This is the fourth part in a series where the Sand Mountain Reporter’s Sports Editor, Ron Balaskovitz, attempts to take on the hardest holes at each of the area’s five golf courses.
Located just outside of downtown Albertville, Big Spring Lake is a rolling, tree-lined golf course that requires accuracy both off the tee and on approach shots to the green, with trees lining the fairways on over half the holes, and small, sloped greens that make second shots a challenge.
Measuring in at 6,108 yards from the back tees and with no bunkers on the course (Sidebar, but the irony of living in a region called Sand Mountain and three of the five courses not having sand traps on them is not lost on me), Big Spring Lake does not require you to be a long hitter to take the course on, but places a premium on hitting the ball straight, and then testing your putting with smooth greens that feature plenty of slope despite their small size.
“What really makes Big Spring Lake unique is the size of the greens,” new course General Manager Marsh Mundee said of the course. “There’s not much there, so you have to be precise in your approach shots.”
Hole 2, 410 yards, No. 1 handicap hole
The second hole at Big Spring Lake plays as the longest Par 4 on the course, and with a tree-lined right side, is a frightening tee-shot for those who might slice the ball or play a fade, especially when you add in the handful of trees down the left side that take away a possible bail out area. From there, the fairway goes gently uphill to one of the larger greens on the course, that features a back to front slope that gets steeper the closer you get to the front left edge and is guarded by trees to the left side of the green.
Lucky for me, I tend to draw the ball of the tee, placing my drive right in the middle of the fairway and 147 yards from the hole, and leaving me a 9-iron approach in. With a back left pin position, my approach found the middle of the right side of the green, leaving me around 30 feet to the hole and an uphill put that broke about two feet to the left. A good lag left it inside of a foot, and a tap-in for a routine par.
Hole 15, 154 yards, No. 3 handicap hole
Four courses in and we finally have our first Par 3 the series. While the scorecard reads 154 from the back tees, on this particular day the tees were pushed as far back as they can go and my rangefinder saying it was playing 171 yards, while slightly uphill and into a breeze. What makes 15 a challenging shot, is that like almost every hole on the back nine to this point, it is tree lined. Hole 15 features a tight chute from the tee to the green that leaves almost no room to draw or fade the ball in, and leads to a green that is slightly crowned in each direction, sending mishits careening away from the putting surface.
Playing 171 yards and slightly into the wind, I elected for the wrong club, pulling out a 7-iron that I struck well, but was hit by a wall of wind on the way and came up around 10 yards short of the green, a bad spot to be with a front pin location on the crowned surface. An OK chip shot settled about 10 feet past the hole, leaving me a slightly downhill, slight left-to-right breaking putt that I left on the front lip, settling for a bogey four.
Hole 17, 293 yards, No. 2 handicap hole
Ask any worker or frequent player of Big Spring Lake where the round stands out and it’s holes 16, 17, and 18, or as locals call it, “The Loop.”
“What really makes or breaks your round here is 16, 17, and 18,” Mundee added. “All three of them go over the water, it’s not a lot of length, but it requires precision.”
Hole 17 plays as the toughest of those three closing holes, despite measuring in at less than 300 yards. The first two shots on the hole are as difficult and as tempting as any on the course. The pond ahead sits about 220 yards away from the back tees, and long hitters could try and clear the pond at around 280 yards, but there’s OB right and long of the green. For those who lay up short of the pond, it requires distance control and accuracy. Houses line the right side of the fairway, and you can only hit your drive about 200 yards before a steep hill of fairway leads down the pond. The closer you get to the water, the more awkward your stance is for your second shot, while leaving it farther back off the tee gives you a flatter lie, but a longer shot over the water, which leads to a relatively simple green that gently slopes from back to front.
With the tee slightly elevated and wind at my back, I opted for a 6-iron for my drive, placing it in the left side of the fairway, and giving me a second shot from 97 yards where the ball was above my feet and sloping down towards the water. But a solid gap wedge put me less than six inches over the green on the back fringe, where a lag putt to two feet led to a tap-in four and another par.
For the three hardest holes on the course: Three fours for two pars and a bogey on the way to a round of 78.
Big Spring Lake is open year-round and features a putting green as well as a 200-yard practice hole. The course also features a full-service pro shop with new clubs, balls, and apparel available, as well as a banquet hall, deck overlooking The Loop, and a lounge that features food and a full bar. For more information, call the pro shop at 256-878-4403.
EDITOR’S NOTE: At the moment, Big Spring Lake has two temporary greens on holes 11 and 13 as part of an on-going restoration and improvement of the course.