Fighting Joe Course
The start of our day early, before our departure to play the Fighting Joe course at The Shoals, was a repeat of the previous day.
That was not by accident. We ordered the same delicious breakfast, sat at the same table, sweet Lasha was again our server and Carlos came over to say good morning.
We had the opportunity to meet and speak with General Manager, Larry Bowser, who is very respected by his staff and equally respectful and appreciative of all of their efforts.
With a cool front forecast to move into the area by mid-afternoon, high winds were already prevalent when we arrived at The Shoals. This would prove to be an even bigger challenge in playing the amazing Fighting Joe. While The Schoolmaster layout is fairly undulating the Fighting Joe is a wide-open sprawling design.
I played for many years in a windy environment in the Canadian prairies and consider myself an expert of wind speed and direction.
Our new golfing friend, Mr. Russ Wilson, commented more than once about the unusually strong winds and my lovely petite wife Myra has had a few wind related concerns while golfing.
During a round at North Bellingham golf course in Washington state the wind was so intense the fiber glass flagsticks were almost bending completely to the ground.
Myra’s half zipped windbreaker acted like a parachute and a 60 mile an hour gust literally lifted her off her feet. We both chuckle about it every time we think of it.
Today was about half of that speed, but added to the challenge going into it and with it following us from behind. The golf course also has an abundance of lakes with water coming to play on 15 holes.
I absolutely love this golf course and I don’t usually choose a favorite when playing at a facility with multiple courses, but the Fighting Joe suits my game a little better than Schoolmaster.
Our starter Rex, who has lived in this area since the mid-1950s, did not need to tell us about the wind that’s for sure. This native Shoalster was a pleasant start to our round. As both courses do not come back to the clubhouse after 9, we suggest getting a fresh flat bread sandwich made to order before heading out. They are delicious and filling. Even during this quieter part of the golf season there is also on course cart service, a really nice touch.
Rex sent the three of us on our merry way and again we delighted in playing this Robert Trent Jones gem littered with many brilliant golf holes. The par 5 first hole, the very testy long par 4 sixth hole, my favorite the par 5 twelfth hole and the best par 3 finishing hole I have ever played stand out in my mind.
To my delight not only was the practice bunker completely refurbished, but the entire golf course is having all the bunkers replaced with new, bright white, silica sand.
You may remember that I stated Myra and I set very modest goals, but we had not been able to attain them yet.
A par for Myra and birdie for me had yet to be recorded in the 35 holes we have played, when we came to the 18th tee and our jaws almost hit the ground. With the clubhouse looming in the background and the Tennessee River damned to create Wilson Lake off to the right this par 3 across a small gulley is one of the finest you would ever see.
I was seeking a little bit of guidance from our playing partner Russ. He pointed out that the green sloped from left to right and that there was a ridge In the middle of the green that if your ball hit there it would then break down hill towards the flag.
Like an actor taking his cue, I hit a nine iron almost to the exact spot he directed me to. The ball landed and then started to make its way dead right towards the flag. We all watched intently as I thought this was going to be my first ace after 48 years of playing golf. I dropped to my knees as it looked like it went right over the lip of the cup. But a chance at birdie was alive and kicking.
Now it was Myra‘s turn and she took the advice from me in changing clubs. She hit the sweetest hybrid, as you could see it fly onto the green and start rolling towards the flag also coming up about 20 feet short. Her chance at par was also very much a reality.
She left her first putt about 7 feet short and after Russ made another routine two putt it was my chance for the elusive birdie. Mine was an 8 foot uphill right to left breaker, my favourite type of putt, a no doubter as they say and in it went.
Now it was Myra‘s turn and hers was far more difficult with about 1 foot a break from 7 feet away. It left the putter and was a pure as snow curving right into the heart of the cup.
What a finish, we were all thrilled and off to celebrate with a nice drink in the clubhouse bar served up by the bubbly Kelly who also took a group photo of the three of us.
I went to the pro shop to thank Hunter and also commend Director of Golf, Will Fisher, who after a spell away down at Gulf Shores has come back to work for The Trail just 2 months ago to run the golf side of The Shoals.
The professional team of Head Pro, Tim Gale, Assistants Hunter and Blair as well as the fantastic team of greens keepers guided by the talented superintendent Doug Tinkham are a formidable coalition.
We said a fond farewell to our new friend Russ and made the short 20 minute drive back to the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa.
We purposely left dining at the 360° Grille to our final night here and as much as we really enjoyed the food it was our interaction with Brian that was the highlight of the meal. On the night of his 10th anniversary working at the Marriott Shoals we enjoyed every moment talking to him about a variety of subjects.
It has been one of the most rewarding and comfortable stays we have experienced and two incredible days of golf. Add it to your list even if it’s not a bucket one.
Ross Bridge golf course here we come.
Bill and Myra Flower