The Grand Strand enjoyed an increase in paid rounds played during the spring golf season for the third consecutive year, though the start to the season was better than the finish, and the increase percentage was smaller than increases the previous two springs.
Rounds increased 0.7 percent in the months of March, April and May in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the collection of a $1.50 per-round transaction fee by marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday on golf package and walk-on rounds.
Those rounds do not include member, replay, complimentary or promotional rounds. Promotions include specials granting a free round for every four or five paid rounds.
A total of 720,423 package and walk-on rounds were played in the three months in 2012. March rounds increased 7.87 percent compared to March 2011, marking the fourth consecutive month of increases through a mild winter.
But April rounds decreased 1.1 percent and May rounds fell 5.05 percent compared to 2011, though the rounds were still an improvement over May 2009 and 2010.
“Clearly we had momentum and momentum shifted in April and May,” said Golf Holiday president Bill Golden. “At this point it’s hard to pinpoint why.”
The mild winter that contributed to increased rounds from December through March may have also impacted the decreases in April and May, since golfers in the Midwest and Northeast were able to get on their home courses early. “We like to think when weather is bad in our markets it helps us,” Golden said.
The market also took a hit with the abrupt closing and bankruptcy filing by Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air in mid-March. The airline flew passengers from several golf markets, and booked passengers had to make alternate travel arrangements to honor planned golf vacations.
Rounds are up 2 percent for the year through May compared to the first five months of 2011. The Strand is coming off three consecutive years in which rounds fell less than 2 percent after significant decreases in paid rounds for several years.
“We’ve definitely seen a stabilization,” Golden said. “We began to see numbers uptick in rounds over the past couple years to bring us back to where we were in volume of rounds in 2008. We haven’t got back to where we were pre-recession, but it has definitely stabilized.”
School on move
The Ritson-Sole Golf School, which has been a fixture at its original Pawleys Plantation location since 1991, has opened a second location at the Grande Dunes Resort Course.
David Olberding, a Class A PGA teaching professional with more than 30 years of experience, will lead the instruction at the new location with oversight from owner Mel Sole, a former South African PGA Tour player with more than 40 years of teaching experience.
The Resort Course opening was created when Brad Redding moved his golf school to the Members Club at Grande Dunes.
A special $35 two-hour golf clinic including video instruction is available at either location to celebrate the grand opening. Call 843-237-4993 to register.
Each week, the school is offering three half-day golf workshops that include instruction on all aspects of the game. One-, two- and three-day programs and private lessons are also available, and children 16 and younger receive free instruction with a paying adult.
The Ritson-Sole school is the only golf school in South Carolina to be ranked among the “Top 25 USA Golf Schools” since 1999 by Golf Magazine. The teachers also have school locations in Greenville, Ellicottville, N.Y., and Mexico. Sole is also a published author on instruction. His most recent book, Golf Step by Step, was published in 2003.
Johnson busy in MB
The Sun News caught up to Coastal Carolina alumnus and former Myrtle Beach resident Dustin Johnson before he missed the cut at the U.S. Open to get an update on his happenings on the Strand.
Johnson is a partner in the new Mexican restaurant on 14th/15th avenues North and Ocean Boulevard named Banditos, and he said it’s scheduled to open in the next two or three weeks.
Johnson and his business partners plan to extend the boardwalk, which now ends at the 14th Avenue Pier, by about 425 feet so it runs in front of the restaurant.
Regarding a pro-am tournament he plans to host on the Strand that would include some fellow PGA Tour pros, Johnson said he’s hoping to have it sometime later this year. “We haven’t quite gotten everything figured out yet,” Johnson said. “I’ll have a bunch of my buddies down to it.”
Johnson said he plans to sit down with the board members of the Dustin Johnson Foundation in the coming weeks to determine the charitable organization’s next causes. Among other things, it supports a program providing backpacks filled with food for schoolchildren in need, CCU’s Hackler tournament, and an S.C. Junior Golf Association tournament.
The Executive Tournament Committee of the Golf Dimensions National Father & Son Team Classic is honoring George Hilliard as the recipient of the Father of the Year award for the 15th annual tournament, being held July 19-21 on numerous Strand courses.
Hilliard retired from the Air Force in 1988 as a colonel with 4,400 flying hours and 100 combat missions over North Vietnam, and forged a second career in the Myrtle Beach golf industry. He has been the executive director of the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association since its inception in ’88.
Hilliard is playing in the Father-Son event this year for the first time with his youngest child of four and only son, Wesley, who will be in the midst of a career change and move from Florida to Chattanooga, Tenn. “It will be nice to be honored and have my son be able to come and play in it with me,” Hilliard said.
The Philadelphia native played an instrumental role in the coordinated plans to evacuate Vietnam. His military honors include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross (2), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (4), Air Medal (11), Joint Service Commendation Medal, and two Air Force Commendation Medals.
In 2005 he received the Champions Award from the National Golf Course Owners Association for his accomplishments. For 18 years he has been the general manager of the Grand Strand Tee Time Network, which he helped develop, and served as the tournament chairman for the AJGA Ping Myrtle Beach Junior Classic for 10 years.
He and his wife of 53 years, Helen, raised daughters Deborah, Heather and Monica as well as Wesley, and they have 14 grandchildren.
In the community, Hilliard has served on the board for numerous HOA’s, the Grand Strand Resort Insurance Company and the First Tee of Myrtle Beach. He has been a dedicated supporter of Pawleys Island Community Church, where he serves as an Elder and was finance chairman for 15 years.
For more on the tournament call 1-866-497-2627 or visit www.fathersongolf.com.
PGA adds tickets
In response to the demand for tickets to the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course from Aug. 9-12, the PGA of America released a new ticket package Monday.
Less than 2,000 packages containing one daily grounds ticket for each of the Thursday-Sunday tournament rounds are available for $500 each. Thursday tickets for $110 each and Monday-Wednesday practice round tickets are also still available for the first major championship ever in S.C.
The PGA said the extra tickets are the result of unclaimed tickets previously reserved for private sales and hospitality clients. The PGA is still capping the number of attendees at 30,000 each day.
Saturday grounds tickets originally sold out in December 2010 during the first ticket sale opportunity, while Friday and Sunday grounds tickets and weeklong Wanamaker Club passes sold out in August 2011. Purchases can be made at www.PGA2012.com or by calling 1-800-742-4653.
First Tee collects
PGA Tour Superstore has awarded a $5,000 grant to The First Tee of The Grand Strand to launch the National School Program in Horry and Georgetown counties.
The First Tee of The Grand Strand is a youth development organization that provides life skills lessons integrated into golf instruction. PGA Tour Superstore presented the award to The First Tee on Friday at an event in its Myrtle Beach store.
PGA Tour Superstore has supported The First Tee of The Grand Strand since 2010. In addition to grants, it provides young people with access to state-of-the-art teaching, club fitting and training.
The chapter is trying to reach more than 7,000 youth annually through both after-school programs and through instruction delivered in P.E. classes.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.To view Blondin’s blog ‘Green Reading’ go to TheSunNews.com.