Tournament Town: Grove, Okla.

GROVE, Okla. — A visit to the city boat ramp is all it takes to understand why Grove, Okla., is a top shelf tournament town.

On the outskirts of the eastern Oklahoma town is Wolf Creek Park and Boating Facility. It is anything but a small town boat ramp. The many tournament amenities make Wolf Creek undeniably the envy of any tournament town in the nation.

So do the volunteers, civic leaders and businesses going all out to keep tournaments big and small coming back.

Wolf Creek spans 42 acres on the shoreline of the Wolf Creek arm of Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees. The 46,500-acre impoundment claims the distinction of having the longest multiple arch dam in the world. That consists of 51 arches totaling 5,145 feet in length. Pensacola Dam might be a concrete spectacle, but for any tournament organizer or fisherman it’s Wolf Creek Park that is the keystone of the lake.

Parking with extra long spaces for 600 RVs, or trucks towing trailers is a cornerstone feature. So is a covered pavilion with a permanent weigh-in stage and concrete fish holding tank. Adjacent to that is a six-lane boat ramp with seven temporary mooring docks for use during launch, trailering and weigh-in. A seawall protects the docks from rough water. Walking trails, picnic areas and restrooms are on site, along with abundant space for large tents when festivals come to town. The park even offers free WiFi access.

If you build it, they will come
Borrowing a script line from the movie “Field of Dreams” best describes how Wolf Creek Park came to be.

If you build it, they will come.

The Tulsa Sports Commission wanted to host the 2013 Bassmaster Classic with Grand Lake as the tournament fishery. A spacious facility capable of accommodating large crowds of fans, and launching the boats with lots of parking were missing pieces to the plan.

That’s a tall order just about anywhere these days, considering the scope of needs for the sport’s premier world championship. Such a facility was nonexistent on Grand Lake.

Grove city officials stepped up with a commitment of $1 million, which is a significant sum of money for a town with a population of only 6,600 residents. Matching funds came from the State of Oklahoma and the federal Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund.

Amazingly, the first phase of Wolf Creek came together in just 90 days, or just in time for the Classic.

“We thought if we built it they would come,” said Marty Follis, at the time mayor of the City of Grove.

And come they did. The Classic was an overwhelming success on both ends of the map. In Tulsa, record crowds attended the weigh-in and outdoor expo. Thousands more arrived before daylight to see the Classic pros launch at Wolf Creek Park.

The Classic returned in 2016 with more impressive fanfare and attendance. That put Wolf Creek Park in the national spotlight again. This time, The Weather Channel even produced live remote segments at the ramp. The Bassmasters TV show and showcased the lake and Grove to an audience of millions. Even more media outlets put the lake and town on the minds of bass anglers.

Wolf Creek came abuzz again, this time for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open. A Bassmaster Elite Series event is on the 2018 schedule. The lake is now in the rotation of other national and regional tournament leagues.

Built it, they came
B.A.S.S. casting it’s brilliant media spotlight on Grove continues having long term, positive effects on the local economy.

“We start in February and run nonstop through late November on just about every weekend,” said Brent Malone, executive director of the Grove Convention and Tourism Bureau.

“We get so many tournaments because the Classic came here,” he continued. “Tournament organizers, and anglers, want to fish those same waters.”

So do non-tournament anglers.

“Outside the tournaments we have tourists who come here just to go fishing and spend vacation time in Grove,” said Malone. “They either came to a Classic or saw it in the media.”

Wolf Creek is booked solid for tournaments into 2019. Malone said the economic impacts are a key influencer for the local economy.

Tournament anglers often visit early to pre-fish, and scout the lake prior to the competition, spending up to a week on lodging, food, fuel and related expenses. Then, they return for the tournament week and oftentimes bring family, adding to the economic multiplier.