Nearly 22 years ago, Dr. David Bronner, the head of Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) made it his mission to fund the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (RTJ) by promising Alabamians, “The stronger the Retirement Systems can make Alabama, the stronger the Retirement Systems of Alabama will be.” As a result of Dr. Bronner’s dream and his tireless efforts, Alabama’s economy now enjoys a $9.3 billion tourist industry – and it’s still growing strong.
The RTJ Golf Trail wasn’t built by Dr. Bronner alone, but rather the work involved countless experts from all across the golf industry. Dr. Bronner first brought in former golf director Bobby Vaughan to organize a team consisting of the best of the best to tackle what has been known as the most ambitious golf course construction project in the game’s history. A total of 378 holes across seven stunning sites in Alabama would eventually form what would be known as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Through 1992 and 1993, Alabama would see the realization of Dr. Bronner’s vision with the first seven facilities of the RTJ Golf Trail. The massive jump in tourism allowed Dr. Bronner to expand the RTJ Golf Trail with four more sites, bringing the RTJ’s total to 11 sites, 26 courses and 468 holes. In 2013, the RTJ Golf Trail celebrated its 10 millionth round – only about 20 years later. Dawn Hathcock, Vice President for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitors Bureau, had this to say:
Since its completion more than 20 years ago, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail continues to be a huge draw to Alabama and truly changed the image of our state. On any given night in Montgomery, you will see visitors that have spent their day playing The Trail and want to unwind and enjoy a great meal and the company of their fellow golfers.
The RTJ Golf Trail has even become a national hotspot for hosting multiple professional golfing competitions. Despite one of the greatest economic recessions since the “Great Depression,” Alabama has been able to lean on the RTJ Golf Trail as a source of strengthening the state’s weakened economy. In 2012 alone, two LPGA pro events located in Mobile and Prattville brought in more than $30 million in revenues to Alabama.
In the March 2014 issue of The Advisor, the official newsletter of the RSA, my good friend, Lee Sentell, who serves as the Director of Alabama Tourism, said, “In a short time, Alabama went from not being a golf state to becoming a destination that attracts some of the best tournaments and lots of fans. The substantial economic impact is important to our tourism industry.” Lee has done a tremendous job of promoting our state’s resources and is to be commended for his efforts. He has been a strong promoter of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trial.
The Barbasol Championship, debuting later this summer at the Grand National – Lake Course, was recently announced by Governor Robert Bentley and representatives from the PGA Tour and the RTJ Golf Trail Foundation. As part of the four-year agreement, the Barbasol tournament will become part of the FedExCup competition, awarding 300 points to the tournament’s winner. Gov. Bentley stated:
Alabamians pride themselves on the beauty, hospitality and charm of our state, and we are excited to showcase that to the world with the PGA TOUR’s Barbasol Championship in the Auburn-Opelika area. This event will bring tens of thousands of people, from all over the world, to see the beauty that Alabama and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has to offer.
Dr. David Bronner has been a tremendous asset to the State of Alabama. In addition to doing a remarkable job in handling the state’s retirement funds, Dr. Bronner has done a multitude of other good things for our state. I have great respect for Dr. Bronner, who will go down in history as one of the truly outstanding Alabamians. His contributors to Alabama have benefited both the state and to its people greatly. One of Dr. Bronner’s best and more refreshing traits is that if you ask him a question, you will always get a straight answer and it will be a good one.
My wife Sara says that if Dr. Bronner will run for Governor, she will campaign around the state for him. That’s about as strong of an endorsement as he will ever get. I agree with Sara’s belief that Dr. Bronner would be a great governor. Hopefully, he will consider a race in 2018.
Sources: The Advisor, 2015 RTJ Golf Trail Guide
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