Arkansas adds itself to list of southern state golf trails

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Pretty soon, if the current trend continues, the southern United States could be one big golf trail.

Following on the successes of golf trails in other southern states, Arkansas has now come up with one called the Natural State Golf Trail.

The trail will link 10 public, 18-hole courses throughout the state. The courses were selected after being ranked by an advisory panel.

"We've got some nice courses here, but the word's not out," trail president Jim Shamburger told "We're trying to get the word out that we do have nice golf here. It's a varied experience. We've got mountain courses, we've got links-style courses, we've got courses on the river. We've got real old courses and we've got some courses that are fairly new."

Shamburger said the inspiration came partly from the Robert Trent Jones trail in Alabama, which has been successful in luring tourists to a state not normally thought of as a vacation haven. The RTJ's nine facilities and 414 holes of golf are owned by the state's retirement system.

But, Shamburger said, the Arkansas idea has more in common with the Audubon Golf Trail in Louisiana.

"All our courses are independently owned, like the Audubon Trail," he said. "We basically linked up a bunch of very nice, public facilities together to make a trail."

The Arkansas project won't have the marketing or advertising clout of its southern brethren, but it has partnered with Fairways Golf Inc. in Mobile, which also works with the RTJ Trail and the Audubon Trail.

Marketing efforts are expected to begin in earnest in October. That will include golf and travel packaging, a Web site and a toll-free number. The Web site will be and the toll-free number will be (866) 246-5327.

More courses may be added, but the current facilities on the trail are:

• Big Creek Golf and Country Club in Mountain Home. Designed by Tom Clark and opened in 2000, Big Creek earned five stars from Golf Digest in the magazine's Places to Play in May. The course was built on nearly 200 acres of rolling terrain, which includes four lakes and Big Creek itself. The course features white sand bunkers, zoysia fairways and bentgrass greens. It plays 7,320 yards from the tips and offers five sets of tees.

• Harbor Oaks Golf Club in Pine Bluff opened in 1995. It's a 7,010-yard course with a course rating of 72.6 and slope rating of 122. The course was ranked No. 4 on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's list of top public courses. It features a 15,000-square-foot clubhouse and excellent practice facilities. The club hosted the 2001 Women's Southern Senior Championships.

• The Red Apple Inn and Country Club in Heber Springs opened in 1964 on Greers Ferry Lake. The course was built in 1981 from a design by Gary Panks. The inn sits on 650 acres of rural farmland and forest, and also has a full-service marina. The course has a putting green and sand and chipping areas.

• Stonebridge Meadows in Fayettville, designed by Randy Heckenkemper, is also ranked one of the top public courses after its 1997 opening - No. 2 on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette list. It's 7,150 yards from the tips, has fairly wide landing areas, and has water coming into play on seven holes. There are few trees serving as obstacles, but wind can be a factor here.

• Sage Meadows in Jonesboro was designed by Kevin Tucker and Tommy Bolt. It opened in 1998 and offers a mixture of hard and easy holes, with mid-sized greens, few trees and rolling, links-style fairways.

• Thunder Bayou Golf Links in Blytheville is a Tom Clark-designed course close to Memphis. It's 7,156 yards from the back tees. The course opened in 2002 and offers a putting green and sand and chipping areas.

• The Mountain Springs and Cypress Creek courses at Greystone Golf and Country Club in Cabot opened in 1995. The Mountain Springs course is 7,019 yards. The Cypress Creek course opened in 1998. Both were designed by Kevin Tucker.

• The Arlington and Majestic courses at Hot Springs Country Club in Hot Springs provide the history. The Majestic course opened in 1908 and Arlington debuted in 1932 and was renovated in the late 1990s by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. The Majestic measures 6,836 yards while the Arlington tops out at 6,646 yards.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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