West Virginiaís Arnold Palmer Golf Trail Gains Momentum

In February 2001, the state of West Virginia received two responses to a request for proposal to build the Arnold Palmer Golf Trail. The most complete proposal came from Colbert-Burns & McDonnell, a Kansas City development-management firm headed by Senior PGA Tour pro, Jim Colbert. The other proposal was submitted by Kemper Sports Management of North Brook, Illinois. Kemper Sportsí submitted its proposal in cooperation with Craig Schreiner Golf Course Architects.

Colbertís proposal identified seven sites in Star City, Fayetteville, Lake Stephens, Charles Town, Chester, Summersville, and a site in Putnam County. The company said it had secured six of the properties, with the exception of the Putnam County parcel, which lies on the campus of Marshall University. If that property doesn't work, Colbert said it intended to find another site in the area. Many of the sites in the Colbert proposal already have plans for hotels.

Colbert identified its partners as the Arnold Palmer Course Co., Ranger Construction, LA Gates (an engineering firm), and investment banker, Ferris Baker Watts, which would finance the groupís $46-million proposal. Kemper didn't identify any sites for its version of the golf trail, nor provide prices, but the company's RFP was accepted by the state.

The selected company must do a feasibility study and a marketing-financial analysis on each course to determine if it would be workable. The $300,000 cost of the study will be paid through a special state appropriation. The RFP stipulated that the land for the golf courses had to be donated to the state, and the golf trail is to be based on private investment and private operation. Each of the facilities would include an 18-hole, championship-length course.

A West Virginia golf trail was originally advocated by former state Natural Resources director John Rader, who took the idea for the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. The facilities involved in that successful chain of golf courses are responsible for 3 percent of Alabamaís $24 billion golf travel industry. West Virginia envisions a similar windfall, with Larry Lundine, Colbertís director of project development, estimating that over five years such a trail would generate a $2.5 billion to $3 billion boon to the state.