Robert Trent Jones is not from Alabama — he’s Welsh. And, aside from the golf trail, he no ties to the state. But, what the hall-of-fame course designer built in Alabama is a monument to the sport writ on a grand scale. It is nothing less than the most ambitious architectural undertaking in golf history.
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail was the brainchild Retirement Systems administrator Dr. David Bronner. Wanting to capitalize on the state’s booming tourism, Alabama’s diverse natural habitats, and fill the coffers of the state pension system, Bronner hit on the idea of golf. But, rather than just build a course or three, why not create an entire scenic byway of world-class golf, spanning the entire state? Even more ambitiously, build them all at once? And make them affordable and accessible to the public?
It had never been done. And to this day, it is a feat that remains without peer.
Dr. Bronner did not aim small, nor did he recruit up-and-comers for the project. Working in collaboration with Bobby Clemmons, former director of Tanglewood, the SunBelt Golf Corporation would be formed. Over the next two decades, SunBelt would manage, build, and operate all of the courses on the trail.
But what sets this crown jewel of public golf apart, is its world class course designer. Again, Dr. Bronner aimed high — talking one of the world’s best into the project: Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Robert Trent Jones, architect of over 500 courses throughout the world, was so excited about the opportunity that he even came out of retirement to design what would become his eponymous golf trail: 11 courses, eight of them resort-level with flagship Marriott / Renaissance accommodations; 468 championship holes; all open to the public; and the entire trail eventually spanning the width and breadth of the state.
It is an impressive assembly too. Called “some of the best public golf on the planet” by the New York Times, visitors have their choice of scenery, courses, and geographic setting.
Are you a big hitter? Then the wooded and rolling hills of the Tennessee River at The Shoals may be for you — especially the 8000-yard Fighting Joe, that was named one of the nation’s best in 2004. Are you a scratch golfer or low handicap player looking for a challenge? The Cambrian Ridge is touted as the most difficult on the entire trail. Are you heading to the beach and want to add a day of golf? Then the classical marshy, piney Crossings at Magnolia Grove is your best bet. Up for a true Scottish-style links experience? The Senator at Capitol Hill (Prattville) is your best destination.
Nearly any golfing experience is possible. All open to the public. All of championship design and caliber. All situated in some of the most gorgeous natural spaces in the entire country.
Thank you, Robert Trent Jones. And, perhaps more importantly, thanks to Dr. Bronner’s vision.
35 Days until Football Season.
You can download the RTJ Guidebook “The Trail,” online. The Trail website is a treasure trove of information about the Trail, the courses, tee times, reservations, and resort accommodations. Golf aside, the RTJGT is a true gem of the state.