David Bronner has marked his place in Alabama political and governmental history. He has headed the revered Retirement Systems of Alabama pension funds for 45 years. When Bronner became CEO of the RSA, it had approximately $500 million of funds. Today, the RSA has more than $40 billion in investments, making it the 50th largest public pension fund in the world.

Alabama public employees will swear by, stand up for and place on a golden pedestal David Bronner. They credit him with securing their retirement years with a solid foundation. Indeed, he has. Our Alabama public employee and teacher retirement systems are financially sound and the envy of most other states.

Bronner was born in Iowa and received his elementary and high school education in Minnesota. He came to Alabama to study at the University of Alabama School of Law, where he earned his law degree in 1971. Shortly after graduation, he became assistant dean of the UA law school. In 1973, at age 29, he became head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. (He also earned a Ph.D. from UA in 1972.)

Today, Bronner is a youthful looking 74 with plenty of vigor and probably no plans to retire. He loves golf and good cigars. A conversation with him is an experience you will never forget. He is vivacious and quick-witted. There is no mistaking that you are talking with someone very intelligent. He will digest your words almost before they are out of your mouth and his reply, though immediate and succinct, will seem as though he has given it 15 minutes of thought. Of course, that may be because we native Alabamians talk a little slower than he does.

The Retirement System of Alabama has contributed a great deal to the state’s economy over the last 45 years. The RSA manages pensions for 358,000 public teachers and public employees and, at the end of 2018, had $43.8 billion under management.

Bronner’s greatest legacy, however, may be his creation of the state’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, which even in its first years generated a profit for the RSA. The brilliance of the Golf Trail is not only the profits it generates for the RSA, but the peripheral boost to our state’s economy. The economic benefits and prestige that it brings to our state are exponential.

The Trail has enhanced the image of Alabama, which has aided corporate recruitment and also made the state a tourist destination. It brings well-heeled northern golfers to our state for week-long stays who spend untold amounts of money in our hotels and restaurants. Snowbird golf enthusiasts are locked out of their home courses six to seven months of the year. They journey to the warm climes of the Heart of Dixie to play these world class courses, and when they do they might even see Bronner playing on an adjoining hole, chomping on his ever-present cigar.

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s first seven sites were constructed in Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Opelika-Auburn, Dothan and Greenville. These seven were completed from 1990 to 1994. The Prattville site opened in 1999 and the Lakewood Club courses in Point Clear joined the Trail the same year. The premier Hoover site at Ross Bridge opened in 2005.

RSA resort hotels were developed in affiliation with six of the Golf Trail complexes. The Grand Hotel is adjacent to the Lakewood Club in Point Clear. The RSA Battle House Renaissance Hotel and Riverview are near Magnolia Grove in Mobile. The Marriott at Capitol Hill in Prattville and the Montgomery Renaissance serve Capitol Hill in Prattville. The Shoals Marriott in Florence serves the Shoals complex in Sheffield. The Marriott Resort at Grand National in Opelika serves the Opelika-Auburn course.

The crown jewel may very well be the Ross Bridge course and Ross Bridge Renaissance Resort Hotel and Spa. This Hoover location attracts national conventions and has spawned one of the premier residential neighborhoods in the state. Ross Bridge is home to a good many of the young physicians and medical specialists from UAB.

 

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the Alabama Legislature. Readers can email him at steve@steveflowers.us.