carry. I parred that one (from 414 yards).
If you're ever in Dothan, Alabama, this is one not to miss.