Ross Bridge golf course will probably be under an accelerated renovation plan in 2023 after a recent groundskeeping mistake severely harmed most of its greens a couple of weeks ago.

Ross Bridge is currently not accepting tee times due to an herbicide mix-up that has deteriorated 14 of the course's 18 greens. The course's operators do not yet know when they will reopen the golf course.

Ross Bridge in Hoover is one of 11 sites on the Robert Trent Jones (RTJ) Golf Trail in Alabama, operated by Sunbelt Golf Corporation and owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA).

Dr. David Bronner, chief executive officer of the RSA, said at a quarterly meeting of the Alabama Employees Retirement System Tuesday morning that "the bad things that have happened to the trail really in the last two weeks is the first one we've ever had to be that bad other than we've had hurricanes, we've had tornadoes…now we've decided to kill our own grass so other than that those are the types of things that we deal with."

John Cannon, chairman of the Sunbelt Golf Corporation, said at the meeting that this "disaster" differs from natural disasters where property damage is covered by insurance. 

"We're used to dealing with tornadoes, hurricanes, and the after-effects cleanup," Cannon said. "Usually what happens when those things occur, first of all, we've got some insurance coverage that helps us get through it, and we're actually able to improve the property afterward. If you've been to Silver Lakes after the tornado, anyone who plays golf…I think it's a much better facility."

Cannon told employees' retirement board members that Sunbelt filed a property and casualty claim with their insurer but it was denied. 

Cannon said the damage to Ross Bridge greens was from "an accidental misapplication of herbicide and fertilizer on bent grass greens at Ross Bridge a little over two weeks ago." 

"What we see today we can't determine fully the impact, but the greens quickly started deteriorating," Cannon outlined. "We call it necrosis. They're losing life, the actual plant, and we're attacking it this week with what's called a dryject. That's an injection of some charcoal and profile ceramic mix to try to lessen the impact of that herbicide on what is already in Alabama in the summertime, a cool season grass that we planted 19 years ago last week. They were already stressed, and they did not take it well. It is going to basically accelerate our renovation of those greens which we had in our proposal…in needed renovations to the golf courses. We're probably going to move that up from 2024 to 2023, a one-year acceleration of that which will eventually impact the numbers you're going to see at the end of the book here." 

Cannon said the cause "was a strictly human error." 

"We had every not only system in place, we had the storage capabilities, the lock-in and lock-out capabilities to make sure this accident could never happen, but two or three humans skipped a step," Cannon explained. "When you skip a step with something this important, this is the damage it can cause. We've had minor issues like this on the trail before that affected a green or two, (but) nothing that could decimate an entire set of greens like we've had here. But we're going to fix it." 

At least one unnamed employee at Ross Bridge has been terminated due to the mistake.

"As much as it hurts us, and it really does…it hurts this business," Cannon lamented. "This was a 24-year employee whose only job was ever with the trail and just grew up with added responsibilities over 24 years and was at Ross Bridge for 16 years. We know his family. We know his wife. We know his kids. We love them. To lose someone like that whose whole professional life was dedicated to the trail, it's a real disaster for everybody involved."

According to Sunbelt Golf Corporation, 565,000 rounds have been played in the current fiscal year on the RTJ Trail, and their estimated total for the next fiscal year beginning on October 1 is 639,000 if the damage to Ross Bridge is easily fixable. If Ross Bridge is under renovation next fiscal year and unplayable, that total number of rounds played would drop to 604,000. 

According to its 2021 annual report, the RSA manages retirement investments for 380,635 retired and active Alabama public employees.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.