By: Jeff Shearer
BIRMINGHAM, AL (RNN) – Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail turned 20 years old this week.
"We had negative baggage for too many years and we wanted to come up with a device to get tourists to come to Alabama," said Dr. David Bronner, CEO Retirement Systems of Alabama. With that thought, the golf trail was born.
From the very beginning, Bronner dreamed big. "If we can develop a chain of 5, 6, 7 golf courses in this state, we'll be able to stop the tourist. If we stop them once at this complex and we stop them in Birmingham, and we stop them in Mobile, they will want to go to the others," Bronner said in a 1990 interview.
Bronner brought in the best-known golf course designer in the world, Robert Trent Jones. At that time Jones marveled at the fact that the proposed course at Oxmoor Valley had woods. He predicted the land would make one of the great golf courses in the world because it would be flexible and playable by all classes of golfers. He saw a great opportunity and suggested they take the ball and run. And run, they did. The largest golf course construction project ever undertaken anywhere got underway. The first phase cost 100 million dollars and not a single penny was spent on land because all of it was donated by communities who knew the trail would increase the value of adjacent land. There were seven locations in the early years. Now The Trail features 11 sites, 26 championship courses.
"For the people of Alabama, The Trail has been a Godsend from a point of view of getting people here, showing them that we have first class hotels. We have first class spas," Bronner said.
In the two decades since The Trail opened, Dr. Bronner says tourism in Alabama has grown five-fold. That is not the only benefit. The Trail is also instrumental in recruiting jobs to the state. Bronner will get no argument from Billy Abrams. He says The Trail is not the primary reason he located his pharmaceutical and manufacturing business in Auburn, but it sure did not hurt. "From a hospitality perspective, it's certainly a draw. Customers are more willing to travel to Alabama knowing there are comfortable and beautiful places to play," Abrams said.
"It gives me an opportunity to recruit the C-E-O's to the state. If I go to their officer, or they come to my office, I'm there for a hour, maximum. If I get 'em on the golf course, I've got 'em for four hours with no interruptions," Bronner said.
All one has to do is drive through the parking lot at Capitol Hill in Prattville to judge whether or not The Trail accomplished its goal. There you will see license plates from all across the country.
"I think what we were trying to do is give Alabama an impression in their mind different than what they had and I think we've succeeded at that," Bronner said.
Bronner says the goal for The Trail's next 20 years is to keep up the quality and to keep the price down so tourists will keep coming back.
For more background: http://www.rtjgolf.com/history/.