Ronnie Bruno

Ronnie Bruno and the Bruno Event Team turn logistics and hospitality into an art form at sporting events all over the country, including this month’s Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek.

By Joe O’Donnell

From the deck outside of Ronnie Bruno’s top-floor office off of Highway 280, the view is so clear some days you’d swear you could almost see Shoal Creek, just there over the undulating hills of North Shelby County.

But whether it is hazy or clear, Bruno has a clear view of where he has been and where he is going, as he leads the sports event and marketing business he and Gene Hallman started back in the mid-1990s. Shoal Creek is the next hill to climb for the company as it

manages the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek this month at the legendary golf club.

The Regions Tradition (May 3-8) is the successor event to the Regions Classic, which has been held since the early 1990s at Greystone and Ross Bridge. The Regions Tradition is a major championship on the PGA’s Champions Tour

“We’re very excited to move this major championship to Alabama and Shoal Creek,” said Mike Stevens, President of the Champions Tour.  “The Greater Birmingham area has embraced and shown tremendous support for the Champions Tour over the years, and delivering a major championship to this community was a natural fit.  Having the opportunity to conduct the event at Shoal Creek—one of the nation’s finest golf courses with a proven history of delivering exciting major championships—will propel the Regions Tradition to a new level of major championship status.”   The Golf Channel will televise the tournament exclusively each of the four days to more than 133 countries, reaching more than 117 million households.  Regions Financial will become the title sponsor of the Regions Tradition, having formerly been title sponsor of the Regions Charity Classic, a Champions Tour event played annually at Robert Trent Jones Trail at Ross Bridge in Hoover, Ala. “Since 2006, Regions has supported Alabama charities and communities through our partnership with the PGA Tour, and we are pleased to honor our existing commitment while also bringing a Champions Tour Major to Alabama for the first time,” said Grayson Hall, President and CEO of Regions Financial. “Most importantly, the tournament will benefit the children and families across the state who rely on Children’s Hospital of Alabama, the primary beneficiary of the 2011 Regions Tradition.”  The Regions Tradition will be the first of five major championships on the 2011 Champions Tour season, with a history dating to 1989 when Don Bies won the first Tradition at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz. After 14 years in the Grand Canyon state, the Tradition relocated to Oregon for the next seven years before finding a home at Shoal Creek.  Former U.S. Secretary of State, Birmingham native and Shoal Creek member Condoleeza Rice will be the honorary chairperson for the Regions Tradition and is expected to hit the ceremonial first tee at Shoal Creek this month.

Shoal Creek

Shoal Creek is a proven venue that has stood the test of time, having previously hosted two PGA Championships in 1984 and 1990. The 7,234-yard, par 72, Jack Nicklaus-designed layout provided three-stroke victories for both Trevino in 1984 and Wayne Grady in 1990. “Shoal Creek is honored to be hosting another major golf championship,” said Tournament Chairman Mike Thompson. “Our members are eager to showcase our outstanding club to golf fans around the world. We will work hard to provide the players, spectators, sponsors and volunteers a first-class experience. The Regions Tradition will certainly be well received by the Birmingham community.”  The Champions Tour has a significant impact on the communities that host events. The Children’s Hospital of Alabama will be the primary beneficiary of charitable contributions generated by the Regions Tradition, encouraging greater community support and participation. It is anticipated the economic impact on the region will be significant due to increased awareness of the tournament’s status as a major championship.

“Children’s Hospital of Alabama is grateful to Regions and The Champions Tour for designating Children’s as the primary charity of the Regions Tradition,” according to Mike Warren, President and CEO. “Bringing the Regions Tradition to the Birmingham area underscores Regions’ commitment to communities throughout Alabama and it will magnify the impact Children’s will make on the lives of children and families throughout our state,” For Ronnie Bruno and the Bruno Event Team, The Regions Tradition is an opportunity to see an event and local tradition they brought into the world take flight in new, exciting directions. Tournament golf in Birmingham has come a long way since those early days when Ronnie Bruno was still in the supermarket business and Greystone was just being developed.

“I remember a promoter called me as president of Bruno’s and asked me if we’d be interested in sponsoring an LPGA event, and I told him we would be more interested in a Senior Tour (now Champions Tour) event,” Bruno says. “I saw sponsoring a tournament as a good way to give back to the community.” At the same time, the Greystone golf community was being developed. In November 1991, the first Champions Tour event was announced under a tent at Greystone; the clubhouse had yet to be finished. Three weeks later tragedy struck when a plane carrying Bruno’s executives, including Ronnie’s father and uncle, crashed, killing all on board. Ronnie Bruno turned that original golf tournament into a memorial for the deceased members of the Bruno family and corporate family, what was then called the Bruno’s Memorial Classic.  Gene Hallman was the first director, and there were a total of four staff people, Bruno says. “But the crowds were huge and we enjoyed great corporate support. The 1990 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek proved there was a hunger for golf here, but the crowds surprised us. The players loved seeing all of the people come out. And we gave $300,000 to 72 different charities.” Bruno personally signed all of the checks for charities and has kept that tradition up each year.  Tradition and a respect for the past has played a big role in Bruno’s business career over the decades. “After the tragedy, everyone thought we would probably not go through with that first tournament, but I said, ‘No, we are going forward and we are going to memorialize it,’” according to Bruno. After 15 years as the Bruno’s Memorial Classic, the next four years as the Regions Classic, this year that tradition continues and is enhanced as the Regions Tradition, one of the majors on the PGA’s Champions Tour. Although he might not have realized it at the time, the birth of the golf tournament was a prelude to a second career for Ronnie Bruno. In 1995, the supermarket company his family had built from scratch since the 1930s was sold.  “I was 45 and wanted to do something,” he says. “I thought we could take what we had learned about organizing a golf event  and implement it in other places. Our first event was the U.S. Open at Old Waverly in Mississippi, and then we managed Olympic Soccer here in Birmingham in 1996,” Bruno says. The Bruno Event Team has grown steadily from there. BET manages more than 30 events per calendar year under four divisions—Golf, ZOOM Motorsports, Five Star Catering and Think + Creative Services— and manages events for the Alabama Sports Foundation.  Bruno Event Team’s golf division has managed all of the U.S. Senior Open Championships since 2004, along with seven U.S. Women’s Open Championships since 1999.  The company employs more than 70 full-time associates and 20 intern and limited term employees in nine offices around the country. In addition, the company manages  game day operations at the University of Alabama and is in the running for managing similar college athletics programs. Zoom Motorsports manages events at the Barber Motorsports Park, including last month’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. The company also oversees the Alabama Sports Foundation. “Golf is not a glamorous business for us,” Bruno says. “We are not out there swinging a golf club. We run everything as a business. I’ve been blessed to be around great business people like my father my whole life. At one time we served two million customers a week at Bruno’s Supermarkets. It is all about taking care of customers, which is the philosophy I grew up with. Do the right thing. Keep things simple. Do things the right away. Give more than is expected. Make it first class. .Cutting corners never works,” Bruno says

“Reputation is everything in this business. We work with the USGA, PGA, Indy Racing, the Alabama High School Athletic Association, and we give each client our best work. Because of that I think our opportunities are unlimited.”

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