Alabama Golf Trail a Rousing Success

When Dr. David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, began formulating a plan to diversify the assets of the state’s pension fund, he probably didn’t fully realize the benefits his home state would eventually enjoy. But, except for maybe Tiger Woods, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has been one of the golf industry’s rousing successes over the past decade.

Dr. Bronner harbored big ideas when he formulated the investment idea in the late 1980’s. Instead of building just one golf course, he wanted to build 378 holes at nine spectacular sites throughout the state. That would be a grand dream by itself. But Bronner took his vision one step further: He wanted to build the courses all at the same time. “I don’t do windows and I don’t do just eighteens,” he said.

To pull the idea together Dr. Bronner enlisted Bobby Vaughn, the former director of golf at Tanglewood in Clemmons, North Carolina, to form a development team willing to tackle the massive project. Vaughn formed the SunBelt Golf Corporation to design, develop, build and operate the largest golf course construction project ever undertaken at any one time anywhere in the world.

To design the network of courses Vaughn hired Robert Trent Jones Sr., arguably the 20th Century’s best-known golf architect. Jones was so enthralled at the project’s scope that he came out of semi-retirement to create what became his eponymous golf trail. Jones, who passed away in August 2000 at the grand old age of 93, certainly had the credentials for the project, having designed 500 courses around the world. Thirty-five of his designs are listed among Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses.

Within three years of Dr. Bronner’s hiring of Vaughn and Jones, the courses were designed, built and ready for play. As noted below, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail boasts nine locations in Alabama and myriad challenges for visiting golfers.

· Hampton Cove in Huntsville – the Highlands and River championship 18s and the par-3 Short Course 18
· Silver Lakes in Anniston/Gadsen – the accurately named Mindbreaker, Heartbreaker and Backbreaker championship nines as well as the par-3 Short Course nine
· Oxmoor Valley in Birmingham – the Valley and Ridge championship 18s and the 18-hole par-3 Short Course
· Grand National in Auburn/Opelika – the Lake and Links championship 18s and the 18-hole par-3 Short Course
· Capitol Hill in Prattville/Montgomery - the aptly named Senator, Legislator and Judge championship 18s
· Cambrian Ridge in Greenville – 27 regulation-length holes (the Sherling, Canyon and Loblolly nines) and a nine-hole Short Course
· Highland Oaks in Dothan – 27 regulation-length holes (the Highlands, Marshwood and Magnolia nines) and another par-27 Short Course nine
· Magnolia Grove in Mobile – the Crossings and Falls championship 18s
· Lakewood Golf Club in Mobile – 36 holes at Marriott’s Grand Hotel Resort

One of the most important aspects of the facilities is the variety of challenges presented by them. The trail offers everything from very difficult championship tracks with par-5s in excess of 700 yards to short courses suitable for the whole family. Some layouts wind over hills and dales, while others cross flat, well-treed terrain. Water hazards, panoplies of bunkers, massive multi-tiered greens, and outstanding conditioning characterize the courses.

Another hallmark of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is its modest green fees, which range from peak-season rates of $55 to a low of $35. The facilities offer golf specials and “replay” rates for same-day multiple rounds. Accommodations, one of the many economic benefits associated with these “100 miles of golf” – the overall length of Dr. Bronner’s 300-plus fairways - are plentiful and affordable.

To set up your tee times on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, call 800/949-4444.