On the pretty shorelines and inland areas of the Gulf Coast states lies the canvas for an extraordinary golf experience. From the TPC Louisiana, an annual stop on the PGA Tour, to courses that make up the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Golf Trail in Alabama, the Southeast is usually a prime destination for summer tourists.
But the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has changed the dynamics at resort casinos and courses this summer. Some golf clubs have been affected for the worse because fewer tourists are visiting, but other venues have seen an increase in revenue because the oil spill has restricted other activities such as fishing.
The oil spill, the largest in United States history, has had a major impact on both commercial and recreational fishing. With fishing not an option for local residents and tourists, a trip to the golf course becomes an ideal replacement plan.
“We’ve got more business and less business from [the oil spill],” said Phillip Lalas, assistant professional at Pensacola’s Perdido Bay Golf Club, a par-72 layout in the western part of the Florida Panhandle. “A lot of people are resorting to golf as opposed to fishing.”
The Mississippi River estuary in Louisiana is the hatchery for about 30 percent of the nation’s fish, including flounder, trout and tuna, according to Gary Smith’s article in the July 5 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Near the Mississippi estuary in Avondale is the TPC Louisiana, host of the Zurich Classic. The oil spill didn’t deter golfing at this Pete Dye layout in June, as approximately 3,500 rounds — a record high — were played, according to Ryan O’Dowd, sales and marketing director at TPC Louisiana.
But in Gulf Shores, Ala., a small coastal city in Baldwin County, the oil spill has had negative effects on Kiva Dunes Golf Club, as well as the sales of vacation homes and rental condos.
“I think we’re down about 30 percent,” Kiva Dunes Assistant Golf Professional Tyler Gregory said when asked to compare the club’s revenue from 2009 to this year. “[The spill] is affecting the locals who’ve been here a long time.”
Farther up the eastern coast of Mobile Bay is the Lakewood Golf Club, a 36-hole venue that is part of the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Golf Trail. Jason Polk, the head pro, said that business remains normal, as if the spill had not even occurred.
“We haven’t been affected,” Polk said. “We’re blessed to be in a location that hasn’t been affected by the oil spill.”
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began April 20 when a drilling rig exploded about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast. At least 50 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico as of July 22, according to The New York Times, though the well has been capped and a relief well is expected to be in place by mid-August.
The oil hasn’t made its way to the beaches and coastal areas of northwestern Florida, although that situation could change. Jay Iskow, director of golf and general manager of the Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort and Spa in Panama City Beach, said that he’s seen sporadic tar balls near the coast, but nothing significant.
“In contrast to the media hype, our region has not been affected by the oil,” Iskow said. “We always offer golf packages, but there’s nothing we’re doing that’s Gulf-spill related.”