The Robert Trent Jones Trail doesn’t require new, vocal advocates – they have created enough of them in 17 years of operation. It’s like being a Crimson Tide cheerleader…you don’t need to generate enthusiasm – the fans are already convinced that the team is good! 

But out of the 11 sites with 26 courses there is one that demands attention (pom poms are optional) – the Judge – part of a 3 course complex in Prattville, not far from the state capital, Montgomery. It commands respect and does not abide contempt. Gavel to gavel, it’s a masterful design using all the available natural features with a few manufactured ones to make it an even more spectacular experience.

Judge Course at Capitol Hill Golf Club

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When you play the Judge, choose your tees wisely and there’s a variety to pick from. We play orange, with one exception. Go back to the tips on the first hole…that will help launch you into your round. Get the full effect of standing on the back platform looking out over what awaits you. 

It’s a 415 yard par 4…straight downhill from the tee. Even a poorly struck shot looks majestic from this aerie. The ball appears to float out over the green strip below, before gravity and spin take control. With swamp to the left and the Alabama River to the right, finding the mown grass is harder than it first appears. Even the slightest deviation is magnified on the ball’s way to earth and your second stroke might easily be your third shot. 

I often play the Judge’s front 9 in my head when I’m having trouble sleeping – like counting sheep but with more intensity. It’s a memorable layout – each hole has a distinct character – but as part of a complete design. 

The 4th is a difficult par 5. Find the grass between water and a well-treed crevasse off the tee, then keep avoiding the penalty area on your next 2 shots. Approach the narrow, 2-tiered green with care. You need to carry the mounds above a 30 degree slope that will lead an errant shot into the lake.  Take par on this one, enjoy a birdie, leave eagles to the pros. 

The 6th is a true island green set into the river and 7 is an immense par 5 over and along more water with a green protected by a marshy penalty area. But, the adventure doesn’t end there. The green slopes sharply back to front. I had a birdie putt one time, 30 feet below the pin and I almost made it, only to have it stop its forward motion and come back down, past my feet, off the green and into the marsh.

From the back tees the Judge is more than 8 thousand yards, which includes a 700+ yard par 5 to open the back nine. When you’re done make plans to play the linksy Senator (where the LPGA have played a few times) or the Legislator which is an often disjointed, eclectic mix of holes that’s still enjoyable and challenging, but without the obvious identity of the other Capital Hill courses.

If you’re up to it take a run, as my friends and I did, at completing the entire trail. We hit the wonderful 27 hole Cambrian Ridge site in out of the way Greenville…one time following a tornado that snapped massive loblolly pines into tragic bits and pieces. Silver Lakes is another 27 hole layout whose nines live up to their names: Backbreaker, Mindbreaker and Heartbreaker. 

In Opelika (home of Auburn University) there’s the Grand National Lakes and Links. Over in Muscle Shoals (home of the Swampers, of Lynard Skynyrd fame and where the Rolling Stones recorded in 1969) you can play the Schoolmaster and Fighting Joe.  The 12th at Fighting Joe is a 716 yard par 5 which I couldn’t resist playing from the back, just once. My drive made it just past the white tees. Two well-hit three woods, the second mostly over water, put me in the bunker just below the green. It was up and down from there for par! I took that ball right out of play and it sits on a shelf in my library as “best par ever”.

From Huntsville in the north to Mobile on the Gulf Coast it’s an amazing adventure. It took us 6 years to complete the RTJ Trail, after which we celebrated with champagne at the Lakewood clubhouse. If you’re up for a golf odyssey give it a shot and judge for yourself.

What’s in the bag?

Club TypeScott’s Club of Choice
Driver:Callaway Epic Flash driver – 65g Mitsubishi stiff shaft
Wood(s):Callaway Rogue 4 wood 
Hybrid:TaylorMade burner rescue (3)
Irons:TaylorMade RSI2 irons 4-gap wedge
Wedges:Ping Glide wedges – 54
Ping Glide wedges – 60
Putter:Odyssey White Ice*
*found in the deep grass – yes I was looking for my ball – about 40 yards off the 6th green at Oklahoma University golf course – must have been quite a toss! Tried to turn it in at the clubhouse but they told me to keep it – been using it ever since

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