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The Shoals, Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

Mark Fagan, Professor Emeritus, Jacksonville State University
The Shoals
The Shoals is a 36-hole golf complex located near Muscle Shoals, Colbert County. The tenth site to open on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (The Trail), The Shoals sits on the south side of the Tennessee River between the Wilson and Wheeler dams. It is overseen by the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) and operated by SunBelt Golf. The golf complex opened in August 2004, and its affiliated Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa opened the following year a short drive away on the north bank of the Tennessee River near Florence, Lauderdale County.
The Shoals consists of two courses. The Fighting Joe course, named for local congressman and military leader Joseph Wheeler, has tall grasses, rolling hills, large trees, with a water feature on 13 holes. The finishing hole is a long par-3 along two-mile wide Lake Wilson. The Schoolmaster course, named for Pres. Woodrow Wilson for his efforts to develop the waterway, abuts the Tennessee River with elevation changes and fairways lined with hardwoods, waterfalls, and ponds. The 36,305-square-foot clubhouse contains a golf shop, restaurant, meeting rooms, locker rooms, golf cart storage, and wrap-around porch with views of Lake Wilson. The 2011 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Men's Golf Championship was played at The Shoals.
In 2002, RSA Chief Executive Officer David G. Bronner proposed to local governmental leaders in the Shoals region that RSA develop a luxury hotel adjacent to the existing TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) Tower and Shoals Conference Center, an additional attraction on property adjacent to the hotel, and a 36-hole golf complex immediately across the river on additional TVA property. The local governments and legislators created an authority to secure property and provide local funding for the project through a bond issue repaid with a gas tax. A team of researchers headed by faculty from the University of North Alabama's College of Business and consultant Mark Fagan, determined that the local investment for this project would produce economic development benefits for the area in the future.
Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa
The state of Alabama conveyed the TVA Tower to RSA and RSA leased the Conference Center from the city of Florence and the hotel site from TVA. The adjacent Veterans Park and River Heritage Trail at the site were also developed. The TVA property across the river proved unworkable for the golf complex, so local businessman and landowner Harvey Robbins donated 400 acres on the south side of Wilson Lake in Colbert County for its construction. Robbins then began developing housing on his adjacent 450 acres toward the larger goal of local economic development.
The affiliated RSA Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa (modeled after the renowned Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada) opened in 2005 on the north bank of the Tennessee River, a short drive from the golf complex. It features 200 guest rooms with a private balcony overlooking the shoals below Wilson Dam, a European-style spa, indoor and outdoor pools, a hot tub, saunas, a fitness center, and three restaurants. The rotating 360 Grille on the 22nd-story offers expansive views of the Tennessee River and Shoals area. Meeting space includes 5,000 square feet at the hotel plus a covered walkway to 25,000 square feet of space at Shoals Conference Center.
The partnership RSA formed with the Shoals region to develop the golf complex and hotel led to RSA investing $1.2 billion in two major manufacturing plants in the area. In 2007, RSA provided $350 million for the two million square-foot rail-car assembly plant and $200 million in 2009 for its production equipment. RSA also financed $590 million to Wise Metals to secure their plant in Sheffield. Investing in industries in the Shoals to further economic expansion in Alabama fit nicely with RSA's investment strategy of investing in the state to increase jobs and tax revenue when returns were equal to or better than in other states.

Additional Resources

Fagan, Mark. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail: Its History and Economic Impact. Montgomery, Ala.: NewSouth Books, 2016.
Published:  January 14, 2021   |   Last updated:  January 19, 2021