Match your wits — and your nine iron — against the game’s greatest architect on 32 devilish courses in Alabama.

Golf: it is not just a pastime, it is a disease. Why do we crave this thing that bedevils, frustrates and humiliates us so? Leave the analysis to sports shrinks — the only springtime cure is to grab your bag and hit a course you have not played before. But instead of one new course, how about 32?

That is 468 holes, back to back, in 11 different clubs, pitting your game against golf’s most prolific and arguably greatest architect. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, with no more than a couple of hours of open road between courses, is the ultimate golf road trip. It would take several weeks to play all 32 courses, but the seven courses below are clustered within a short drive of Birmingham, and fit perfectly into a long weekend.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Trail, one of Trent’s masterworks and still the single largest course-building project ever undertaken.

The Trail’s history
In the 1980s, the director of Alabama’s public employee pension fund came up with a preposterous idea. He thought the fund should build public golf courses at 11 sites across Alabama and a single renowned architect — Robert Trent Jones, Sr — would design them. These golf courses would create jobs, boost the state’s tourism and help attract industry. There were a lot of doubters. But a funny thing happened on the way to the 19th hole: the idea actually worked. Since the Trail opened, the state’s tourism receipts have more than doubled and the Trail’s half a million visitors from around the world is tried for first place among tourism destinations in the state. Accolades have continued to flow for two decades — The New York Times called the Trail “some of the best public golf on earth” — while an almost Hajj-like mystique has grown up around it.

Designed near the end of Jones’s career, the Trail courses are a “greatest hits” collection of varied landscapes and challenges. At the sites in the northern part of the state, players walk along high bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River or on courses that look like the Scottish Highlands. Near Mobile Bay in the south, they play among towering oaks and magnolias on a course that looks like Augusta National. Some are parkland style with plenty of trees and broad, rolling greens while others have tight greens peppered with treacherous pot-hole bunkers. Whatever your strength as a golfer, Jones tests it repeatedly on these courses. And whatever your weakness, he will find them.

During his 60-year career, Robert Trent Jones, Sr designed or redesigned more than 500 golf courses in the US, Europe and Asia. The US Open has been held on Robert Trent Jones courses nearly two dozen times, including in 2011 and 2012. Born in England in 1906, Jones came to America as a child. He became a talented amateur golfer and a club professional, but health problems prevented him from competing as a pro. He enrolled at Cornell University, creating his own course of study, and began designing golf courses while still a student. His big break came when golf legend Bobby Jones (no relation) asked him to help design the Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta.  He is famous for challenging golfers to make smart, precise shots which earned him a devilish reputation among Professional Golfers Association (PGA) pros.

The Trail’s courses have many of Jones’s signature traps and tricks, but he thoughtfully provided as many as 12 tee box options on some holes, set at a variety of distances and angles from the fairway to let players can choose their level of difficulty.

A quick four-day road trip will give you a taste of Jones’ genius, and the Trail is one of the best values in golf, with greens fees averaging about $50 and discount packages available at the Trail’s official website.

Day 1
After a late flight into Birmingham the night before, tee it up early. The site of an annual PGA tour stop, Ross Bridge has only one course, but it is the third-longest course in the world at 8,191 yards. The layout meanders through the scenic Shannon Valley alongside two lakes and features a 90ft waterfall. For dinner, head to Highlands where chef Frank Stitt helped create the new Southern cuisine and then rest your head at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Resort & Spa.

Day 2
Oxmoor Valley
 is just five minutes from Ross Bridge, but has a completely different atmosphere. With dramatic 150ft elevation changes on the Ridge course and an 18th hole named “the Assassin” on the Valley course below, Oxmoor gets you high and low. There is an 18-hole short course — just 3,360 yards versus 6,527 on the Ridge — too. When you are done, drive two-and-a-half hours southeast for some real pit barbecue (tip: if it ain’t pit smoked, it ain’t barbecue)  at Byron’s Smoke House  in Auburn. The classic chipped pork sandwich with fried potato slices, a side of Brunswick stew and a big, cold glass of sweet tea will set you back about $10. Check into the nearby Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel at Grand National and get some rest — you have earned it.

Day 3
Jones reportedly called the 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee at Grand National the greatest site for golf he had ever seen. The Lake course has 12 holes on the lake while the Links course forces players to drive over the lake to reach the green on 18. Both courses are on Golf Digest magazine’s venerated list of the top 50 public courses in the country. When you are done, pack it up and drive 60 miles to the state capital, Montgomery. Check into the Montgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel and Conference Center at Capitol Hill, 13 miles outside of town and dine at Martin’s Restaurant  for their authentic, artery-clogging Southern fried chicken.

Day 4
Capitol Hill
, on the Marriott Prattville grounds, is nearly three square miles of golf courses , including the Judge, one of a handful of public courses Golf Magazine deemed worthy of the opportunity of hosting the US Open. The first tee soars 200 feet above the fairway and there is an island hole on 16. Jones built a big green here as a target, but the wind can make it tricky to land your ball safely aboard. If you have the time and the fortitude, the Senator will give you one last kick in the teeth with 160 of the small, treacherous pot-hole sand trap bunkers Jones used to punish inaccurate shot placement.

Once you have had all the fun you can stand, it is only a 90 minute drive up I-65 back to the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport for your flight home.