The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is an incredible collection of 26 golf courses that are scattered into just about every corner of the state of Alabama—and all are available to the public.
What's nearly as incredible as the Trail itself is the fact that It was built not only to create accessible golf courses throughout the state as a means of attracting tourists and revenue—it was built as an investment for the state's pension fund.
Yes, that's right. Rather than invest in mutual funds as most retirement funds do, Alabama decided to invest in this massive golf project instead—with the not-so-small goal of forever reshaping Alabama's future.
Dr. David Bronner has been Chief Executive Officer of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, the administrator of the state's retirement fund, for more than four decades. In the late 1980s, he set about finding a creative and lucrative means of diversifying the pension fund's assets. In addition, he wanted to find a way to drive economic development for the state. Anybody can invest in mutual funds; Dr. Bronner was considering a bigger picture.
"Back 20 to 25 years ago, there was a funny feeling around Alabama," Dr. Bronner said in a press release about the Trail's 25th anniversary. "The natives would say 'Well, Alabama has a great potential, but it never does anything.' So, we thought about how you change an entire state."
Alabama's inviting climate led Dr. Bronner to research retirement communities in Arizona and Florida. He determined that as they attracted an increasing amount of retirees, these areas experienced significant growth in numerous industries, from real estate, hospitality, and recreation to retail, healthcare, and financial. Moreover, the communities were able to attract retirees and tourists without excessive spending on developing their infrastructures. Rather, creating housing and amenities that met the needs and appealed to the desires of this demographic was essential.
He also discovered that the more time people visit a location as tourists, the likelier they are to settle in the area after they retire. As these new residents have both time and money to spend, they make use of local attractions, thus creating jobs and increasing revenue.
"Changing a town is one thing," Dr. Bronner said in the release. "You bring a new factory in and you've changed a town. But, if we created something in the state of Alabama that the rest of the United States doesn't have, that being The Trail, could we get tourism and industry to look at us and come to us that wouldn't have otherwise? Our vision was to change the whole state, similar to how President Eisenhower changed our entire country after World War II with the interstate system."
Golf seemed like a natural solution. The majority of recreational golfers are males over the age of 50 with an average annual income of $95,000.
Developing world-class courses throughout the state where retirees could enjoy physical and social activity would attract and retain affluent retirees to Alabama. It could also be the key to effectively diversifying the state pension fund's assets.
In 1992, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail opened with seven facilities throughout Alabama. Today, this top golf destination features 26 courses on 11 sites around the state where golfers have played nearly 12 million rounds of golf. Every year, more than 500,000 golfers representing all 50 states and an average of 20 foreign countries enjoy the amenities.
The impact of the initial investments made has resulted in thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in state and local tax revenue. The Trail hosts more than 1,100 events annually, resulting in millions of dollars contributed each year to schools, healthcare and community services.
In 1990, RSA had 218,000 active members and $9.5 billion under management. As of 2016, RSA has 345,000 members and $37 billion under management.
One retirement system taking a leap a quarter of a century ago has had a positive ripple effect, not only on its own pension fund but on the state's economy and the lives of its residents as well.
For more information on the trail, visit their website. https://www.rtjgolf.com.