Group leaders key to Gulf Shores' success

GULF SHORES, Ala. - Golf-destination operators sometimes refer to them as "generals" - the individuals who take command of a group of friends and relatives and lead them on annual golf excursions to places like Gulf Shores.

"The guys leading these groups are very important to us,"said Mike McArthur, executive director of the Gulf Shores Golf Association, a marketing group that promotes the area's 10 top-flight golf courses, world-class resort accommodations, 32 miles of sugar-sand beaches, and critically acclaimed fresh-seafood restaurants. "We're very appreciative of their efforts."

Working in conjunction with individuals like Rick Osborn, one of the top golf packagers in Gulf Shores, group leaders assemble a collection of friends and relatives, collect deposits, determine room and golf rates, make reservations, develop a tournament format and attend to various administrative details to make sure everyone under their command has a great time.

"It goes pretty smoothly because of people like Rick," says Craig Thomson, an insurance agency owner from Franklin, La., who has led a diverse group of 24 to 32 New Orleans-area business people on an annual excursion to Gulf Shores for the past 20 years. "The key is having that one person to call and say, 'I have this many people, here are the courses we want to play and the days we want to play.' That way, my work is basically done once everyone gets settled in their rooms and knows their tee times."

Thomson's troops usually play 18 holes a day over a long Thursday-through-Sunday weekend in early April. "We've gotten too old to play 36 a day," says Thomson with a chuckle, noting that most members of the group are over age 40. "Rock Creek is probably our favorite. We play that on the way down Thursday. The Peninsula is a nice layout and Cotton Creek is always in good shape."

Each golfer antes up $25 apiece per day to take part in the four-man-blind-draw scramble. "We have some guys who can shoot 110 and some guys who shoot par," Thomson says. "It works well and most of the guys win some money."

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