You’ve heard all about Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail — the massive collection of golf courses, all in one state, with a seemingly endless supply of golf holes. You’d love to check out The Trail for yourself but probably don’t have a month you can take off to cover all 11 sites and 27 courses? If you’re like most of us, you’re lucky if you even have a week. Which raises the question: Where would you begin?
We can relate to being overwhelmed by the unknown, but we think it’s a big mistake to put any Alabama golf trip on hold. So we’re here to help with the latest in our series of shorter itineraries that hit not just The Trail but the best courses around it. And this time we’re targeting Montgomery as our arrival and departure point — and showing you how incredible of a golf run you can create in just five days.
Make Your Way to Montgomery
However you get here in the morning, you can start a great little five-day loop with an afternoon round at Capitol Hill in Prattville. Ideally you’d take on the Scottish-links style Senator Course first, the most forgiving and wide-open of the three championship designs at Capitol Hill. “Most forgiving” doesn’t mean “easy,” as the course features more than 160 pot bunkers and mounds topping 40 feet. Plus, as a special point of interest, The Senator is actually the host course for the LPGA Tour’s Guardian Championship and the Korn Ferry Tour’s RTJ Golf Trail Championship. It’s a pretty prestigious place to open your trip.
For convenience sake, have dinner in the clubhouse and book some nights at the Montgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel and Conference Center at Capitol Hill adjacent The Senator course and dine at the exceptional Oak Tavern restaurant. (Point of fact: For this itinerary, you can actually book the same hotel for all four nights if you’d like. That’s certainly how we’d do it.)
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Donut and Golf Holes
It’s a simple 56-mile drive down to the Robert Trent Jones site at Cambrian Ridge either via Interstate 65 or Highway 21 (check for traffic). There’s a Krispy Kreme 1.1 miles from the hotel in Prattville (don’t ask how I know) for something tasty and cheap for breakfast. That sweet treat is the precursor to another treat at Cambrian Ridge where 36 holes come at you in the form of four nine-hole routings — one of them a Short Nine. (Do NOT skip the Short Course!) The Canyon and Sherling nines feel more like target golf, loaded with plenty of tough shots, whereas the Loblolly nine is more rolling and “Augusta-like.” The Par-27 Short Course has water in play on five holes and so much more beauty than you’ll be ready for — just like the entire facility does, for that matter.
Return to the hotel and you’ll find plenty of restaurant options in the area with literally dozens of chain restaurants (fast food and more formal) all along Cobbs Ford Road. If you’ve been following along on this Alabama Itinerary Series you know I’m a sucker for great barbecue, and in Montgomery my favorites are Mrs. B’s, K & J Rib Shack and Fat Man’s Smokehouse. If you’re a fellow BBQ-er, go with whichever of those is most convenient to your path and schedule.
The Dothan Drive
On a five-day trip, Day 3 is perfect for The Dothan Drive. It’s a two-hour trip southeast to Dothan, but well worth it for another 36-hole Robert Trent Jones Trail facility at Highland Oaks. Because this back-and-forth means four hours in a car, we understand that not everyone will want to do it. In fact, if you don’t have time for five days, this is a day that some MIGHT cut. But please don’t. Highland Oaks is another cool place like Cambrian Ridge that has four nine-hole courses with one of them a Short Course. And when you’re an “RTJ Trail veteran,” you don’t pass up chances to play these great 36-hole sets. The Short Course is yet another visually stunning collection of 3-pars, and the other three nines (Highlands, Magnolia and Marshwood) cover some pretty dramatic turf. Dothan definitely delivers.
If you left the hotel at 7 a.m., you’d get 36 holes in and still probably be back at the hotel before 7 p.m. (even with a stop at K & J Rib Shack on the way), and considering the affordable package deals you can build through the RTJ Golf Trail’s concierges, you’d be remiss to overlook it. Plus, if you follow this plan, you’ll be playing 36 holes right outside your hotel room tomorrow, so ONE day of driving isn’t that bad.
Step Outside and Swing
So the other two RTJ Golf Trail courses at Capitol Hill aren’t literally outside your hotel door (like The Senator, at the Marriott) but if you’re staying at The Marriott, they’re a convenient shuttle ride away. And while the other 36-hole days will feel pretty easy in comparison to the 36 holes you play today, these two championship routings would BOTH be marquee courses in most states. There are many memorable tee shots on the RTJ Golf Trail, but unquestionably one of the most stunning is the opening tee shot on The Judge — oh that view! I’d suggest playing The Judge as early in the morning as you can because it’s a serene and cooler (temperature) round then. You can flip it though, do The Legislator first and not really miss anything. Either way, both courses are high on visual impact, loaded with elevation changes and challenge, and are rounds that will drain you of energy and golf balls. You won’t want to get in a car and go far for dinner tonight, and fortunately you won’t have to — thanks to the convenience of Cobbs Ford Road.
Stay and Play
For practical purposes we’re going to assume you can catch a late flight home or drive off into the sunset. We’ve got 27 more holes in Montgomery that you really should play. And because we’re all about variety being the spice of golf life, these 27 aren’t on the RTJ Golf Trail. Lagoon Park and Gateway Park are a pair of Troon-managed properties in northeast and southwest Montgomery, respectively, worthy of being held in the same esteem as the great Trail playgrounds. Lagoon Park is an 18-hole Charles Graves design (1978) only 17 miles east of Capitol Hill. Gateway Park is a nine-hole, par-32 executive course 12 miles south.
What I love about saving these two for last is the flexibility they afford any travel schedule. If you have to jet out early, you can play Gateway Park and leave. If you only have time for 18, you can just play Lagoon Park. And (best-case scenario) if you have all day, you can play all 27 holes. Both courses are fair, fun and pretty easy — a great way to end any Alabama golf trip.
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For more information about the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, visit RTJGolf.com, and to learn more about golf and travel throughout Alabama, visit GolfAlabama.org