DateLine The Robert Trent Jones Trail – May 2012

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It is off for another fun adventure. Pete and Bunny, who we met on the Alaska adventure visited us at our home in Flagler Beach this January, we played some golf and decided to meet in Muscle Shoals, Alabama for a three week “golf fest” playing 12 (and that isn’t all of them!) golf courses that make up the Robert Trent Jones Trail.

An interesting history!

Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is a collection of 468 holes of championship golf on 11 sites around Alabama. Most are near an interstate or federal highway and directions are easily marked by green highway signs.

In the late1980’s, Dr. David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama set out to accomplish two goals:  First, effectively diversify the assets of the state’s pension fund; and secondly, how to help the state of Alabama. Not short on ideas, he borrowed a page from the movie script, “Field of Dreams,” deciding to “build-it-and-they-will-come” — not to a baseball diamond in a corn field, but to a dazzling collection of public golf courses in the great state of Alabama.

Bronner’s idea was to use a hot (but clean-burning) vehicle like golf to boost tourism, attract retirees, and spur economic growth within the state. His vision was on a grand scale — big, really big. “I don’t do windows and I don’t do just 18’s.” You see, Dr. Bronner wasn’t looking to build just an 18 hole public golf course, he wanted to build 378 holes at eight spectacular sites throughout the entire state, and all at one time!

Bronner set out immediately to find the right group to put his plan in motion. He brought in Bobby Vaughan, the former director of golf at Tanglewood in Clemmons, N.C., to put together the team for this massive project. Vaughan formed SunBelt Golf Corporation which would develop, construct, operate and manage all 18 golf courses. Vaughan began hiring experts throughout the golf industry and, from that moment, the dream of creating an easily accessible group of public golf courses, which combine quality, value and genuine hospitality, was being realized.

When you’re looking for someone to design 18 golf courses, start at the top. Enter legendary architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., arguably the premier golf course architect in the world. In his unparalleled career Jones had designed more than 500 golf courses around the world, many of which are listed among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses.” Jones jumped at the chance and emerged from semi-retirement to tackle the project.

Once final approvals were given, Vaughan and his staff at SunBelt Golf took off with the largest golf course construction project ever undertaken at one time anywhere in the world. The Trail would offer 378 holes stretching to over 100 miles of golf. The invasion of earth moving equipment throughout the state was tantamount to a D-Day of bulldozers. Over 700 pieces of equipment were in operation at one time.

After all eight sites were opened, construction began on two new sites and was completed in 2005, expanding the Trail to 10 different sites. The historic Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear has undergone extensive renovations and is the Trail’s latest addition, bringing the total to 11 Trail sites…26 courses…and 468 incredible holes!

These are not “manufactured” courses though — all partake of the natural topography. Each was extracted from the land, not imposed on it. The “Trail” offers genuine championship layouts that will stand the test of time and pose major tests of golf for years to come. The rationale: No one talks about or remembers the easy courses. What lodges in a golfer’s mind is the one brilliant shot that (momentarily) conquers a tough hole.
One of the most unique aspects of the Trail are the tee locations. You see, the tee markers on the Trail are pegged to ability level, not age or gender. The courses were designed to measure as short as 4,700 yards and as long as about 7,700 yards from the tournament tees, with as many as 12 tee boxes in-between. The courses offer a tremendous amount of flexibility. As one Director of Golf put it, “The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is an incredible golfing experience for everyone. The courses will challenge the best golfers in the world, yet at the same time allow an enjoyable outing for the casual to beginning golfer.”

Sunbelt Golf Corporation’s philosophy from the very beginning was to build the finest collection of public golf courses in the world, and run them as a successful business investment. Indeed, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is a dream come true for the people of Alabama and for golfers all over the world. There is no venue in the world where such a golfing experience is possible.

As we enjoy the stops along the TRAIL we will share our adventures.

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