Snowbird Golfers Flock Elsewhere For Winter

Thousands of snowbirds who normally flock to area golf courses this time of year, have apparently landed elsewhere. And, as you might imagine, Hurricane Katrina is mostly to blame.

Perceptions about storm damage and a shortage of affordable hotel rooms are among the contributing factors.

Tim Bailey launched a drive on a sunny, windy day at Shell Landing. He's among the few snowbirds we spotted on a day the course would normally be crawling with visitors from the north.

"Oh it's beautiful. It's great weather. Better than up north, that's for sure," said Bob Kehoe from Illinois.s

"Right now, this week we had a cold front, so it's 35 or 40 degrees," he added.

The Chicago golfers decided to play at the tail end of a business trip. The Northern visitors had little trouble getting a tee time.

"We're roughly about 25 percent of what we had last year from our tourist traffic. Hughes says the tremendous shortage of hotel rooms is the biggest reason for the slack season. Rooms that are available are often double the price of a year ago," said Shell Landing club pro, Kenny Hughes.

"And it's hard to ask a tourist to come to a devastated area and pay fifty percent more than they paid last year to come on vacation and play golf," he said.

There's also that misconception about storm damage.

"I'm shocked that it's in this good a condition. I mean I would have thought, I'm from California, I would have thought that a place like this wouldn't be around, but it is," said Jason Moore.

Snowbird numbers are down significantly across the coast. We checked with golf courses at Sunkist, Diamondhead, The Bridges and St. Andrews. Nearly all of them reported this year's snowbird business is down 80 percent or more compared to a year ago.

The Shell Landing club pro predicts the next "several " winters will be a challenge. But his long range look is more than promising.

"We've got new golf courses coming on line. We'll have new hotels, new condos. There's a lot that's going to happen," said Hughes.

Birdies on the horizon to replace this dismal, double bogey winter after Katrina.