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PGMG takes turnaround formula to Sanctuary

Professional Golf Management Group Inc. (PGMG) and husband-and-wife owners Bob and Joycelyn Ford are trying it again. After recently purchasing the under-served Brookwood Country Club in rural Hinds County, PGMG is bringing its strategy of turning around neglected golf courses to Sanctuary Golf Course in rural Rankin County, acquired in April.

“My first reaction to Sanctuary was identical to my first reaction to Brookwood — wow!” said Jackson native Bob Ford, a former baseball player at Jackson State University who gave up a lucrative corporate career for golf. “It is a beautiful piece of property.”

Sanctuary is an 18-hole, 72-par, 6,400-yard course located just off Mississippi 18 near Brandon. Membership had dwindled to the point that no one today even remembers when the course was built. However, much as it was at Brookwood, PGMG’s impact on Sanctuary has seemingly been immediate.

Sanctuary, which draws members and players from throughout Rankin County and beyond, saw its membership rise an estimated 10% in less than a month, and the Fords and general manager Brad Armstrong, who came over from Brookwood, believe that number is conservative — it could be double that. (Records are so incomplete, it is hard to get accurate figures.) The amount of golf played is up even more, they said.

A new day?

The swimming pool that had not been functional in years is getting a facelift. New bunkers dot the course. Perhaps more than that, a sense that a new day has arrived is prevalent among not only the members, but the 16 employees, as well.

“I’ve seen more visual improvements at Sanctuary in the last three weeks that I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” said pro shop assistant Tom Parkison, a longtime Sanctuary player.

Armstrong, also a native of Jackson and a sports management graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, said, “The employees at Sanctuary for years had not received the recognition they deserved for the work they were doing. Then, they come in one morning to find Bob and I building a bunker. The employees really appreciate what Bob and Miss Joyce are doing here.”

Sanctuary is more than just a golf course. It includes a series of quaint rental log cabin-type buildings, a separate campground and three large lakes stocked with fish. Thus, PGMG is planning on holding fishing tournaments, “Movie Night,” to be held downstairs in the clubhouse, and other non-golf offerings. Large, expensive homes are going up in the gated Sanctuary subdivision, which one passes through on Sanctuary Drive on the way to the course, and that means prospective members/players.

“You have to get the community and the people involved. If not, you’re dead,” Bob said.

PGMG is expecting the success it has experienced at Brookwood. From October 2004, when the Fords became the first African-American owners of a golf course in Mississippi history (they co-own Brookwood with Howard and Barbara Whitlock), through May 2005, Brookwood has gained 135 new members. It went from eight tournaments booked in all of 2004 to a current 38 tournaments. Ballroom rentals went from six or so events in 2004 to 31 events booked. A Sunday buffet was added and has been successful.

Joycelyn, an Illinois native, has single-handedly headed up all of PGMG’s marketing efforts. Like her husband, she keeps long hours and wears many hats.

PGMG is far from satisfied. It has the expressed goal of being one of the largest golf management companies in the Southeast. The formula is to go to neglected courses, including municipal ones, and come in either in an ownership or management capacity with the mission of enhancing the property, and this could mean just running, say, the pro shop and nothing else. The company is not interested in the elite courses, but those that offer a quality venue to players whose pockets might not be quite so deep.

Other deals in works

PGMG is currently in negotiations for ownership or management deals involving courses scattered across Mississippi and Louisiana. The Fords could not comment on the details.

Devout people, the Fords use golf as a ministry, and have established the Bob Ford Christian Golf Foundation Inc., a non-profit organization that uses golf to reach young people.

The Fords said what they do, they do for the next generation, including their own children — 11th-grader Robyn and Robert II, a state-ranked golfer soon headed for college.
“Sanctuary — I love that name,” Joycelyn said smiling.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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