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Fore! Alabama towns ranked No. 1

Myrtle Beach, S.C., has more golf holes per person than any other city in the nation, and Orlando, Fla., is the home of Tiger Woods. But two towns in east Alabama have them both beat for those who like to tee it up.
Caleb Miles, of Pinehurst, N.C., hits to the third green while playing a round of golf Aug. 17, 2005, at Auburn Links in Auburn, Ala.Rob Carr / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Myrtle Beach, S.C., has more golf holes per person than any other city in the nation, and Orlando, Fla., is the home of Tiger Woods. But two towns in east Alabama have them both beat for those who like to tee it up.

With at least seven good public courses that charge modest fees, Auburn and neighboring Opelika are an oasis of pure putting bliss in a state that has become a nationally known destination for inexpensive, high-quality golf.

Sure, anybody can go to California and play the renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links, but a round with a cart starts at $425. North Carolina's famed Pinehurst No. 2? That'll be $375, please.

But 18 holes with a cart is just $55 in the summer at the acclaimed 54-hole Grand National layout in Opelika, and the most expensive course around, the semipublic Auburn University Club, is advertised at $75 tops.

It's that blend of low prices and carpet-like fairways that Golf Digest cited recently when it ranked Auburn and Opelika - with a combined population of 67,000 - as the nation's No. 1 spot for public golf. They beat out 329 other golfing cities large and small, including Myrtle Beach (14); Orlando (73); and Augusta, Ga. (36).

The average green fee in the Auburn-Opelika area is $38.33, according to the magazine, and the warm weather means 269 playing days a year. Can anyone stand that much golf?

No, none of the Alabama courses have the reputation of Pebble Beach or Pinehurst, site of this year's U.S. Open Championship. And Auburn's popular municipal course, Indian Pines, will never be mistaken for Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y.

But for the money, Golf Digest decided nowhere in the United States was better for a long golfing weekend than Auburn-Opelika, which is better known for college football than doglegs. The magazine ranked cities on the basis of the number of courses available to the public; weather; and the quality of courses.

Local boosters are trying to make the most of their golf courses, which they view as a nice complement to the area's other big draw, Auburn University.

"It's a college town, and those are the two things that are really marketable for us - the university and golf," said Robyn Bridges of the Auburn-Opelika Convention & Visitors Bureau.

John Karabasz, head golf pro at the $39-a-round Auburn Links at Mill Creek, said his course - just seconds off Interstate 85 and about 40 miles east of Montgomery - draws players from all over the region.

"I moved here seven years ago and just couldn't believe the prices for the quality of golf that is around here," he said. "What sets it apart is the number of quality courses in the area."

Jackie Maness didn't have any competition when he began running Auburn's first public golf course, Pin Oaks Golf Club. "When I bought Pin Oaks 33 years ago it was the only (course) here aside from the country club," he said.

Everything changed in 1992, when the state pension system built Grand National, part of Alabama's popular Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Soon it seemed like as many people were coming to Auburn for golf as for football.

"Really, all over the state, the Robert Trent Jones courses have helped promote golf because of the exposure they've gotten," Maness said. Another Alabama city, Gadsden, was ranked No. 9 nationally.

Maness still runs Pin Oaks off U.S. 29, but it's strictly a beginner's course these days with rough fairways and greens to match for $21 a round. While public golf in Auburn may have started at Pin Oaks, it's not included in the magazine's list of top courses.

But just up the road, Auburn Links stays busy with a challenging creekside layout that's been called one of the best public courses in the Southeast.

If you go:


AUBURN LINKS AT MILL CREEK: 826 Shell Toomer Parkway, Auburn, Ala.; or (334) 887-5151.

ROBERT TRENT JONES GOLF TRAIL AT GRAND NATIONAL: 3000 Sunbelt Parkway Opelika, Ala.; or (334) 749-9042.

MOORE'S MILL GOLF CLUB: 1957 Fairway Drive, Auburn, Ala.; or (334) 826-8989.

SAUGATCHEE COUNTRY CLUB: 3800 Bent Creek Road, Opelika, Ala.; (334) 749-3441.

PIN OAKS: U.S. Highway 19 South, Auburn; (334) 821-0893.

INDIAN PINES: 900 Country Club Lane, Auburn, Ala., (334) 821-0880.