TROON ALABAMA – Honours To Be Here

By E. Nolan

A month ago we broke a huge announcement at Tee Times. Troon – one of the nation’s elite golf management companies was adding Alabama’s Honours Golf Management Company to its family tree. And so it went down. Honours Golf is now a division of Troon.

That’s the equivalent of the Yankees taking over all Red Sox operations – except that Troon and Honours always got along… splendidly in fact. And now that they’ve joined fan bases, the employees and golfers of this sports empire share the same opportunities, the same profits, the same perfect company. It’s a storybook ending that’s only just beginning.

Troon now manages over 250 golf courses worldwide – their best are mainstays on all of “America’s Best” lists. Troon’s fingerprints are everywhere. They have a tendency to merge with the better and make them the best. That’s precisely what they’ve done, and what they are doing, in Alabama.

Over the past four months we’ve covered the supremacy of Honours Golf in Alabama. In capping this series I wanted to take the reader back through the best of Honours operations – through the signature tracks of this prestigious portfolio that’s now in Troon’s front pocket.

If you read the parallel series I wrote on Golf Gulf Shores for this magazine you’ll be impressed to know that all five of my favorite Gulf Shores courses were Honours properties. (More on that later.) They are ALL Troon Honours properties. All told, the Honours division of Troon represents and manages eleven Alabama golf facilities.

Cherokee Ridge is the northernmost property, located in Union Grove. The semi-private Sammy Dean design incorporates the rolling Appalachian foothills smoothly into its routing, benefitting as well from the existence of a stunning 17-acre lake and an incredible 80-foot waterfall that cascades into Lynn Creek on the back. With good reason Cherokee Ridge uses the natural beauty and a handful of awesome Par 3’s as its claim to fame. The views from the clubhouse are enticing, but it’s the experience along the many rock and wooden wall-lined water features that leaves the lasting impression.

Highland Park is the oldest golf course in Alabama, originally opened as the Country Club of Birmingham in 1903. With views throughout the course of the Birmingham skyline and a history that includes one of Bobby Jones’ first victories – at age 14 – the traditional parkland layout is a popular draw for metro golfers. This 5,800 yard, Par 70, course is a quick round with water and elevation changes on every hole.

Cider Ridge Golf Club in Oxford is considered an extension of Birmingham. Alabama based Bill Bergin Design turned a former apple orchard at the base of Mt. Cheaha – Alabama’s tallest mountain – into a nearly 7,000 yard, Par 72, romp along the Talladega National Forest. Tree-lined fairways, rolling hills and two creeks with fantastic names – Choccolocco and Little Hillabee – were cleverly wrapped into the design.

NorthRiver Yacht Club in Tuscaloosa is the only Alabama piece in the Honours portfolio that is private. The social, golf, tennis and health club sits on the banks of Lake Tuscaloosa, and for all those reasons is a great source of Crimson Pride. PGA legend Gary Player designed the original course in 1978 and two decades later another architectural legend touched it up – Bob Cupp.

The capital city of Montgomery hosts two Honours courses, the 9-hole Gateway Golf Course and the highly acclaimed Lagoon Park – earning its merits on Golf Digest’s Top 100 list for years. Both are public access, high value rounds for every age and skill level of player. Gateway Golf Course also has a Learning Center focused on growing the game and allowing newly acquired or tuned skills to be applied on the property’s 3,000-yard layout, before taking on the big dogs.

And then we return to the Gulf Shore area. For all the rolling punches provided by the courses from Montgomery on north, it’s the beauties near the beach that deliver the knockout blow for Troon. (Back to my earlier statement.) Five of the best public golf courses in Alabama’s entire coastal region are Honours Golf facilities – with only the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s courses at Magnolia Grove and Point Clear as legit competition. That’s as significant a statement as significant statements go. Kiva Dunes is one of them – a Stay & Play mecca for the golf traveler looking for a coastal golf experience (the only beachside resort in Alabama) at a great value. You can step off the course into luxurious comfort or onto warm white sandy beaches. Kiva was designed by a namebrand architect – U.S. Open Champion, Jerry Pate and is annually in the conversation for Alabama’s best golf course, with the RTJ Golf Trail’s Ross Bridge in Birmingham and Farmlinks in Sylacauga.

Another Major winner and talented golf designer, Arnold Palmer, has two phenomenal routings near the Gulf, at Craft Farms – his only two signature courses in Alabama. Both Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend have regularly been rated 4.5 stars by Golf Digest, and each caters to opposing sets of strengths. I consider Cypress Bend to be a Top 8 course in Alabama, which given the quantity of quality golf in this state is no less than a great testament. It is beautiful, with water realistically in play on fifteen holes.

Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club in Gulf Shores is another Troon Honours thrill-ride, with 27 magnificent holes from the mind of the “Chancellor of (course) Carving” – Mr. Earl Stone. I’d never heard of him before my first Gulf Shores venture eight years ago, but he made so much of this Bon Secour Wildlife Preserve property that I immediately sought out his other designs and was thrilled to find that the last Honours Golf Club I’m featuring in Alabama – Rock Creek – is also one of his designs.

Rock Creek is a stellar experience from first tee to 19th table – a buffet of mind-blowing creativity and fun. (Has to be Mr. Stone’s greatest architectural achievement.) What he did with the relatively flat land in the Gulf Shores area to create so much movement and elevation change on his course is beyond remarkable. There are so many picturesque views and golf holes scattered throughout this property, if I could play only one of the Troon Honours courses again, I think it would be this one.

Honours Golf was always very selective about the properties they worked with. CEO Bob Barrett’s “expectation of excellence” was beyond the gold standard at most properties – inside and out. He came from Augusta National and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail having acquired the knowledge of what makes those entities so great and he applied that to his team’s management of the above-listed facilities.

That hands-on management philosophy has always assured and provided an emphasis on Southern Hospitality, fantastic playability and course conditioning – thrilling golf experiences that follow you home. With Troon now adding its marketing and managing horsepower – their own national brand of excellence – it only furthers the potential of each property and exponentially rewards the golfers wise enough to visit them… and fortunate enough to play them.