If you've ever driven through the southeastern United States on the Eisenhower Interstate System, you're probably at least peripherally aware of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Driving from state to state, it seems practically omnipresent -- signs advising you of its direction and distance seem to exist along every Interstate highway in the area, going in every direction, some of them from hundreds of miles away. I'm not referring to billboards -- the RTJGT uses state-funded green highway signs to advertise their ubiquitous (if ephemeral) golf... thing, whatever it is.

Each sign either guides motorists in a specific direction (usually where Interstate highways intersect), displays a distance (in miles) to the RTJGT, or, more rarely, simply points an arrow towards an offramp, which presumably lies close to the RTJGT. I have never seen any billboards for it, but those green highway signs have tormented me everytime I've driven between states. I've seen them in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina. I've sped by them on I-10, I-20, I-59, I-65, I-75, and I-85. Even in the middle of the night, those cursed signs light up brightly and dazzle my eyes as my car's headlights pick them out of the roadside gloom. Driving by them all these years got me wondering what the hell the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail actually consists of. Is it a hiking/golf combo tour, or a bike trail for golf carts? Is it combat golf amid a forest festooned with explosives? Mystic sorcery? I didn't know. But on my last drive over I-59 through Mississippi, I resolved to find out when I got home.

First of all, the RTJGT is located in Alabama. Secondly, it's made up of eight different golf courses. Apparently my guesses about warfare/golf combinations were unfounded. The eight golf courses are scattered liberally about the state, each a couple of hours away, by road, from the next. The golf courses are thus:

Ugh. They all sound like malls, suburban apartment complexes, or assisted-living institutions.

The Trail is headquartered at "The Lodge," on the premises of the Grand National in Auburn. The "official" hotel (Marriot's Grand Hotel) is in Lakewood, along with a lesser, non-circuit golf course called Point Clear.

The entire thing is aimed at travelling retirees. It was conceived in 1987 by Dr. David Bronner, the CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. A few of the golf courses that would eventually make up the Trail already existed at this point, and after the inception of the whole, they were upgraded and new courses were built around the state. By 1991 the Trail was a large draw among retired tourists. At around the same time those omnipresent road signs began appearing. The Trail got its name because when it was still in the development stage, the world-renowned golf course designer Robert Trent Jones entered the picture and took it upon himself to design the whole of the Trail.

The Trail is now run by the Sunbelt Golf Corporation, and it receives funding from the state of Alabama. A number of pro golf tournaments are held at various courses on the Trail, such as the Dothan Open at Highland Oaks. The Trail is very popular as a tourist trap due to in part to its ubiquity in the south, and its relatively inexpensive greens fees (none are higher than $67, and that's at the peak of golf season in May), making it very attractive to the pensioned retiree.

I can't vouch for the quality of the courses, as I really have no interest whatsoever in golf and thus I've never even seen, or even driven directly past any of them. However, since their inescapable signs haunt my thoughts as I travel through the swart and twisted roads of the south, I figured the Trail was at least worth a writeup.

Yeah! And now you're gonna die, wearing that stupid little hat!


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