Jax State’s Dr. Mark Fagan Publishes Book on History and Economic Impact of The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail


RTJ Book CoverJacksonville State professor emeritus and alum Dr. Mark Fagan recently published the second edition of The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail: Its History and Economic Impact with a foreword by Dr. David G. Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA). Dr. Fagan’s 10th book chronicles the project’s 34 years as one of the world’s premiere golf destinations and the impact its 11 sites have had on the economy. 

The RSA launched an economically targeted investment in Alabama in 1990 to create jobs and increase tax revenue to strengthen the state pension fund. This statewide development envisioned and orchestrated by Dr. Bronner, resulted in The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (The Trail). It is the largest collection of golf courses constructed as one project in history. It is a monumental worldwide tourist attraction comprising 450 golf holes, eight resort hotels, and six world-class spas. Subsequent development at the 11 sites by private developers includes over 9,000 houses and over five million square feet of commercial space. More dirt was moved for this development project than was moved to construct the Panama Canal and construction of The Trail was compared to The Golden Gate Bridge in total engineering complexity. 

The most attractive sites in Alabama were selected for the courses to showcase the entire state and feature its diverse terrain from the mountains to the coast. Private developers donated the land or local governments leased the land for the golf complexes for no charge. The local governments wanted job creation and increased tax revenue, so they made financial contributions toward access roads and utilities for the golf complexes. Eleven state agencies, 55 local government entities, 13 private developers and major contractors, and dozens of subcontractors assisted in land acquisition, utility expansion, access roads, and final approvals for bringing the total development to fruition. 

The first seven complexes opened from 1992-94 (Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Opelika, Dothan, Greenville, Glencoe). In 1996, RSA invested in media companies which morphed into Raycom Media with 60 TV stations and CNHI with 130 newspapers. The financial arrangements for these companies were structured to provide $50 million a year in free advertising for the Trail and Alabama. In 1997, the second phase of golf complexes (Prattville, The Shoals, Fairhope, Hoover) was initiated to capture the growing tourism market of golfers coming to play. 

Each site is entirely different. Oxmoor Valley in Birmingham and Ross Bridge in Hoover use the ridge lines of the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains along with a valley between two mountains. Grand National in Opelika has a 600-acre lake with 30 holes on the water. Hampton Cove has holes along the Flint River and is in a valley with great views of the surrounding mountains. Cambrian Ridge in Greenville has a topography similar to Augusta National Golf Club. Magnolia Grove in Mobile has a jungle environment. Silver Lakes in Glencoe has lakes and mountain views. The Shoals in Sheffield is on the Tennessee River. Capitol Hill in Prattville incorporates the waters from the Alabama River. Lakewood near Fairhope winds through large live-oak trees. 

In 1999, RSA began purchasing and refurbishing hotels and constructing new ones near their Trail sites. The purchases included The Grand Hotel in Fairhope, the Battle House Hotel and Adams Mark Hotel in Mobile, and the Legends Lodge in Prattville. The RSA then constructed a hotel near each of the following sites: Grand National (Opelika-Auburn); The Shoals (included an existing 22-story revolving tower and conference center); Ross Bridge (Birmingham); and Capitol Hill (downtown Montgomery). 

The development adjacent to each golf complex has varied from site to site. It depended on the amount of developable land surrounding the site, the transportation infrastructure, the proximity of lodging, and existing commercial development. Five sites have a national market (Oxmoor Valley/Ross Bridge, Capitol Hill, Grand National, Grand Hotel/Lakewood, and The Shoals), two have a regional market (Hampton Cove and Magnolia Grove), and three have a local/instate market (Highland Oaks, Cambrian Ridge, and Silver Lakes). Some sites have resulted in more residential development (Hampton Cove, Oxmoor Valley/Ross Bridge, Highland Oaks, Grand National, Lakewood, Silver Lakes, and The Shoals) and some have resulted in more commercial development (Capitol Hill, Magnolia Grove, and Cambrian Ridge).

 The economic impact varied at each site on The Trail. Sites with more housing development meant increased commercial development from the spending by the residents. Sites with more lodging and easier access brought in more tourists. Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue have been generated from the initial construction spending, increased ongoing tourism spending, and spending by new retirees since its inception. The taxes from the increased tourism spending over the 1990 levels are a perpetual financial resource for the state. 

In 2016, Dr. Fagan published a book called The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail: Its History and Economic Impact, also with a foreword from Dr. Bronner. With the book’s content now 10 years old, he recently published the second edition of this book to include the last third of The Trail’s history. This second edition is a significant change in style with much information not found in the first edition. Updates since 2014 on The Trail include golf course renovations, hotel refurbishments and category upgrades, residential expansion, and increased utilization and recognition at The Trail sites. This second edition has an expanded section of photos of The Trail under construction and an expanded history of RSA hotels and commercial buildings not found in the first edition. This second edition’s more current and succinct economic analysis demonstrates The Trail’s 34-year impact. 

This new Book is a comprehensive account of how this one-of-a-kind state-wide investment was structured and has evolved. It preserves the history of this massive development for historians, economic developers, politicians, journalists, golfers, and the public. To purchase this book, visit https://store.bookbaby.com/profile/MarkFagan


Robert Trent Jones Sr. (designed over 500 courses worldwide) said in 1992 about The Trail: “This is the greatest project I have ever been involved with. The land is beautiful, and the courses will be known all over the world. They are championship quality and playable to all with the duffer not feeling discouraged but the pros having to work for their game.” He also said: “Grand National (on The Trail) is the single greatest natural site for golf I have ever seen.” 

Roger Rulewich (chief architect for Jones for 34 Years, including The Trail golf courses) said: “Jones asked me to supervise the work with all his resources devoted exclusively to The Trail. Never had the Jones organization tackled a project of such magnitude! As challenging as the number of courses and the race to completion might have been, it is the quality and variety of design of each course that is the trademark of The Trail. Sites were chosen for their unique characteristics. Adapting golf design to each one individually allowed us to avoid any repetition in the look or playability of holes.”