Big year in 2021 at Cambrian Ridge, records set for RTJ Trail

By John Cannon,

In 2021, Cambrian Ridge, Greenville’s stop on Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, enjoyed its most successful year since 2009.  According to director of golf Bryan Reynolds, “We were able to grow rounds and revenue more than 21% in 2021 vs. 2020. We were very fortunate that our local golfer played more rounds, but what really surprised us is how quickly the out-of-state player returned in 2021 after staying close to home during the initial days of the pandemic. With tournament and traveler prebooks for 2022 looking even stronger than 2021, we expect great things at Cambrian Ridge in the years ahead.”

While the world understandably reacted to the initial COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 with isolation, masking, lockdowns, and travel restrictions, the relative safety presented by outdoor activities and recreation experienced newfound popularity unseen in nearly a century. One business poised to capitalize on this opportunity was Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

The National Golf Foundation and Golf Datatech, the two most prominent golf industry data analysts, estimate that nationwide, the golf industry experienced a growth of between 5 and 7.5% in total rounds played year over year in 2021. In the most successful year in its 30 years in business, Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail grew total rounds by 25.4% from 2020 to 2021, playing over 600,000 rounds for the first time and far outpacing the national trend.

Mike Beverly, president of Sunbelt Golf Corporation, which manages the Trail on behalf of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), states: “In my 30 years of experience, the past 18 months has gone from the most challenging to the most transformational time for the entire golf industry. Our entire RTJ team, from the frontline service and maintenance associates to our facility management teams, advertising and marketing department, corporate support, and of course, our owners at the RSA have been remarkable in their response to this ever-changing environment. We recognized early in the pandemic that there would be global consequences, sometimes devastating to millions of people and their families. We did, however, understand the obligation to our employees, customers, and our owners required we do whatever necessary to operate the safest and most successful business possible in this new environment.”

Mr. Beverly continues: “At the core of our phenomenal growth trend is the RSA’s commitment to appropriate reinvestment in the properties. This reinvestment ensures that the courses’ quality is always world-class, and they evolve with the needs and desires of our customer base. Just this year, we completed major renovations and some redesigns to the Valley Course at Oxmoor Valley and the Links Course at Grand National. Not only are we building the very best new greens surfaces available, but we are also tweaking the design and adding new tees to make the game fun for more people. And next year, we look forward to taking advantage of the renewed interest in the par-three courses by redesigning and renovating the Short Courses at Oxmoor Valley and Grand National.”

Historically, 50% or more of the Trail’s customers have come from outside of the state of Alabama. However, the onset of COVID-19 in March of 2020 initially devastated the Trail’s ability to draw guests from around the country. As a result, 2020 saw the percentage of out-of-state rounds tumble to a historic low of 22% of total rounds, while in-state golfers set historic highs in the last two quarters of 2020.

Rebounding from COVID-19’s impact on travel, particularly by air, the Trail focused most of its advertising on targeting golfers in surrounding states who could drive to their nearest Trail facility in six hours or less. This adaptation resulted in nearly 250,000 rounds and record revenue from out-of-state golfers in 2021. Since playing host to its first guests in 1992, the Trail has hosted golfers from all 50 states every year except 1992 and 2020. 2021 saw a return to the Trail from guests from all 50 states.

“For the Trail’s mission to succeed, the out-of-state golfer is crucial to the economy of our local communities and the state of Alabama. It’s estimated that they spend almost $3.00 in local businesses, including hotels, restaurants, and shopping for every dollar they spend on golf itself, driving additional local and state sales and lodging tax revenues. The Trail attracts international golfers as well, averaging guests from 24 different countries every year. Unfortunately, that part of the travel business has not returned, and we anxiously watch what impact COVID-19 will have on this in the future. Despite this challenge, we are very excited as we see advance bookings for out-of-state golfers for 2022 are significantly ahead of last year at this same time.” says Mr. Beverly.

State of Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell noted, “For 30 years, The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has been one of the linchpins in efforts at growing tourism and economic development in the State of Alabama. Their remarkable 2021 not only solidifies Alabama’s standing as a world-class golf destination, but along with our other great golf courses and attractions, Alabama continues to be a nationally-recognized leader in attracting tourism and industry, which benefits every Alabama citizen.”