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Last year, 1,700 golfers and guests enjoyed festivities

Oil and gas producers gathering for 35th-annual tournament

When the 35th-annual Mississippi Oilmen`s Invitational Golf Tournament takes place in Laurel over the Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of people in the oil and gas industry will have reason to celebrate: prices have remained strong for the second straight year.

“The oil business this year is very good,” according to Jim O’Neal, chairman of the golf tournament executive committee and district manager of operations for BJ Services. “Another year when oil prices are high. This is good for producers and for service companies, because when profits are good, the producers tend to be more active.”

Registration for the tournament, held at the Dixie Golf Club, is Friday, May 28, and golfers tee off early Saturday and Sunday mornings. “Dog fight” rounds are provided by Dixie Golf Club earlier in the week to help players get ready for the tournament.

“Basically, the tournament is simply a way for service companies to provide a weekend outing for oil and gas producers,” O’Neal said. “We get together with the oil producers and we foot the bill.”

The service companies supply producers with supplies and services vital to oil production, such as auger mud, fishing tools, pipe recovery, waste oil services, perforation, pipe cleaning, completion and sand blasting. There are some 90 such businesses in Laurel and the surrounding area.

“These service companies are important to oil producers,” according to Kerry Allen, Mississippi operations and production manager for Denbury Resources Inc. “It makes no sense to have specialized oil services within a large company. The company couldn`t afford it.”

Denbury is the largest independent oil and gas producer in Mississippi.

BJ Services is primarily a pumping company, supplying such things as cement. With a district office in Columbia, O’Neal oversees operations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.

O’Neal said that the tournament is also for other people related to, but not actually part of, the oil and gas industry, such as construction companies.

“I’m looking forward to seeing business friends from out of town that I only see once a year,” according to Duane Mitchell of Powerlights & Equipment Inc., which supplies portable generators and portable light towers. “There`s networking, socializing, the kind of business that you do on a golf course.”

Mitchell says that, “The oil business seems better than in the past. The last eight months have been better than the previous 24.”

“The most enjoyable thing about the tournament is meeting with customers on a low-key basis, a casual basis,” according to Bill Bryan of Hughes Christensen, a division of Baker Hughes, a worldwide manufacturer of oil drill bits. “This year, we’re seeing an increase in the rigs level. There are more rigs running. It`s going to be a good year.”

Mitchell and Bryan, along with O’Neal, are members of the tournament`s executive committee. Other members are Larry Faggert of Baroid, John Crosby of Advanced Products Inc. and Jerome Harless of Flarestack.

Though most of the participants and guests come from the Laurel area – Jones, Jasper, Wayne and Clarke counties, the four largest oil-producing counties in the state – a number of people from out of the area attend each year, some from as far away as Dallas and Houston.

Last year, some 1,700 golfers and their guests participated in the weekend`s activities.

At the Dixie Golf Club on Saturday and Sunday, sausage and biscuits are served before the shotgun start and lunch is provided both days. Various service companies offer amenities along the course, such as beverages and food.

While the oilmen are playing golf, the women are treated to a champagne brunch with entertainment at the Ramada Inn on Saturday morning and bingo Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the golf club.

There are cocktails for participants and guests early Saturday evening and a dance afterward at the Ramada Inn. Late Sunday afternoon, cocktails are served, followed by supper.

Almost $30,000 is offered in prize money and merchandise. There are 10 flights of golfers and the first place winner in each flight is awarded a Burton Seapearl Watch; second place receives a Mississippi Oilmen`s golf bag and a tote bag goes to third place.

Anyone scoring a hole in one on selected holes can receive such prizes as a car, $1,000, a riding lawn mover or a golf cart. Dozens of on-course gift certificate prizes are offered and there is a wide range of door prizes.

Mitch Stennett, president of the Jones County Economic Development Authority, says that, “The oil industry is a vitally important sector in the economy,” and adds that there are some 2,000 people, in Jones County alone, employed in the industry.

When all the long leaf yellow pine was cut and the sawmills that had brought prosperity to the area shut down, and before diversified industry moved in, oil helped sustain the economy in the four counties.

In September, 1943, oil was struck in Eucutta, in Wayne County. Other strikes followed and by the end of World War II, there was wild speculation and oil people began to move to Laurel. The first oil well was drilled in Jones County in 1954.

Laurel was the nearest city and it became headquarters for Eucutta and five other nearby oil fields.

These days, there are some 1,350 oil and gas wells in Jones, Jasper, Wayne and Clarke counties, according to the Mississippi Oil & Gas Board. These produce some 11 million barrels annually.

“Oil has been a vital economic aspect of Laurel`s economy since the first oil strike in the 1940s,” according to Mayor Susan Vincent.

The week of the golf tournament is proclaimed as “Mississippi Oil Week” in Laurel and people from the oil industry speak at civic clubs.

A beneficial aspect of the tournament is the scholarships given to Jones County Junior College students studying petroleum or related fields, according to Sherry Buckhaults (Baker Oil) of the Laurel Desk & Derrick Club. Money for the scholarships comes from ads that the club sells for the tournament`s schedule and sponsor brochure that Desk & Derrick produces each year.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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