The year-old Magnolia Golf Trail continues to gain national recognition.
The January 2004 issue of Sky magazine described the trail experience: “if… you like to mix your golf with rural beauty, genuine local hospitality and the kind of small-town charm that seems to be vanishing from America with every new suburban strip mall, the Magnolia Golf Trail is a fine place to make the journey.” Southern Traveler magazine featured the trail in its September/October issue, saying “… the superb courses on the trail are as beautiful as the blossom itself.”
The Magnolia Golf Trail was created in 2002 after Jackson native Scott Kelly noticed that neighboring states were enjoying great golfing success. The Retirement Systems of Alabama was raking in more than $3 billion annually in tourism spending via the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, which links eight golf courses throughout the state. Louisiana has the Audubon Trail, Tennessee created the Bear Trace Golf Trail, and even the Great Smoky Mountains boasts its own golf route.
“The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has made Alabama a top 10 golfing destination in the world, and I knew there was no reason Mississippi couldn`t do the same thing,” said Kelly, co-creator of the trail. “Besides, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail was not built for the average golfer. It`s a hard layout. We wanted to cater to golfers of all ages and all handicaps.”
Kelly, Curt Busching, Vince Phillips, Sam McLeod, and Gena Hutchinson collaborated with strategic partner GodwinGroup and established an advisory panel to create the trail. Fourteen premiere golf courses, offering 261 holes of golf and 55 miles of fairways, were selected. If approved by the advisory group, more courses could be added, for a maximum of 20, said Kelly.
“No new courses have been accepted into membership on the trail, though discussions have been held with four additional courses,” said GodwinGroup president Philip Shirley. “This is an ongoing process, with no rush to expand at this time. One course is likely to be added this summer, but details are not finalized so it is premature to announce.”
The Golf Trail Card costs $49.95 and provides members with one-half off an introductory round at the 14 courses and ongoing preferred discounted green fees ranging between 20% and 40%. Members also receive the Magnolia Golf Trail magazine and merchandise discounts at selected golf shops. Tee-times must be scheduled by phone, and cart rental is required.
Shirley said it was impossible to provide a number of rounds played because individual courses book the rounds and do not report them to a central source.
“This information will be gathered over time as additional tracking procedures are put in place,” he said. “We do know that one local course in Jackson tracked the numbers and reported well over 300 rounds last summer.”
For the same reason, it`s also difficult to determine the economic impact of the trail, said Shirley.
“This will be the first full year with things in place and should be a better indicator of the potential impact for the future after more aggressive marketing is put in place,” he said. “Last year was primarily a startup period to work out the operational details.
Clearly, the trail concept continues to gain visibility nationally, with golf trails now established or announced in every contiguous state to Mississippi.”
Golfers can now book Mississippi hotel or resort rooms through the trail`s online booking partner, Hotels.com, on the trail`s award-winning Web site, www.magnoliagolftrail.com.
The 14 premier golf courses comprising the Magnolia Golf Trail include:
• Beau Pre Country Club in Natchez, featuring Tift Eagle greens and bluff vistas;
• Big Oaks Golf Club in Saltillo, located near the birthplace of Elvis and featuring “more than 70 acres of water, well-placed bunkers and rolling fairways of hybrid 419 Bermuda grass;”
• The Bridges Golf Club at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, featuring 21 bridges, Scottish-style bunkers and briny marshlands. Golf Digest and Casino Player recently rated it the best course on the Mississippi Gulf Coast;
• Canebrake Golf Club in Hattiesburg, a par 71 Jerry Pate-designed course considered by Golf Digest the nation`s second-best new course for $50 and under;
• Caroline Country Club in Madison, a player-friendly course;
• Mallard Pointe at John Kyle State Park in Sardis, featuring countryside views and more than 7,000 yards of play;
• The Club at North Creek in Southaven, considered one of the best new courses in the nation in 1999 and featuring a 628-yard 4th hole surrounded by water on one side;
• The Oaks Golf Club in Pass Christian, voted a top 10 course in Mississippi by Golf Digest and host of the Nike Tour, Buy.com Tour and more professional tournaments than any other course on the Gulf Coast;
• Patrick Farms Golf Club in Jackson, one of the only golf courses in Central Mississippi that offers a shot-saving GPS-equipped cart;
• River Bend Links in Robinsonville, a Scottish-style links course in the Delta near the casino-laden Mississippi River;
• Timberton Golf Club in Hattiesburg, selected Mississippi`s top-rated public/semi-private golf course by Golf Digest in 1998 and host of national events such as the PGA Tour School;
• Wedgewood Golfers’ Club in Olive Branch, a narrow course with four sets of tees and fast greens;
• Whisper Lake Country Club in Madison, a challenging and picturesque par 64; and
• Windance Country Club in Gulfport, selected by Golf Digest and Southern Journal of Golf as one of the state`s five best private courses, frequented by PGA tournament winners Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk and Allen Doyle.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.