RTJ 25th Celebrations Kick Off for “New Trail”

By  | July 13, 2017 | Filed under: News

MUSCLE SHOALS– Nearly 12 million rounds of golf have been played on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail since opening 25 years ago. To mark the 25th anniversary, a series of celebrations are taking place across the Trail.

“Dr. Bronner had a vision that making the entire state of Alabama a world-class golf destination could not only create new tourism opportunities for the state, but could also enhance the reputation of the state of Alabama and its citizens, thus creating other economic development opportunities yet unknown,” said John Cannon, President and CEO of Sunbelt Golf Corporation, which has overseen the development, construction and management of The Trail since its 1992 inception.

Since becoming a part of The Trail in 1998, Cannon still marvels at the world’s largest golf undertaking.

“I can’t even imagine the early development years from 1990-1993, when our founder Bobby Vaughan, along with Mr. Jones, his associate Roger Rulewich and a construction crew of over 700 were building 18 golf courses at seven very different locations all at the same time,” Cannon said. “Anyone who has ever developed and built one golf course knows how ridiculous it would be to even attempt something of this scale.”

“Back 20 to 25 years ago, there was a funny feeling around Alabama,” said Dr. Bronner. “The natives would say ‘Well, Alabama has a great potential, but it never does anything.’ So, we thought about how you change an entire state. Changing a town is one thing. You bring a new factory in and you’ve changed a town. But, if we created something in the state of Alabama that the rest of the United States doesn’t have, that being The Trail, could we get tourism and industry to look at us and come to us that wouldn’t have otherwise? Our vision was to change the whole state, similar to how President Eisenhower changed our entire country after World War II with the interstate system. He didn’t impact just one state in the country, but he changed the whole country.”  

Today, 25 years later, The Trail boasts 26 golf courses at 11 facilities in virtually every corner of Alabama. The Trail hosts more than 1,100 events annually, including the PGA TOUR’s Barbasol Championship at Grand National in Auburn/Opelika. As a result, millions of dollars are contributed each year to schools, healthcare and community services.

To put the size and scope of The Trail into perspective, consider this; Annually, over 500,000 golfers play on 468 holes at 26 courses at 11 different locations. In a typical year, folks come to The Trail from all 50 states and an average of 20 foreign countries, totaling nearly 12 million rounds to date.

With that said, as The Trail celebrates its silver anniversary this year, major renovations and upgrades were made to the original seven sites; Oxmoor Valley (Birmingham), Hampton Cove (Huntsville), Grand National (Auburn/Opelika), Magnolia Grove (Mobile), Highland Oaks (Dothan), Silver Lakes (Calhoun County) and Cambrian Ridge (Greenville).


“Beginning in 2005, contours were softened to accommodate modern green speeds,” Cannon said. “Every original green was re-grassed with the newest generation of appropriate grasses for each location (heat-resistant bent grass in the northern part of the state and ultradwarf Bermudas everywhere else). We also removed over 130 of the original bunkers and completely rebuilt those which remained. Additionally, we have completely redesigned 22 holes, including moving and rerouting seven different holes in Mobile, Greenville and Huntsville.”


Though the initial seven locations received the most significant upgrading, Dr. Bronner is quick to note that as of October 2016, all 11 sites had received upgrades and renovations, varying in degree.


“We started on these renovations a number of years ago and have gone from site to site,” Dr. Bronner said. “No question, they have done a fabulous job. The entire staff at every one of the sites has done a remarkable job. I just saw the renovations at Greenville and was totally blown away. It just amazed me how they so greatly enhanced and improved each site.”


In 2017 and ’18, work will continue. All 36 greens at Lakewood Club in Point Clear will be re-surfaced with TifEagle Ultradwarf grass. This endeavor will accompany a new practice facility and short-game area created in 2016.


“This project will ensure Lakewood remains the premier resort/club golf experience along the Gulf Coast,” said Cannon.

And so, as it makes the turn and embarks on its next 25 years, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail will do so not only on the solid ground set by its past, but also with the encouraging prospect of a remarkable future. In its wake, there is everything from personal-best rounds and first hole-in-ones to jobs, schools and improved healthcare. The silver anniversary of The Trail issues also hope and promise for the retiring to embrace in comfort their golden years.


“When we started out, this program was a $1.8 billion industry a year,” Dr. Bronner said. “Now, it’s an annual $13 billion industry. What this has done is effect the north to the central to the south of the state with tourism. Those dollars flow into those communities. Most impressive is how something like that can fundamentally change a family. You not only allow them to be financially secure, but it trickles down to the next generation of kids who will now be able to go to college. Previously, everything we recruited was out of this country and now you actually have companies within the United States looking at Alabama in a different light than they would have 20-25 years ago.”


“What our millions of guests from the past 25 years can expect from us is that we will continue to improve our properties along with their expectations,” Cannon said. “While we may be 25 years old now, every time you return, there is something new and improved for you to enjoy along Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.”

Media Release/RTJ/Bill Lang

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