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Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic is first step for a vacation destination

Fallen Oak Golf Club - hole 6
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Fallen Oak, the exclusive course for guests of the Beau Rivage, will host the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic action. (Courtesy of Fallen Oak G.C.)

Chris Monforton was the first to see the possibilities of what a three-day national golf tournament could bring to the Gulf Coast. But the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast couldn't collect the resources on his own.

He was, however, able to sway Anthony Topazi to join his crusade, and the dynamic leader of Mississippi Power quickly cobbled together more than a dozen companies and raised the $2.6 million in less than four months to own a place on the 2010 Champions Tour schedule.

The Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic will be played April 28-May 2 at Fallen Oak, the exclusive course for guests of the Beau Rivage. The Beau Rivage is one of the founding partners for the Tour stop along with resorts IP, Grand Biloxi, Hard Rock and Island View. The Anderson and Yates construction companies have also backed the event, along with Mississippi Power, Cellular South and the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau and the State.

"This is a significant step in becoming a tier one vacation destination," says Topazi, who serves as chairman of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic Foundation, Inc. "In order to get noticed in the national marketplace, you have to have national events. I hope this is the first of many events we can have that attract people to visit the Gulf Coast for its first-class golf, fishing and gaming."

The Resort Classic has a three-year deal with the Tour, but Topazi is thinking long term.

"We want this to be the best stop on the Champions Tour," he says. "The hospitality we can show the Champions Tour players here will make them want to come back year after year."

Monforton's idea bloomed in a way that even he didn't foresee, as Habitat for Humanity has become the benefiting charity for the event. Habitat has completed more than 300 homes in the area since 2007 to help victims of Hurricane Katrina fully recover.

"Home ownership is directly related to the economy and in South Mississippi that is largely tourism dollars," said Monforton. "The promise and possibilities this golf tournament bring to the coast are immense. Not only will the economy benefit, but the national exposure will ensure that people across the country can see what a great place the Mississippi Gulf Coast is for vacationing, for business and for living."

Indeed, this is a story about recovery and rejuvenation. The Gulf Coast had a big league Tour stop for two years immediately after World War II, and it had a Nationwide Tour event during the 1990s. But this time, organizers hope that golf will stay for a while longer.

The golfers on the Champions Tour must be age 50 and older, and the field coming to Fallen Oak includes household names and the legends of the game. Hall of Famers Lee Trevino, Bernhard Langer, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite and Nick Price all have committed to play. And local favorites Loren Roberts and Hal Sutton are on board as well.

Tickets are available from TicketMaster and they are reasonably priced at $15 for any day of the tournament. Public parking will be staged at the IP Casino and Resort and shuttle buses will run continuously to and from the golf course. For more information, visit www.msgulfresortclassic.com.

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Nick PriceAnthony TopaziChris Monforton
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