February is the height of the snowbird season on the coast, where golfers from northern states head south to enjoy our weather, casinos, beaches, and of course golf. (Photo source: WLOX)
Golf course managers say while we are still not at pre-Katrina levels, business is getting better. (Photo source: WLOX)
SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) -
Every year, they flock to the coast seeking warm temperatures and great golf. They are the snowbirds. Hurricane Katrina dealt a blow to the annual migration, but business is getting back up to par.
At the Great Southern Golf Club, there is a familiar sight in the parking lot. There are cars from way up north, and there is the familiar sound of clubs striking balls.
The snowbirds have arrived, and they like what they see. One of them is Wayne Jacobson from Minnesota.
“My wife loves the ocean, and loves the sun, and we love to golf and go hit the casinos every once in a while and have some fun in there. It's just a fun place to go to,” Jacobson said.
The golf is great, and so are the deals. Tracy McGuire is the manager at Great Southern.
“We have a monthly membership called a nonresident. They pay $250 a month, green fees, cart fees, unlimited golf. They'll play anywhere from 15 to 25 rounds a month,” McGuire explained.
For these golfers, including Jim Kovanda, of Michigan, the deals don't stop there.
“It's quite affordable. Housing is significantly less than a comparable place in Florida. Food is about the same, but relatively speaking, you can go out and have a good time and not have to worry about breaking the budget,” said Kovanda.
In years past, many of the coast golf courses relied on package deals with hotels, motels, and condos in order to drum up business. Now, things have changed. They're becoming much more reliant on self-promotion. Debbie Joyce is the manager at Sunkist Country Club.
“We have a website. We use Facebook. We send out email blasts to the people that we get their email from to let them know what special deals we might have going one,” Joyce said.
When the putts drop, it also bodes well for the future. That fact is backed up by Canadian snowbird Paul Troseth.
“I spent three months here last year. I met these guys through golf, and I liked it, so this year, I've returned for five months. My whole vacation will be here,” Troseth beamed.
That's what industry officials love to hear to help drive our coast economy.
Officials with the association that oversees golf on the coast estimate the annual economic impact of snowbird season is between $3 million and $5 million.