(04.01.01) GARY’s BIZ column

Old Waverly, Lee County set pace in different fields

Mississippi’s pre-eminent golf course, Old Waverly in West Point, has reasserted its position with Golf Digest’s biennial ranking of the nation’s best courses.

The club that opened in 1988 and played host to the U.S. Women’s Open two years ago became a staple on Golf Digest’s list in the 1990s.

The magazine has ranked the nation’s links every other year since 1966, and perhaps the most surprising fact about the 2001-2002 America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses is that Pebble Beach, which supplanted Pine Valley in New Jersey, is No. 1 for the very first time. A stellar redesign of its par-3 fifth hole by Jack Nicklaus helped it turn the corner, though Pebble Beach has never been out of the Top 10.

Tradition counts, with the youngest of the Top 10 dating back to 1935.

In Mississippi, Old Waverly Golf Club repeated as the state’s No. 1 course, followed in order by the Dancing Rabbit Azalea course in Philadelphia; Canebrake in Hattiesburg; Grand Bear in Saucier; Annandale in Madison; Laurel Country Club; Dancing Rabbit’s Oaks course; The Oaks in Pass Christian; Country Club of Jackson; and Kirkwood National in Holly Springs. Courses must receive 30 evaluations annually from more than 800 panelists who score them for shot value, resistance to scoring, playability, memorability, aesthetics and conditioning.

Walkability plays a smaller role in this year’s list, while tradition becomes more important, something that kept Old Waverly just off the brink of the Top 100, where it had ranked as high as 88th nationally.

Bringing more events such as the U.S. Women’s Open will help in that regard.

“The USGA is very partial to this region because they were treated like kings here,” said Bill Colloredo, Old Waverly assistant general manager. “The Southern hospitality really impressed them and we still talk to them quite a bit. I wouldn’t rule out another national event at Old Waverly in the next four or five years and maybe another U.S. Women’s open down the line.”

Employment peaks at 110 at the course in summertime, with 500 of the club’s membership of 750 living beyond a 30-mile radius of the course. Members hail from 27 states and five nations, leading to a healthy second-home population surrounding the course and club-managed accommodations.

Since it’s opening, Old Waverly has been a boon for the entire region.

“As Jack Cristil would say, There’s no question about that,'” said John Rucker, executive director of the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority and project manager of the course during its construction. “It’s been something we’ve been able to tout all along and (economic development) was one of the real reasons it was built in the first place. … It was financially sound from the start because of (owner) George Bryan’s backing and ability to sell memberships.”

Look for complete listings in Golf Digest’s May issue, due on newsstands April 10.

First in manufacturing

Speaking of firsts, Lee County is Mississippi’s No. 1 manufacturing area again. Last year, the county slipped briefly below the 18,000-mark for manufacturing jobs and out of first place. But by January, shipping industry layoffs had pushed Jackson County on the coast down to 16,960 jobs while Lee County climbed up to 18,880, an all-time high.

Should Lee County succeed in recruiting a significant food-sector company it’s courting, Tupelo soon could be the hub for nearly 20,000 manufacturing jobs and solidify its hold on first place.

Gary Perilloux is business editor of the Daily Journal.

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