Timberline Golf Course
By Ian Thompson
Ever driven down I-65 going south from Birmingham toward Montgomery? If so, and it would be hard to imagine many Alabama residents who haven't, then you would have seen the old Buxahatchee Country Club to your left plainly visible from the interstate just past the Calera exit.
Buxahatchee CC is no more, replaced by Timberline Golf Course, a Jerry Pate-design built for developers Larry Clayton and Randy Goggans. Pate continues his trend of top courses with Timberline, a rolling layout punctuated by numerous hardwoods.
Timberline is set to open in mid-April and will be a semi-private facility.
Jerry Pate obviously has real good ties to the Alabama market and we knew he would design and build us a good golf course, Clayton said. People know his name and we were impressed when we went to look at Limestone Springs, Ol' Colony and some of his other courses.
I saw a lot of Limestone Springs in the design; certainly a fine course in its own right.
The property encompasses some 300 acres and will include over 160 residential lots. The membership initiation fee will be $8000, with dues around $200 per month. Daily fee play will also be available.
The name Timberline is easily explained.
All the big timber and huge hardwoods on property led us to this name, Clayton said.
You simply cannot recreate such terrain and mature trees and it must have been a pleasure for Pate to work with this property.
I was pleasantly surprised at the scope of the property. At first look from the interstate it appears fairly flat. But get into the guts of the golf course and the holes flow up and down and traverse slopes on a regular basis.
A full-gauge railroad runs through the property, providing a unique feature. Once used to haul timber, it is now operated on a very limited basis as a tourist attraction. You cross the line to play Nos. 8-10 and it runs alongside the next four holes as well. It is never in play, even from the most wayward of shots, but it does provide quite a fun talking point. Initially I thought the line from Timberline referred to the railroad, but Clayton professed to not thinking that deeply; referring instead to the lines of trees found throughout the golf course.
The location of the course is a very strong one. Birmingham is growing more and more toward the Helena-Pelham-Alabaster-Calera area and Timberline is smack in the middle of this expansion. The next course of note further south on I-65 is all the way to Prattville (the Trail's Capitol Hill facility) and north of Timberline is Oak Mountain State Park Golf Course. A 10,000 square foot rustic-style clubhouse is on tap, and the course will be operated from a temporary facility until it is ready.
Let's take a look at the golf course. Tif Eagle bermuda greens will be tended to by course superintendent Bill Wilson, who has worked at Pine Tree Country Club and Tannehill National. The course will be a par 71, with five par threes, playing to 6841 yards from the back tees.
The first hole is a fine opener. Face water, fairway bunkers and trees and it's only your first swing of the day, but it is not as intimidating as it sounds. There are five tees to choose from and the further back you go, the more potential trouble there is to clear. Take par here and be pleased with a solid start.
After the short par 3 second, face the long par 5 third. This runs parallel to No. 1, with a creek and trees dividing the holes. Fairway bunkers will be very much in play on your second shot on what will definitely be a three-shotter. They are staggered first to the left and then to the right. Avoid them at all costs to leave a good look at the two-tiered green which sits jutting out into the same lake as is in play on the first hole. Bunkers long and left will catch an errant shot.
Head to the fourth hole and the course takes on an entirely different character. This long par 4 (450 yards from the tips) plays even longer as it is substantially uphill. A cluster of fairway bunkers to the left will make it a three-shot hole should you fall foul of one. Even a good, straight drive will leave a challenging second shot to the raised green, which must be the biggest on the course.
Next comes a feature of every Pate course: a drivable par 4. Think of No. 2 at Ol' Colony; No. 13 at Limestone Springs, etc., etc., and now there is No. 5 at Timberline. Just 305 yards all the way back, the hole flows downhill and then back uphill to a smallish green. Far from a walkover, this hole is, however, a legitimate birdie chance.
After the downhill par 4 sixth and par 3 seventh, cross the railroad tracks to get to the majestic par 5 eighth. This hole instantly became one of my favorites on the course. Played through a low lying area of timberlines with a creek lazily flowing down the right side, favor the left half off the tee. The fairway gets quite confined as the creek cuts into toward the left, finally crossing in front of the green as it meanders over to the left side. A lone pine tree stands sentinel near the green guarding approach shots from the right and makes the hole into a three-shot par 5. The creek was beautifully utilized by Pate as he fitted this hole around this natural feature.
Play Nos. 9 (a short, sharp dogleg to the right par 4) and 10 (a par 3 with five tees stepping downhill) before crossing back to No. 11, another fine, and long, par 5. Played through a valley, this hole has a fairly narrow fairway, and features a blind second shot to be fitted between two bunkers to leave a short iron third. The green fits well with the hole as it is also long and narrow. Also long and narrow are the railroad tracks which stretch along the left side of the hole and beyond past holes to come.
The twelfth is a fine par 4 with elevation changes again featured prominently as you tee off downhill. Choose the right half of the fairway as a bunker and rough terrain await to the left. Then you will face a good length second shot to a green which is fitted beautifully below a hillside.
No. 15 is the final par 5. This is probably the only par 5 where you have a decent shot at reaching the green with two blows, but you need to be able to work the ball from right to left on both shots as the hole moves in this direction. Tee off over a pond, which shouldn't be in play, and over a cross-bunker, which could well be in play, and then make your choice, if you are able to avoid three more fairway bunkers, of going for it in two or not. The raised green is tucked away to the left and will be a tough target to find.
No. 17 is a well-designed, short par 4. One of the few holes on the course requiring a lay up from the tee, as a creek crosses the fairway at the point where most tee shots hit with a driver would finish. Hit a long iron to the corner of the dogleg and face a short iron steeply uphill to the raised green, with four bunkers fronting it.
Move to the final tee and you are greeted with two things: the constant buzz of traffic as it whizzes by on I-65 and the prospect of one heck of a finishing hole. Don't get me wrong, the traffic is not so close that it would put you off your shot and what a great advertisement for the golf course. Also adjacent to the 18th tee is the expansive driving range and short game practice area.
This is a long par 4 with trees on either side. The hole doglegs to the left, but you must hit a good ball to get far enough down the fairway to get to the corner of the dogleg, leaving a clear look at the green. Bunkers on the right side of the corner of the dogleg are your aiming point from which to work the ball right to left. The huge green sits next to a lake to the right, with two bunkers to the left. All this adds up to make your approach shot very demanding. You will face a long iron, but there is very little room to run the ball in, so an aerial approach is really your only option.
So concludes my look at what is sure to become a much talked about and much played addition to the local golf scene. Jerry Pate has once again delivered a top-notch golf course. I can't say fairer than that.