By Ken MacLeod
Two golf-related bills passed the Oklahoma Senate today, one to create an Oklahoma Golf Trail and the second to designated an official annual Day of Golf in Oklahoma.
With the PGA Championship about to be held for the fifth time at Southern Hills Country Club and the 13th major golf championship to be held in the state not counting senior championships, the legislature agreed with State Rep. Sheila Dills, who originally filed both bills in the House, that it is time to recognize and promote the state’s exceedingly rich golf heritage.
HB3647 creating the Oklahoma Golf Trail was passed 35-8. It was amended slightly and will have to go back to the House where it had previously passed for a final vote. HB3646 creating the Day of Golf passed 36-9 and will become law when signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, a strong proponent of both measures and Oklahoma tourism in general, said today he was excited to see the bills pass.
“I’ve learned that when you promote something that is uique and authentic enough, it sells really well,” Pinnell said. “We have world class golf courses in Oklahoma that are very unique and will draw golfers from other states. But we have to promote them. We have to let everyone know that Oklahoma is a top 10 golf state. This Oklahoma Golf Trail is going to be a catalyst to help a lot of communities promote our outdoor recreation opportunities.”
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, 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.”
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.
House Bill 3646 designates the third Wednesday in June each year as Golf Day in the State of Oklahoma. The goal is to help the state golf industry promote the game and generate additional revenue.
“Oklahoma is a golf mecca, and our courses need to be promoted,” Dills said. “This will increase economic development and attract people to visit and retire in our wonderful state while at the same time enjoying the many benefits of this incredible game.”
The nine-member commission created in HB3647 would be responsible for putting out requests for proposals for the marketing component of accepting courses to be located along the trail and to solicit funding from public-private partnerships for the trail.