By Ken MacLeod
A bill to create an Oklahoma Golf Trail was filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives by state rep Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, on Thursday, along with a separate bill to create an annual Oklahoma Golf Day to celebrate the game and it’s impact on business, tourism and recreation in Oklahoma.
With the Oklahoma Golf Trail Creation Act, Dills hopes to mirror the success of the Oklahoma Fishing Trail, which according to metrics used by Oklahoma Tourism is estimated to bring in $45 million annually to the state above expenses.
The bill would create a commission to create a set of standards for inclusion on The Oklahoma Golf Trail. Funding was largely unaddressed in the bill and would have to be worked out. Dills and Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell, who has been a staunch supporter, envision the Trail creating more play for Oklahoma courses from both inside and outside the state.
“I envision the funding to be a public/private partnership” Dills said, explaining that the commission would need to investigate advertising and marketing expenses and opportunities.
Dills, who played collegiately at Oklahoma State, is a former four-time Women’s Oklahoma Golf Association State Amateur Champion and a past president of that organization. She has long worked diligently to promote the game at all levels.
“I think this is a great opportunity to help promote many of the golf courses in the state, bring about economic development and attract people from out of state,” Dills said. “Golfers know that Oklahoma is a golf mecca but sometimes the average person doesn’t understand what a jewel we have here. How we’re hosting major championships, have these tremendous college programs right up through the professional ranks.
“When a major championship such as the PGA Championship comes to Tulsa this spring, companies from all over the country will be looking not just at Southern Hills but at the community and the state. I think we have a lot to show off. The Trail will just be another opportunity for us to keep building tourism.”
The nine-person commission would have five members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, two by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and two appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma State Senate.
The bill asks that members be knowledgeable about the Oklahoma golf industry as well as tourism and commerce in Oklahoma.
Once criteria for being a part of the trail is created and courses selected, the Trail would be promoted both in-state but particularly to enhance natural travel patterns of visitors to the state. Pinnell said that means Texans, who are already flooding into southeastern Oklahoma around the Beavers Bend State Park, to get on the trail. A natural entry point is on I-44 in the northeast and Shangri-La Resort stands out as a natural to anchor incursions from Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and elsewhere.
“We’re very interested,” said Mike Williams, director of communications and governmental affairs for Shangri-La. “We have a lot of questions and want to see how it is funded, whether they are going to require participating courses to pay to be on it, where the advertising dollars will come from and how they’ll be spent, lots of details. But we certainly are interested and believe it can be a great thing for golf and tourism.”
“As I think our Oklahoma Fishing Trail has demonstrated, when you promote unique attractions in our state, it can increase revenue and this is a wonderful opportunity to increase golf participation,” Pinnell said. “As we’ve seen with trails in Alabama, Louisiana and other state, they can really help create more tourism leading to job creation. We have some of the most wonderful courses in these unique geographic settings around the state and we have to advertise and promote these hidden gems.”
Dills, whose late husband Joey Dills was one of Oklahoma’s top amateur players and a former PGA Tour professional, said she was happy to be able to get the ball rolling on promoting Oklahoma golf.
“I am just really excited to be able to do this for golf and for the state,” she said. “Golf is very special to me and I’m looking forward to having the commission come together and see where we go from here.”
The bill will go to the Tourism Committee in the House in February, then hopefully to the main floor of the House, followed by the Senate in late February. Dills said the bill should be ready to be signed prior to the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, which should be a great opportunity to work on public/private partnerships and potential funding. Senator James Leewright, the chairman of the business, commerce and tourism committee, has agreed to run the bills in the Senate.
The second bill called for the third Wednesday of June from 2023 forward to be known as Oklahoma Golf Day, a day to recognize the industry for the recreational opportunities it provides, the jobs it creates, the positive impact it makes in providing green space for trees, plants, birds and animals.