Fighting Joe's Remarkable 5th and 9th Holes


Hops'in Along the RTJ Golf Trail:

A Birdies and Brews Tour in Northern Alabama. (Part 1)

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.


Muscle Shoals: Birthplace of the Blues


Tucked in the northwest region of Alabama, the twin cities of Florence and Muscle Shoals are bisected by the Tennessee River, grand in size and mighty in scope. A rich native history lies along the banks of the river and with the building of the Wilson Dam as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the cites became a prominent hub and a major river crossing. A rich recording history is celebrated in this corner of the state, with a long and storied list of recording acts having produced countless hit albums and singles here.


Our first stop in town was a new addition to the local scene. The Singin River Brewery was the first craft brewery to stake a home in The Shoals and has quickly become a fixture in the community. Located a few blocks from downtown Florence, Owners Rob and Michelle Jones have created a local beer identity and provided locals with a terrific gathering spot to share tales and soak up some delicious brews. Quickly making a name for itself with top-quality and award winning beers, Singin River features three staples: Ipocalypse Now is a strong hopped IPA with a blast of flavor, Swamper, named for one of the bands that helped develop the area's rich music heritage, is a flavorful robust porter, while Handy's Gold is the signature blonde ale, clean, crisp and very drinkable. A variety of seasonal brews can be found in the casual taproom, with a well stocked fridge waiting for your order to fill the take home flat.


360 Grille at the Spectacular Marriott Shoals Hotel


The beautiful Marriott Shoals hotel in Florence was our home for the evening. A partner hotel with the RTJ Trail, the resort is built adjacent to the Wilson Dam crossing with a gorgeous view of the Tennessee River. The 192 room, seven suite property offers a  luxury stay and play package with The Shoals Golf Club. Well appointed rooms and an array of amenities greet you with a warm and welcoming feel. A menu of favorites can be enjoyed at Swamper's Bar and Grille in the hotel lobby. Featuring live music and the option of a casual dining experience on the terrace is perfect for a quick bite.  The spectacular 360 Grille offers a more refined dining option while revolving high above the city. The breath-taking view of the river and the city, along with the extensive menu of steaks and hardy entrees, will make your visit a most memorable. visit hotel website


The Golf: Situated on a  point jutting out from the southern bank of the Tennessee  River, the facility is home to a pair of challenging courses; Fighting Joe and The Schoolmaster. Opened for play in 2004 and 2005 respectively, The addition of the Shoals, along with The Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham, brought the number of courses on the RTJ Trail to 10.


Named for General Joe Wheeler, the only person to hold that rank in both the Confederate and American Armies, The Fighting Joe course is a blend of windswept links styling routed across and around vast ponds and lakes and it was the first of the RTJ Trail collection to pierce a beastly 8000+ from the tips. Gently rolling over the landscape, the forgiving fairways offer a generous target, while the greens are spacious yet undulating making the work with your flat stick critical to score well.  


Schoolmaster's Creative 15th

The signature par 5 17th is a beautiful example of risk / reward design, created with an accessible green tucked behind a large pond, should you be fortunate to find the landing area short of the pond with your drive. The other standouts  are the fine collection of short holes. The 5th hole presents an elevated tee deck overlooking a vast pond with the target green site protruding into the watery abyss. The lengthy 9th crosses the same pond; this time the target is larger in the shape of a 4 leaf clover and framed by a gigantic oak behind. The 13th plays over water to a green fronted by a buttress wall and wrapped by a pair of expansive bunkers. The layout end with a heroic short hole that demands a deft touch to traverse the deep swale falling steeply to the shoreline of the river. Overall the Fighting Joe course is a very playable, yet challenging provided you pick a modest set of tees for your abilities.


Outstanding Short Holes


The Schoolmaster, opened in 2005 and although built on the same footprint of landscape, has a considerably different feel to the routing, which exposes itself on the first hole. Typified with more elevation change the routing places more of a premium on shot-shaping and precision than the brawn needed to tackle sister track. Still pushing almost 8000 yards off the back decks, The Schoolmaster is more of a tactical test, presenting more doglegs and tighter corridors. The 5th is a dogleg right offering a wide fairway leading to a green fronted by a long forced carry over a pond and row of oaks overhanging the right side. The 8th veers left off the tee and again demands a delicate approach over water to a tricky shallow green. The back nine contains another duo of delicate driving holes with a pair of notable finesse par 4's gracing the scorecard. The beautiful 14th plays out of a chute of trees to a fairway at the base of a steep hillside slope on the left. The approach plays slightly uphill and requires an extra club to clear the fronting pond. The final hole has a wealth of options. Playing uphill all the way, the dogleg right hole tempts you to take on the fairway bunker to shorten the hole. Whether a conservative or aggressive drive is the choice, the second shot is blind to a high perched green.


As we found out on our visit to The Shoals, this northeast quadrant of the state offers much more than playable and challenging golf at the RTJ complex. Both the Fighting Joe and Schoolmaster were solid additions to the collections and to our itinerary.  Adding in a stay at the Marriott Shoals hotel and learning about the area’s historic musical roots while sampling tasty brews in Florence made the visit that much more memorable.
































Fighting Joe : Par 72

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Schoolmaster: Par 72

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Singin River Brewery Signatures