Highland Hole 12- Great Risk / Reward


Hops'in Along the RTJ Golf Trail:

A Birdies and Brews Tour in Northern Alabama. (Part 2)

Posted by: Rick Parnham


Alabama hasn't always been the most newsworthy state in the union, but in recent months the state has found itself front and center in the newswire. With all the state's political wranglings, I was drawn back to a junket with one of my golfing buddies.  Having played many of the RTJ Trail sites in the past and thoroughly enjoying everyone, a chance to fill a portion of our itinerary with stops at the northern two sites located at The Shoals near Florence and Hampton Cove near Huntsville, we took full advantage. After a little research, the opportunity to add a visit to a couple local craft breweries for some local fare and bountiful brews became a must.


Huntsville: Rockets, Aerospace and a Trendy Beverage Scene

The city of Huntsville Alabama has had a little bit of everything in its past. Settled in the early 19th Century, the city can boast being the original capital for the newly formed state of Alabama shortly after its incorporation. The city is no longer the state seat of government, however it  now holds a rather prominent distinction within not only the state, but the entirety of the south. Known as "Rocket City," Huntsville is now a high tech, scientific research hub as a direct result of the US Army housing their aerospace programs here since World War II. Home to the US Space and Rocket Center, the city has a proud connection to outer space and the highly skilled citizens calling the community home. Surrounded by ridges of the Appalachian Mountains and framed by the mighty Tennessee River, this once farming and transportation center is now a highly coveted destination for business, high tech workers and as a locale along the RTJ Trail, a welcome respite for golfers as well.


The Golf: Hampton Cove is one of the original eight RTJ Trail facilities. Located over the ridgeline to the east of Huntsville, in the suburban enclave of Big Cove, the complex boasts a dynamically different pair of designs  with the Highland Course opening in 1992 and the River Course coming on board a year later. The 36 holes of championship golf combine with a wonderful 18 hole short course, providing many options on your visit.


Pushed Up Greens on the River Course: Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Hoomes

The River Course is a throwback design balking at the trends of the architectural stylings of the last part of the century. The layout is located  on a former soybean farm and was built a relatively flat parcel of land adjacent to the Flint River. The character of the design is found on the first tee, a lengthy par 4 which snakes along the pond it shares with the finishing hole. The course is devoid of any sand bunkers. Weaving amid the numerous natural wetlands and collection ponds there are only two holes that provide a respite from contending with the possibility of a watery grave. The green complexes are all pushed up akin to old school principles, narrow in places the trick is to account for enough club to find to the plateaued surfaces, while having enough spin to hold the green. The uneven lies created by mounded fairways leaves you with the feel of how golf used to be played in yesteryear. A  round on The River takes your game back to an era where the subtleties of shot making are appreciated, placing a premium of the short game on and around the greens. This may be the most unique course on the entire RTJ Trail.


The Back Nine of the Highlands: Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Hoomes


The Highland Course is a more traditional design and one that resembles more of what the rest of the Trail facilities offer. The name is derived both from the topography upon which the opening holes sit and the Scottish-links style of the design. The course opens across the road from the clubhouse and climbs the side of a ridge using the natural slopes for fairway corridors and the green sites. Framing bunkers act as targets off the tee and penal hazards protecting the opening to the putting surfaces. A great example is found at the noteworthy 5th hole which plays steeply uphill to a plateau green, tucked beside the historic mule barn still on the property from generations past. The back nine begins high atop the ridge and plummets down toward an expansive lake exhibiting a different character, lending more to the mounds and hummock lined fairways found on flatter parcels of land. A gentle blend of water holes  and a trio of holes set amongst a small stand of pines provide a challenging home side to the round.


Hampton Cove is a beautiful setting for all that is golf. Offering perhaps the most unique Trail experience with a very traditional old school design, complimenting a contemporary layout gracefully set on the natural rolling hillside, the collection of holes here are a diverse as any on the Trail. Combined with the accustomed top-notch practice facility and a fun, yet daunting short course, a visit to Hampton Cove is a fine addition to any RTJ Trail itinerary.



The Apr├ęs: Huntsville Alabama is not an a-lister on the most worthy nightlife scene, however, the craft beer culture in the city, catering to the refined palates of the high tech demographics, has taken off like one of the Wernher Von Braun rockets the US Army built at nearby Redstone Arsenal. Our evening was spent at one of the originals in the local craft beer world, Straight to Ale. Opened in 2010, they are one of the original microbreweries in the city, taking advantage of the changing laws and attitudes around local craft beers and distilling. Taking a visit to the their newest location, recently built to enhance both production capacity and the guest experience in the taproom, the brewery is a most unique must see on any visit to Huntsville. Located where some might find a bit odd, the company decided to become one of the anchors in a redevelopment of an old high school. Rather than tear down the structure and all of its history, the developers pitched an idea for a gathering place filled with fun and good eats, leading to the creation of Campus 805 complete with arcade and billiard hall.


Huntsville's Unique Taproom Experience


Straight to Ale were looking to expand and found the perfect locale inside the former gym of the school. Keeping in theme with recycling, the company lifted all the hardwood floor and salvaged all the bleachers to retool as furniture and bar tops for the sprawling taproom and speakeasy housed in the former music room. The staff are most willing to share stories of previous students and faculty returning to sample the delicious eats and extensive catalogue of tasty beers and spirits. Memories old and new of the school and now the fantastic addition to the southern craft beer scene are all part of the visit.


The lobby of the gym was expanded to create a spacious taproom experience for guests. Bright and airy the space is the gateway to both a robust collection of brews and delicious menu from the in-house restaurant Ale's Kitchen. Dave Stanley has been connected to the brewery for many years, formerly providing his delicious culinary contributions at the previous location out of his food truck. A partnership was created when the new taproom was built. Stanley, a Canadian and former IT technician, has found a perfect place to explore his passion for farm to table and locally grown menu creations. An absolute must is an order of the traditional Montreal-style poutine or perhaps a plate of the southern-style version made with perfectly seasoned pulled pork and slaw.  A range of gourmet burgers, tacos, salads, pizza and sandwiches compliment the staring attraction at the taps perfectly.


The Production Facility


Straight to Ale embraces being bold, from their brand to their beers.  The year-round staples are a milk stout, Belgian-styled dubbel and their signature Monkeynaut IPA. Monkeynaut is a tribute to all the primates used in the space program through the years. An extensive list of seasonal and limited production brews will always be on tap.  One such specialty brew is the Laika Bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout, strong in flavor and worthy of a designated driver. Delicious and devilish and the perfect fit for a place called Straight to Ale.

































The River : Par 72

Tees Yards Rating Slope

















The Highlands: Par 72

Tees Yards Rating Slope






















Mule Barn at The Highlands




















A Flavorable Flight