Snowbirds Brings Their Golf Clubs To Coast

Gary Bahlow spends every January and February in South Mississippi. For two months, Bahlow and his wife Barbara play golf at Mississippi Gulf Coast golf courses. "We get away from the bad weather," the Springfield, Ill., man said.

Bahlow said the couple chooses the coast because "it's reasonable. The prices are reasonable here."

The two month get away should only cost the Bahlows about $3,000. Each winter they drive from Springfield, Illinois to Diamondhead. And they play golf with eight to 10 other couples, friends like Roger Bidwell.

"It's only 810 miles from my house. So it's close," Bidwell said, as he described why he's been a snowbird for almost 15 years. "You don't have to climb on an airplane and go somewhere."

The Springfield couples don't buy golf packages. They simply call a course, book a tee time, and play. Industry leaders say they're part of the reason Gulf Coast golf is on the rise.

Kevin Drum is the executive director of the Gulf Coast Golf Association .

"We're about 10,000 rounds ahead in bookings for bookings in February, March and April this same time last year," he said.

Drum is the first executive director of the golf association in its 20 year history. He said 15 area courses gave him a $250,000 budget to market coast golf courses and golf packages, not only during snowbird season, but throughout the year.

"By doing that," Drum said, "we feel we can easily double the number of golf package room nights, and increase the economic impact to around $80 to100 million."

That would be more than twice as much money as golf and hotel packages brought into the area last year.

In 2001, coast hotels and coast golf courses sold 77,000 golf packages. Drum said he's hopeful that number jumps to 90,000 golf packages this year. Half of those rounds will be played the next three months, during what South Mississippi considers the snowbird season.