E.A. Sports Today

RTJ Trail turns 25

Silver Lakes will host first celebratory event for silver anniversary later this month

Special to East Alabama Sports Today

A former assistant dean at Alabama’s law school revolutionized access to great public golf 25 years ago and the rest is history.

While many scoffed at the concept, Dr. David G. Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, brought golf course architect Robert Trent Jones out of retirement in the late 1980’s and the concept of America’s Original Golf Trail was born.

Opened in 1992, nearly 12 million rounds of golf have been played along the RTJ Golf Trail. With 26 courses on 11 sites across Alabama, this top golf destination has renovated its original courses and encourages golfers to come play the new RTJ Golf Trail. While maintaining the key course designs created by Robert Trent Jones, renovations of the original golf sites were recently completed.

Owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, the RTJ courses remain consistent for quality and value while offering new experiences.

“I want to be able to play the U.S. Open on any one of these courses we build,” Bronner said. “Make every one of them a championship course. I want people to be challenged enough that they will want to come back and try again.”

The concept caught on, now there are “trails” in several states across the country, but that are different. Now, 25 years later, the Trail is about to spend the summer celebrating its silver anniversary across all of its properties.

“It’s always a compliment when anybody tries to copy you,” Bronner said in 2012 during the Trail’s 20th anniversary celebration. “The other trails in the country … they are not a trail. All they are, basically, is a marketing gimmick where they use existing courses, existing products, all different, no staff coordination, not price coordination, no unanimity whatsoever. So there is a big difference.

“(The RTJ Trail) is something unique, something other states don’t have, and it has provided us the ability to not only expand tourism, but to really help me in recruiting industry (to the state).”

While the Trail courses may not hosted the U.S. Open yet – it does have a U.S. Open qualifier at Silver Lakes later this month – the PGA Tour will compete in the Barbasol Championship at RTJ Grand National this July. Courses in Mobile and Prattville have hosted several LPGA tournaments. PGA TOUR Champions’ tournaments were played at RTJ Ross Bridge for several years.

“This will be the 20th year in a row that women’s professional golf has been played on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and the 21st consecutive year for hosting professional golf tournaments,” Bronner said. “When the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail opened in 1992, we wanted to make Alabama a golf destination. Not only have we had millions of golf rounds, legendary golfers have won on the RTJ Golf Trail.”

The RTJ Trail continues to be one of Alabama’s top tourist attractions with players coming from around the world. The Trail’s artfully designed and beautifully landscaped courses, according to The New York Times, are “some of the best public golf on earth.” The Wall Street Journal said the Trail “may be the best bargain in the country.” The Boston Globe reported, “In Alabama, a genius in course design created 18 (now 26) jewels for everyone to enjoy at one-third the rate of comparable facilities.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution called the Trail “the finest public courses in the country.”

To help celebrate the silver anniversary of America’s original golf trail, golfers are invited to enjoy a round for $25 (plus tax), including cart, on the following dates at the designated courses.

Silver Lakes holds the first of these days, May 25. Here is the complete schedule:

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On the cover: A view from the tee on Heartbreaker No. 7 at Silver Lakes. (Photo by Sandra Howell)

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