When you stand on the first tee of The Judge, the featured course among the triumvirate at Capitol Hill, Montgomery stand in the near distance. The state capitol, so deeply inscribed in national history, lends its name to our first stop on the RTJ Trail of golf courses. The Judge, The Senator and The Legislator are the three, full-length courses that occupy the Prattville acreage. On this Saturday morning, we teed off early on The Judge, had lunch in the clubhouse, then played an afternoon round on The Senator. After a brief segment on items stuck in my craw, we’ll move on to a visit to each course.
Items stored in the back of my mind
The courses extend to nearly 8000 yards each, demonstrating the forethought that professionals would one day eclipse the standard lengths of previous generations;
It’s interesting to note how bunkers are valued and disparaged. On The Judge, so much water borders the fairways that the sand stands sentinel, to protect wayward balls from a watery terminus. In contrast the hidden bunkers on The Senator, the resort’s ode to the links courses of Ireland, Scotland and England, are the featured hazard, and are often guarded by high walls of turf;
The entirety of The Judge sits well below Capitol Hill, and weaves it way amid tree-lined fairways. Although the wind impacts to a degree, it pales in intensity to what is felt up top, on the land where The Senator was carved;
We all reach for driver, because we paid a lot of money for it, and we want to show off our perceived strength. When visiting courses for the first time, discretion is more valuable than strength. If your score matters, if you don’t have an endless supply of golf balls, keep your driver covered and reach for a long iron or fairway metal. Get the ball in play, and save the howitzer for wide-open spaces.
Judging The Judge
Too many cheap allusions to the courtroom, so little time! The Judge sentenced us to yet another double-bogey…The Judge offered no leniency…Everyone but The Judge may be seated. After we had dispersed with these formalities, we set to the morning’s task of negotiating our way around the resort’s feature layout. Opening tee shot aside, The Judge resides in the palustrine, below the hilltop.
The key to this course is understanding modern golf course architecture. In the RTJ Senior era, golf took a turn away from the ground game, toward an aerial approach to … well, approaches! Drives, too. A great deal of usable land had been used up, so owners and builders were compelled to use land that was not entirely suited to the ground game. What resulted, was a tendency to route tee shots over ravines, ponds, creeks and (when these weren’t available) bunkers and wastelands. Approach shots were required to carry over similar impediments, often to putting surfaces located atop ledges and rises. As if that weren’t enough, many of these greens introduced splines that violently separated segments. Putts had a tendency to move away from the center, toward edges. If those edges were sloped enough to compel the ball far off the green, frustration would rise.
When you play The Judge, be sure to play to your strengths. If the short irons are your go-to clubs, lay up when necessary, to ensure the proper approach distance. When putting, look for the place you would like to hit your next putt, and figure out a way to get to that place.
A Trip to the Isles on The Senator
It’s no secret that a resort has cache when it has the ability to build and maintain a course that emulates the conditions of the auld sod, of the linksland from which the game sprung. Unlike The Judge and The Legislator, which lie in the bayou below the Capitol Hill, The Senator sits completely atop the bluff, exposed to the winds of the area. Amid its rows of constructed mounds, firm fairways lie, often with a run-up option for the approach shot. Despite a reputation for building courses of a parkland style, the team of RTJ and Rulewich was up to the task on this occasion. The afternoon of our visit featured a howling wind, plus dry and firm conditions. As a result, we were able to play a variety of shots into landing areas and greens. These included knock-down irons that ran like drivers, bumps from outside 60 yards with hybirds and irons, and even putters! With the exception of the 17th hole, a tricked-out, low-rider of a hole that, quite frankly, doesn’t fit the course, every shot that you see in an Open Championship each July, could be played on this afternoon. At some point on our front nine, we were startled by the far-off below of a boisterous steam whistle. As it turned out, the source of the whistle was the hotel nearby, where a gin whistle from the Continental Gin Company sits atop the Marriott. Its purpose is to call out to guests, to let them know that food and beverage are ready for purchase.
The Senator is a terrific round of golf, either as a stand-alone tour, or as a complement to either of the two lowland courses (Judge and Legislator.) The bounces and rolls of the firm fairways offer the opportunity to hit the shots mentioned above, so don’t be shy about trying a new approach from 20, 30 or 40 yards out. When you come to the penultimate hole, all we can say is, they had to get around these ponds somehow, so you have a very un-linksy moment, before returning to this style, to close out the round.