Mark Fagan's book is a must-have for those bound for Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
It has been called the “most significant economic development project in Alabama during the past 40 years.” Conceived in the late 1980s by Dr. David Bronner, CEO of the state’s Retirement Systems (RSA), to diversify the state pension fund’s assets by bringing more tourist dollars into the state economy through golf, Bronner’s brilliant idea culminated in one of the most amazing set of golf courses in the world: the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Bronner commissioned Robert Trent Jones then in his early 80s, to design the courses. Much of the work fell to Jone’s senior design associate, Roger Rulewich to take over the mind-boggling task. “It became our lives, almost 24 hours a day,” said Rulewich. “If we thought about how many golf courses we were designing, building, and opening within a three-year period, our heads would have exploded.”
After Magnolia Grove opened in 1992, other courses followed in an astonishing clip until, less than three years later, there were 26 courses, 468 holes at 11 sites spanning the state from south to north making up The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. None are farther away from another than two hours driving time; none more than 30 minutes off an interstate highway.
To put it all in perspective, Mark Fagan has written a comprehensive, 400-page book documenting this behemoth undertaking. Fagan describes in fascinating detail the entire process visually enhanced by photos of the courses, people involved and the construction process.
Fagan discusses the development of the golf complexes as well as the hotels, spas and housing around the golf facilities. He talks about the investment value and boost to the tourism infrastructure and cites numerous stats relating to the economic picture.
Note: All courses on 11 sites are purpose-built to make it easy for you to drive from north to south in Alabama, play designer courses and stay at fine lodgings as you go. RTJ courses are generally considered excellent tests for better golfers requiring a lot of carries to elevated big undulating greens – not your classic bump and run greens. But each course has multiple tees making it playable for all levels.
There are eight highly rated hotels and resorts affiliated with the Trail and all are Marriott branded such as the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa where balconies overlook the third longest golf course in the world at 8,191 yards. There is the restored historic Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa named as one of the 500 “Top Hotels in the World” by Travel+Leisure. And on Mobile Bay, you’ll love the elegance of the gracious waterfront Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear, close to Lakewood Golf Club’s Dogwood Course and Azalea Course on the Trail.
If you plan to go, we highly suggest you get a copy of Mark Fagan’s book. The chapters are thoughtfully organized with highly easy-to-read descriptions of each of the 11 sites. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Its History and Economic Impact is available in bookstores, Amazon and other outlets. (384 pages; Kindle version also available)
RTJ’s Golf Trail Complexes:
Oxmoor Valley, Birmingham; Magnolia Grove, Mobile; Hampton Cove, Huntsville; Grand National, Auburn/Opelika; Highland Oaks, Dothan; Cambrian Ridge, Greenville; Silver Lakes, Calhoun County; Capitol Hill, Prattville; Lakewood, Point Clear; The Shoals, Florence/Muscle Shoals; Ross Bridge, Birmingham.
• More dirt was moved during the construction of the Trail than was moved during the construction of the Panama Canal.
• The cumulative yardage of the Trail is 1,078 miles.
• More than 5,000 acres were drained or irrigated.
• More than 5,000 acres were landscaped.
• The clubhouses contain more than 540,000 square feet.
• The Trail averages 500,000 rounds a year.
• RTJ said, “As a collection, these are the best golf courses anywhere in the world.”
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