Capitol Hill – Judge #1
The poster hole for the RTJ trail, this hole drops 180 feet from tee to fairway, so it’s both awe-inspiring and intimidating. Flanked by the Alabama River on one side and woods on the other, it’s a tight-driving hole, beautiful and tough, earning a spot on a listing of the top five toughest starting shots in the world.
Choose the right club and the right tee and restrain yourself from the urge to hit as far as you can, because the fairway gets tighter the farther you go.
Remember that the elevation can add 15 yards of distance and keep your discipline.
Grand National: Links #18
One of the best finishing holes you’ll ever play because of the danger. If you’re short, you’re in the water; it’s plateaued by boulders and the green is elevated, so if you go over, you’re in the grass waste beyond. But it’s beautiful, crossing Lake Saugahatchee twice between tee and green.
Grand National: Lake #15
This par three has some 10 different tee boxes so players can pick their distance. The green is on an island. Unlike the usual bunker, the one behind this green can be a friend, catching your ball before the splash. Number 15 features a lovely little walkway to the green. And you might see deer, fox, turkey, even eagles.
Magnolia Grove: Crossings #18
Another great finishing hole, it’s some 450 yards from the back tee and straight uphill. There’s a nice landing area on the green, but add 20 to 30 yards for the uphill topography. It’s over water, protected on the right by fairway bunkers and leading to a well-bunkered green—a straightforward hole, but uphill.
Cambrian Ridge: Sherling #5
One of the Trail’s signature risk-reward holes, this 428-yard par four has water all down the left side. The farther left you aim, the more total yardage you can trim, but the risk is higher. Even with a great tee shot, it takes three great shots for birdie, so the best strategy here is to keep the ball in play.
Oxmoor Valley: Ridge #3
Another great risk-reward shot, the beauty—and the trouble—are off the tee. The fairway gets really narrow, the farther you bite into it. If you drive too far, you’re into the water; if you’re too short, the ball rolls back off the green. The green is a small target with a shell wall behind it—beautiful, but a blind little shot even with a sand wedge.
Ross Bridge #18
This is a demanding driver hole because you have to hit over water and over the fairway bunker. The strength of the hole is the tee shot, which sets up the entire hole, but even if you’re good, you’ll need a mid-iron onto the green. And remember to take a look around—the waterfall from the gristmill makes this hole very picturesque.
Shoals: Fighting Joe #18
Overlooking the Tennessee River, this hole drops 18 feet from tee to green—but an unfortunate shot can drop you even farther, into the natural ravine that crosses your path. If you’re going it miss, miss long and to the left; anything right or short is in the ravine and you’re going to take a drop.
Ross Bridge #4
The ninth hole on our Fantasy Course demands accuracy. The green is nestled into a bank on the other side of a lake—hit short and you’re in the water. The hole’s eight tee boxes give golfers a choice of how to play this par three, and no matter which you choose, you’ll be playing over water and enjoying the view back toward the clubhouse.
Silver Lakes: Heartbreaker #9
Very difficult, very beautiful and very rewarding, Heartbreaker #9 has multiple tee locations so you can play it anywhere from 260 to 450 yards. The green is almost a peninsula into Lee’s Lake. It’s not a tee shot to whale away at. You have to be accurate to set yourself up for the slightly downhill approach across the water to the green.
Silver Lakes: Heartbreaker #7
The tee sits at the highest point on the property, with a view over the lake to the foothills of the Appalachians. It’s not too long, but you have to be accurate to wend your way between the three surrounding lakes. If you make it from tee to fairway, it’s not too hard. Yes, you have to play the second shot over water, but it’s possible.
Oxmoor Valley: Valley #18
This hole starts with a forced carry—it’s the only way to get the ball into play on the fairway. With bunkers on the right and trees on the left, it’s a demanding shot, just to leave the tee and reach the fairway plateau. And when you reach the green, it’s a classic Trail green—undulating and requiring your best putt.
Capitol Hill: Legislator #4
From tee to hole, Legislator #4 demands your best. Avoid the trees to the left and you still face a sloping fairway that makes it hard to line up an accurate second shot. Safely on the green, you still face a challenge, since it slopes, too, with a big ridge to keep you on your toes. And when the pin is in the back of the green, look out—that’s a challenge even for the pros who play here daily.
Lakewood: Dogwood #8
Water to the front, water to the back, water to the left—all make this 220-yard par three a challenge, just keeping the ball dry. Even if you get a dry ball all the way to the green, watch out. You still have to hit the chip shot safely. It’s a special challenge for golfers who lose focus on their short game.
Capitol Hill: Senator #17
A love-hate hole, it’s a par five with the lake, a ravine on the right and a fairway that nudges your ball toward the hazards. Big egos, hitting as hard as they can, can miss the narrowing fairway. If you make a birdie on Senator 17, you’ve earned it. But be careful—it’s easy to drop from the brink of an eagle to the depths of a double bogey.
Capitol Hill: Judge #12
A great par three and a favorite among regular Trail players, Judge #12 plays over a cypress swamp. Starting from tee boxes in the swamp that offer a choice of yardage from 90 to 200, across a wood bridge to the difficult green, and then back across the bridge to the next hole, it’s a beauty. And even though you get over the swamp, you’re still not guaranteed a par.
Hampton Cove: Highlands #5
A straightforward hole, slightly uphill from tee to green, this par four offers a fairly easy tee shot—if you can get across the creek from the natural spring. But it also offers a unique look with the old mule barn on the right side of the fairway.
Highland Oaks: Magnolia #9
Finish up your fantasy round with this very tough par four. The farther you hit up the lakeside fairway, the narrower your target. Be careful of the bunker, but not too careful. It’s easy to hit into that bunker, and then you’re aiming straight at the water. It’s the penalty for being chicken on the second shot.
By Nedra Bloom