Big-game hap­pen­ings on and off the wa­ter

Forty-eight years ago, Scott Burt landed in the United States from his na­tive Scot­land as a teenager and be­gan his Amer­i­can dream on the edge of the Gulf of Mex­ico. From ma­rina odd jobs in Panama City Beach, Florida, through to­day, Burt has spent his life on and around the wa­ter. He’s been a cap­tain, har­bor mas­ter, yacht bro­ker and now owner of Coastal Ma­rina Man­age­ment. But Burt is best known for be­ing a driv­ing force in two over-the-top Gulf Coast mar­lin tour­na­ments: the now-de­funct Bay Point In­vi­ta­tional and the Blue Mar­lin Grand Cham­pi­onship, held at The Wharf in Orange Beach, Alabama.

As much as you love tour­na­ments to­day, is it true you were not too ex­cited about start­ing the Bay Point In­vi­ta­tional?

Yep. In 1983, I was run­ning Bay Point Ma­rina. A re­tired banker named Wayne Davis thought we should have a tour­na­ment at the ma­rina. My thought on the whole tour­na­ment thing was that it sounded like a hell of a lot of work, and I was right about that one.

So how did the Bay Point In­vi­ta­tional come to be?

Davis kept push­ing, and then Bill Spann stepped up with the fi­nan­cial sup­port to un­der­write the first tour­na­ment. Spann de­serves so much credit be­cause with­out him there would have never been a Bay Point In­vi­ta­tional, and prob­a­bly not a Blue Mar­lin Grand Cham­pi­onship ei­ther. Once we had the back­ing from Spann, Davis and I talked with the other tour­na­ment direc­tors along the Gulf Coast and came up with a plan: 50 boats, a $500 en­try fee and $10,000 for first place. We hus­tled up and down the coast and ended up get­ting 50 boats that first year in 1984. That’s how it all started.

At the time, Spann was run­ning the Bay Point Yacht and Coun­try Club, and he be­came the tour­na­ment chair­man in the sec­ond year.

Bill Spann had the vi­sion. He knew we were in the busi­ness of mak­ing mem­o­ries. Spann fo­cused on the par­ties, bring­ing in big-name en­ter­tain­ers and cre­at­ing events within the tour­na­ment. We had a Miss Bill­fish con­test, the dock walk, fire­works, a bag­pipe pa­rade — the glam was all Spann’s idea. He was my tour­na­ment men­tor, and a lot of what we do to­day at the Blue Mar­lin Grand Cham­pi­onship started back at the Bay Point In­vi­ta­tional.

And then a con­flu­ence of events ended the Bay Point In­vi­ta­tional. Spann left af­ter the 2006 event, there was a change of own­er­ship at the ma­rina, the econ­omy crashed and there was a de­ci­sion to go to an all­catch-and-re­lease for­mat.

I was not in­volved at that point, but the new ma­rina own­ers brought me back to run the event in 2007. The de­ci­sion had al­ready been made that, start­ing in 2008, the Bay Point In­vi­ta­tional would go all catch-an­drelease. The ma­rina own­ers be­lieved in the con­cept, and I had just enough con­fi­dence to be­lieve that I could make my mark. The 2010 oil spill was the fi­nal straw.

So it’s no co­in­ci­dence that your next tour­na­ment, the Blue Mar­lin Grand Cham­pi­onship, is now held on the same week­end that hosted Bay Point for all those years?

Two sig­nif­i­cant events led to the new tour­na­ment. The first one was a phone call from Joe Galati, at Galati Yacht Sales, who told me about a new de­vel­op­ment in Orange Beach, Alabama, called The Wharf that wanted to host a tour­na­ment. We went there for a meet­ing, and Rocky Jones, from Pensacola, Florida, gave us the out­line of an event that he would like to put to­gether. I still have my notes from that meet­ing. The next thing was when my com­pany was hired to run The Wharf Ma­rina.

Now I had a tour­na­ment part­ner, a ma­rina and prime dates of the sum­mer mar­lin fish­ing sea­son, since Bay Point was no longer in op­er­a­tion. The Blue Mar­lin Grand Cham­pi­onship was born.

That event sees crowds of more than 10,000 peo­ple show up for the weigh­ins. That is a big draw for the par­tic­i­pants, right?

