Harrison County

Will Mississippi’s oldest golf course be turned into a housing development?

A pair plays the Great Southern Golf Club in Gulfport. If plans to sell the club come to fruition, they’ll have to find another place to play.
A pair plays the Great Southern Golf Club in Gulfport. If plans to sell the club come to fruition, they’ll have to find another place to play. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

The Great Southern Golf Club, the oldest course in Mississippi, could become a housing development if the club that owns the course sells it. But the president of the club and the course superintendent said they want it to remain a golf club.

They believe most of the stockholders agree.

President Ellis Hill said they have an offer from someone interested in buying that came before the club’s stockholders last month. The stockholders decided to think about the offer for a couple of months and likely will have a vote on it in January. That potential buyer, Hill said, is interested in creating a housing development.

“We want to keep it a golf course,” said Hill. “That is our goal. We want to keep it a golf course because it is such an important asset to the community. Some many people tell me on a weekly basis: I used to play here with my dad. I used to swim in the pool ... that’s where I learned to swim.”

The almost 130-acre site and clubhouse is listed by broker Lenny Sawyer for $9,750,000. The sale brochure pitches it as prime beachfront land for residential redevelopment with the highest beachfront elevations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Hill said that beach view is also what makes it so valuable as a course.

“You would probably have to drive 300 miles one way another to find another course with five holes on the water,” he said. “It’s just a treasure.”

A nearby 2.34 acres is listed for $448,000 for just the land. The site of the old Landry’s restaurant about half-mile to the west, just over 4 acres, is listed for $2.34 million. It is zoned for low-density, single-family homes. There are residential sites up and down the Coast, including the old William Carey College site practically next door to the course.

Superintendent Alan Thomasson said he believes renovated greens would boost membership and revenue. Both have taken a hit since Katrina.

great southern four
Great Southern Golf Club President Ellis Hill, left, and superintendent Alan Thomasson want to keep the golf course on the beach in Gulfport. Paul Hampton jphampton@sunherald.com

The club has 89 members. Before Katrina, it had 276, Thomasson said. Golfers shoot between 22,000 and 26,000 rounds a year. Thomasson said after a renovation, that number would be at least 32,000.

“Our revenue would probably triple,” Thomasson said. “Every course I contacted that had gone through this renovation, their membership had tripled.”

The club is owned by 217 stockholders who have at least one of the 417 shares of stock valued at $6,000 each. No one can own more than 20 shares of stock, Hill said. Most of the stock originally was purchased by golfers to keep it a golf course. Since then, Hill said, some of the stock as been passed down to members of the family that aren’t as interested in golf. Still, he said, most of the stock is owned by people he believes want to see Great Southern remain a golf club.

This is not the first time the course has been up for sale. A few years back the club tried to sell the course to someone who would keep a golf club there. Nothing came of that attempt and it was taken off the market.

The course dates back to 1908 when a nine-hole course designed by Donald Ross, a famed designer of the era, was built at the site for guests at the Great Southern Hotel in downtown Gulfport, according to the club’s website. It sits on land once owned by Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. Bert Jones built the original clubhouse and the course was named the Great Southern Golf and Country Club in 1910.

In 1921, the club, then owned by the Stewart family, bought land north of the railroad tracks to expand the course to 18 holes. That expansion, designed by Donald Ross, was finished the next year. In the 1940s, Sam Sneed, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan played the course on a southeastern states tour. In 1962, the Stewarts sold it to Mrs. Joe W. Brown. It became the Broadwater Sea Course and was part of the Broadwater Hotel Resort in Biloxi.

The President Casino bought the resort in the early 1990s but sold the course to local stockholders in 1993, when it became the Great Southern Golf Club.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed the clubhouse, which was replaced by the present clubhouse, which opened in 2013.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton