Best of Birmingham 

By Alice and Danny Scott

While Birmingham beams with some of the best golf courses on the Robert Trent Jones Trail, best breweries, and best distillery in the state of Alabama, its Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum might top the whole list. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and man’s need for speed, whether planes, motorcycles or cars crosses endless boundaries. Barber invested an initial $80 million in his Motorsports Museum to showcase the history of premier cycles and cars, then turned it into a nonprofit.  Every imaginable concept machine is brilliantly displayed inside with a bridge to the Indy 2.38-mile racetrack outside. The roar of engines draws visitors to watch or experience the thrill of racing one of these magnificent machines. You could spend days marveling over the cycles and cars that the Beatles or other famous people drove or strap on a helmet and get ready to race.

For a thrilling golf cart ride, head to the original course of the RTJ Trail. On Oxmoor Valley Golf Club’s Ridge Course, 17 holes deliver dramatic elevation elation. Make sure to hydrate for hiking the hills as many of the greens have almost flat faced sod slopes to climb. Efficient and friendly beverage cart service delivers that hydration and libations. The hills make the course seem longer than actual yardage, but the forward tees have a very generous advantage which many men should consider, just saying. The Valley Course also begins with a high tee box for a drive diving into the valley, then meanders through woodlands, crossing creeks and returning with an ascent back up to the grand clubhouse with a wraparound veranda and signature southern rockers for reflecting on the round with a toast. At the conclusion, this monster of a course will elicit either “never again”, “let’s do over”, or “let’s play every day” sentiments.

Oxmoor Valley is just three miles from The Renaissance at Ross Bridge, nicknamed The Castle for its spired architecture. Rooms are spacious with balconies, so ask for a view of the course for a treat of nature. Golf is the focal point of the resort where starter Joe is happy to recite his tips for maneuvering holes throughout the Ross Bridge Course. What makes him happier is his perks for working two days a week. He plays any course on the RTJ trail for just $10 and receives 30% off meals, merchandise, and hospitality. The RTJ Trail successfully finances the state retirement system and Joe has worked it well into his retirement plan. Ross Bridge is a magical and majestic setting between the castle, bridge, and replicate grist mill which could be grinding grits or cornmeal for the crispy tortilla on the Huevos Ranchero with Chef’s special red sauce at the breakfast buffet omelet station.  Along the woods’ edge by number one’s cart path, a hawk was feasting on his own breakfast the day we played. While The PGA Championship was in progress at Southern Hills, these hills played like a paradise. On the nearby railroad tracks, the sound of the chugging train reverberates through the woods like a percussion section for the symphony of birds and insects. Flowering bushes emit fresh scents, and every angle of the course delivers golf’s best photo ops. If you can’t recall Joe’s tips along the way, a QR code on the cart facilitates downloading the app for yardage, score keeping, tee times, and more.

After golf, relax by the pool with a soothing waterwheel spinning falls or spend time in the adjacent spa where a friendly attendant offers a tour, locker instructions, and a complimentary glass of wine or champagne. The Jacuzzis and steam saunas are some of the best in the land.

Dinner time is signaled by a kilted bagpiper makes his rounds from the golf practice area to the pool, blowing his pipes daily. Dining is up to par with the superior golf at Brock’s restaurant with a full-service menu. After dinner, enjoy live music in the bar.

If spirits move you, take time to check out the Dread River distillery which is housed in a 110-year-old bank building. Co-owner Jeff Dugas is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in knee, shoulder, and elbow with Andrew Sports Medicine, serving clients like Drew Brees. Jeff’s first degree was in chemical engineering where he paid close attention to the science of distilling. He then went to medical school which he says is the toughest thing. His network connections through the years led the way with partner John Cubelic to create what is now the number one distillery in Alabama. At the start, “scope creep” escalated to an $8m investment right before Covid hit so they made sanitizer that smelled like tequila and gave it all away. Now business is booming. The tour is impressively filled with American Dream story details and the distilling equipment is artistically arranged. Best, of course, is the tasting of their bourbon, tequila, or vodka.

If you like beer better, Back 40 Beer Company brings new meaning to beer garden with plenty of outdoor space to play or relax and expansive indoor event areas with a stage, projection screen and live music. The gourmet pub food satisfies all palates to complement the many beers on tap. With Back 40 and all there is to experience in Birmingham, you will want to be back shortly. www.rtjgolf.com