It’s the crowd and the venue. Our weigh-ins are held right in the mid­dle of a re­tail shop­ping, din­ing and

en­ter­tain­ment dis­trict in The Wharf. The par­tic­i­pants feel like rock stars when they en­ter the arena, be­tween the mu­sic, the smoke ma­chines and the big-screen dis­plays. It’s their mo­ment, and we hope to make a mem­ory they will never for­get.

You have al­ways stressed the im­por­tance of giv­ing back at your events. How did St. Jude Chil­dren’s Re­search Hos­pi­tal be­come such a big part of the Blue Mar­lin Grand Cham­pi­onship?

With all the fun that hap­pens at a tour­na­ment, we know that ev­ery­one still wants to be part of some­thing that is help­ing others. St. Jude has a huge pres­ence on the Gulf Coast, and it was my tour­na­ment part­ner, Rocky Jones, who first wanted to have them as a part of the tour­na­ment.

An amaz­ing mo­ment hap­pened dur­ing the event last year. A gen­tle­man ap­proached me and said how much he liked what we were do­ing, raising money for chil­dren and fam­i­lies. He shook my hand, slipped some­thing in my palm and said he didn’t want his name men­tioned or any recog­ni­tion. I thought it was prob­a­bly a hun­dred­dol­lar bill but waited un­til he walked away to look. It was a check to St. Jude for $10,000. That is the im­pact you can make when you re­al­ize the im­por­tance of giv­ing back and help­ing others. Raising money for worth­while char­i­ties will al­ways be im­por­tant.

You’re a big NASCAR fan. The Gulf Coast Triple Crown has a sim­i­lar for­mat, where teams chase points at each tour­na­ment through­out the sum­mer, with one boat even­tu­ally be­ing crowned the cham­pion at the end of the sea­son.

The Gulf Coast Triple Crown is the most sat­is­fy­ing tour­na­ment se­ries I’ve ever been in­volved with. It has cre­ated a ter­rific open di­a­log be­tween all of the tour­na­ments in the se­ries as we col­lec­tively strive to im­prove our events. Cap­tains, mates, own­ers and spon­sors all em­brace the chase for the cham­pi­onship, but most im­por­tantly for the win­ner, it is about be­ing crowned the best among their peers.

Yet from Bill Spann, who was the face of Bay Point and a man who never met a cam­era he didn’t love, you are rarely in the spot­light.

That’s not my role. My job is to find the right peo­ple, en­cour­age them to make good de­ci­sions and em­power them to feel own­er­ship. If

Bay Point grew be­cause of the glam, the Blue Mar­lin Grand Cham­pi­onship is suc­cess­ful be­cause of the ex­cep­tional team we have as­sem­bled and the spec­tac­u­lar venue cre­ated by Art Favre at The Wharf. It’s a very unique des­ti­na­tion.

You pride your­self on be­ing ac­ces­si­ble to any­one dur­ing tour­na­ment week, but there is a two-minute win­dow, right be­fore the weigh-ins each night, that ev­ery­one knows you are off lim­its.

It is my fa­vorite part of the tour­na­ment: our pa­tri­otic fish­ing mon­tage video. It’s Amer­ica! I think about all the op­por­tu­ni­ties I have had, and all the peo­ple who have sup­ported me along the way. It all comes down to this great coun­try and the won­der­ful peo­ple who make us the great­est na­tion in the world. That video per­son­i­fies the brav­ery and the courage of our coun­try in­ter­spersed with high­lights from our tour­na­ment. As an im­mi­grant, I am never more proud of what we do, and the coun­try in which we do it, than when that video is play­ing.

Scott and his wife, Donna, take a break dur­ing the Bay Point In­vi­ta­tional (left); the Blue Mar­lin Grand Cham­pi­onship sup­ports a num­ber of im­por­tant char­i­ties, in­clud­ing St. Jude Chil­dren’s Re­search Hos­pi­tal.

Burt ex­plains the points sys­tem of the Gulf Coast Triple Crown in a live tele­vi­sion in­ter­view. The Triple Crown unites Gulf Coast tour­na­ments in or­der to crown a sin­gle cham­pion team dur­ing each sea­son.

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