For decades, Birmingham, Alabama, was defined by smoking iron and steel foundries, college football rivalries and civil rights–era turmoil. Recently, however, this historic city in the foothills of the southern Appalachians has undergone a revitalization. A new generation knows Birmingham for its growing medical-research and banking industries, for its innovative restaurant scene and for having some of the most adventuresome golf in the South. The Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort, just outside of town, has in only two years become the crown jewel of the state’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. With a mountainous eighteen and a central location, it’s an ideal place to stay on a buddy trip. Several other sporty courses lie within an hour’s drive, and even closer are Birmingham’s bustling Five Points South section and the only Porsche driving school in North America.
Bold Birmingham Golf
Trip Planner: Birmingham
Everything about the Ross Bridge course ($90–$125; 205-949-3085, rtjgolf.com) on the Robert Trent Jones Trail is outsized—it stretches to 8,191 yards from the tips—but there are multiple tees and most of the long holes play downhill. The layout feels like an amphitheater, with some holes soaring to lofty heights and others plunging down. Also in Birmingham is the even more vertiginous Ridge Course at Oxmoor Valley ($40–$62; 205-942-1177, rtjgolf.com), an original stop on the Trail. A recent renovation tempered some of the layout’s more severe greens but not the breathtaking rise and fall of its opening holes. FarmLinks Golf Club ($125; 256-208-7600, farmlinksgolfclub.com) is a Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry design southeast of Birmingham that doubles as a turf-grass laboratory for superintendents. The course explores every aspect of its 3,500-acre site, spilling over prairie-grass meadows, through pine corridors and even off cliffs. At Limestone Springs ($60–$89; 205-274-4653, limestonesprings.com), northeast of the city, the theme is seclusion: The Jerry Pate–designed course runs through an idyllic wood along a slender valley floor bracketed by mountain ridges.
Central Alabama’s first destination resort, Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa (from $179 per night; 205-916-7677, rossbridgeresort.com) is an imperial 259-room hotel modeled after the Fairmont Banff Springs. Among other amenities, there’s a cocktail deck overlooking the pool— the perfect place to kick back with a beer after a round.
The decor at Dreamland Bar-B-Que (205-933-2133, dreamlandbbq.com) is modest and the lines are often long, but the ribs speak for themselves. The smoky whole or half racks at this beloved joint come slathered in a wonderfully tangy sauce. Upscale Highlands Bar and Grill (205-939-1400, highlandsbarandgrill.com), in the entertainment district known as Five Points South, has earned national acclaim for its skillful use of local ingredients. The stone-ground baked grits with ham, mushrooms, thyme and Parmigiano-Reggiano are exquisite, and the hopping bar is one of the best around.
If you don’t own a Porsche, here’s your chance to drive one. At the Porsche Sport Driving School (888-204-7474, porschedriving.com), racecar drivers will coach you in the high-speed maneuvering of a 911 Carrera, a Boxster or other model along the 2.4-mile, sixteen-turn track at Barber Motorsports Park. Packages are available through Ross Bridge Resort. Also take a tour of Rickwood Field (800-742-5966, rickwood.com), America’s oldest ballpark, opened in 1910. The former home of the Negro Leagues’ Black Barons, it’s a restored time capsule, complete with advertisements on the outfield walls in vintage styles from the 1920s through the 1950s.