The Takeaway: Easily the most compelling public golf course in Alabama, the Judge at Capitol Hill is a ride you won’t soon forget. With one of the most dramatic opening holes in golf followed by one testing shot after another, the Judge holds court on your game and will sentence those that aren’t up for the challenge. It may not be everyone’s flavor, but I loved the Judge course and you’d be amiss to leave it off a visit to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Grade A-
Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 2000
Cost: $65.00 and up depending on the season Click for current rates
Phone Number: 334.285.1114
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Capitol Hill (Judge)'s official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 2600 Constitution Avenue, Prattville, Alabama 36066 – UNITED STATES
Accolades: Ranked 2nd in Alabama by Golf Course Gurus.
What to Expect: Like Wolf Creek in Mesquite, Nevada and Tobacco Road outside of Pinehurst, North Carolina that are known for their extreme layouts, the Judge course at Capitol Hill on Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is a course patrons tend to love or hate; and I love it. The tone is set early with a dramatic opening tee shot that descends 200 feet to the fairway below and is flanked on the right by a lake. It is by far the most photographed hole on the RTJ Trail and has even been used as a backdrop for wedding photos. The course never lets up with the layout testing every aspect of your game by challenging players with forced carries, fast greens, and shots of all lengths. In fact, the variety of hole lengths and shapes is exceptional with nearly 75 yards difference in length between the longest and shortest par three, over 100 yards difference between the longest and shortest par four, and over 150 yards difference on the par fives. In addition, there is a completely balanced number of holes that move left and move to the right as well as excellent balance in what direction the holes run; exactly what you want for shot variety when the wind is blowing. The par threes and par fives are particularly memorable although they could be too challenging for high handicappers due to some of the forced carries, especially if they aren’t playing the right tee box. The routing does not return to the clubhouse after front nine and water comes into play on the majority of the holes, though the last two holes are two of the weaker offering on the property. The low lying location with lake water everywhere can make it difficult for the course to drain well so the fairway conditions are often soft and divots easy to take. Lastly, virtually everyone plays the course in a cart and the clubhouse is very classy, especially for a public course, with spot on service. It is a bit shocking the Judge isn’t featured on major publication Top 100 public course lists as it is certainly one of the best public access courses in the South.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 1st Hole – 415 Yard Par 4 – The most famous, and photographed, hole on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the opening hole at Capitol Hill's Judge course is an absolute jaw dropper. Plummeting nearly 200 feet off the tee to the fairway below, the dramatic opening tee shot can get player's knees knocking with their very first swing. Gun Island Chute flanks the right side of the hole and lies in wait to swallow wayward tee shots while the left side is framed by a tree line. The approach shot plays to a deep but skinny green fronted by a 40 yard long bunker that can present some challenging par save scenarios. As an opening hole, this is nearly as difficult as it is scenic, and is one heck of an opening statement by The Judge.
Best Par 3: 6th Hole – 229 Yards – If you think hitting the island green at TPC Sawgrass’s famous 17th hole is hard with a pitching wedge or 9 iron in your hand, how about hitting an island green with a long iron or hybrid in your fingers? Well, that is exactly what you face on the 6th hole at the Judge. Fortunately, this green is the largest on the course so you have maximum forgiveness on the putting surface, but you also have nowhere to bailout outside of the green. A large bunker flanks the front left which can actually save you from worse trouble if you find it, but then you still would be facing a sand shot to a green with nothing but water beyond it; not a time to blade one. A substantial tier goes across the green and creates a tongue in the front third while the remaining contours can create some quick three putts if the hole is near one of the crowns. The collection of par threes on the Judge are fantastic and this one is easily one of the best on the entire RTJ Trail.
Best Par 4: 11th Hole – 478 Yards – A classic risk/reward situation where being bold off the tee is rewarded with an easier approach shot. The fairway is split into a left and right side by a pond with the left side being a bit more narrow and requiring a longer carry to reach, but is handsomely rewarded with an ideal angle to the green and takes the bunkers on the right side of the putting surface out of play. A 275 yard carry is sufficient to reach the left fairway from the back tee, so if you are playing a more forward tee box the carry becomes less substantial and increasingly enticing. The angle of attack from the right side is tough with two large bunkers fronting the green and a tree line behind it. Players that properly execute the risky left side will triple their chance at getting a birdie.
Best Par 5: 7th Hole – 675 Yards – A three-shot for virtually all mortals, the 7th is a lengthy hole with water flanking the entire right side. The tee shot needs to carry 245 yards to clear the water separating the back tee from the fairway while the bunker on the left side will be out of reach unless you are playing further up. The water carves in from the right side to completely front the putting surface which places a premium on distance control once you are in a position to attack the green. The large green yields numerous pin placements but the once place you don't want to flirt with is a front pin as a false front can quickly whip balls off the putting surface and down to the drink. Stay to the left throughout this hole to eliminate most of the trouble and yield the greatest opportunities for success.
Birdie Time: 18th Hole – 358 Yard Par 4 – The Judge course at Capitol Hill has the chops to host a U.S. Open, but the logistics would be a nightmare trying to get people, TV equipment, etc. down from the clubhouse to where the course sits. However, if they did host an event of that magnitude, they would surely switch the nines for the tournament and have a more challenging finishing hole than what the 18th offers. With long, difficult holes at every turn, this is your chance to finally exact some revenge on the Judge. At just 358 yards from the tips, the 18th is a 3-wood and flip wedge away from yielding a great look at birdie. The green is elevated and the waterfall next to it is some nice eye candy, but ultimately this is a scoring opportunity that shouldn't be passed on. Don't get too aggressive off the tee; a long iron or fairway wood up the left side is plenty to open up the angle to the green which will give you the green light to go flag hunting.
Bogey Beware: 10th Hole – 711 Yard Par 5 – This is not a typo, 711 large yards separate the tee box from the green and you only have five strokes to hole out for par. The bunkers simulate a military march with the first located on the right, then the left, then back to the right, then finishing at the left where the lone greenside bunker resides. Players need to plot along between the dense tree lines before attacking one of the smaller greens on the course where an irregular shaped bunker tries to thwart player’s plans. The hole is fairly straight and flat overall so there is no cutting off yardage, you just have to endure the lengthy journey and hope to not make any mistakes.
Recommended AccommodationsMontgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel & Conference Center at Capitol Hill - Unquestionably, the place to stay when visiting the course's at Capitol Hill is at the onsite Marriott. The large facility can handle virtually any sized group and the rooms are classy while also paying tribute to the golf with a different mural on the back wall of each room. Rooms offer views across the golf course's at Capitol Hill and are the perfect way to start each morning.
In addition, the onsite restaurant (Oak Tavern) features Southern food that is sure to please while enjoying your stay in Alabama. Phone: 334-290-1235