Lousiana unveils plans for golf trail

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Golf will become a major part of Louisiana's tourism marketing with the launch of the state's Audubon Golf Trail next fall.

Between five and eight courses will be chosen to participate in the trail, which will be backed by a $1 million annual marketing budget from the state.

Details of the project were announced by the state's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

A 12-member commission, formed by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to assist in setting criteria and standards and selecting the courses, started meeting last fall.

"We've lagged behind other states. We've been passive in promoting golf," said Stuart Johnson, deputy assistant secretary at the Office of State Parks, which is developing the trail.

His office expects to start accepting applications from golf courses in late February.

"We have many excellent courses, but we're going to be very selective.

Developing criteria is a critical part of the process," Johnson said.

About 40 courses have shown interest, and 15 to 20 are expected to apply, he said.

Tee times will be booked through the state parks' existing reservations system for cabins and other park facilities.

"We're on target to have [the trail] up and operating and the reservations system in place in the fall," said Johnson.

The trail is being modeled on Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

"Alabama is our model. The trail's effect on tourism there has been tremendous," Johnson said.

All eight courses of the RTJ Golf Trail, stretching from the Appalachians to the Gulf of Mexico, were developed, funded and are owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, a state employee pension fund.

The courses were built to stimulate tourism and economic development and to attract retirees.

Louisiana had intended that the Audubon Golf Trail be a mix of new and existing courses.

The office had sought bids for developers to build courses at three state parks.

However, only one bid was received by the deadline last June, and that did not fulfill the minimum bid requirements.

Johnson said that although the idea of new private courses has been abandoned for the present, it is still a future possibility.

For additional information on the golf trail, call the Office of State Parks at (877) 226-7652 or visit the Web site at www.crt.state.la.us.

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