On Grand Strand Golf: New mini-tour aims to attract pros, amateurs

ablondin@thesunnews.comOctober 22, 2012 

Myrtle Beach resident Buddy Wilkins purchased the rights three years ago to the name and website of the Coastal Players Tour based in St. Simons Island, Ga., and has tried to figure out what to do with them since.

He has finally found a purpose.

The Coastal Players Tour has become a professional mini-tour on the Grand Strand.

It has essentially replaced the Grand Strand Pro Golf Tour, which shut down this year after staging area tournaments for six years.

The Coastal Players Tour has a similarly affordable price structure to attract not only area touring pros but amateurs and possibly club professionals as well.

“My full intentions were to do an amateur tour, but when the owners of the Grand Strand Tour decided to throw in the towel I knew there would be a bulk of players looking for a place to play,” Wilkins said. “It allows these guys to get some competitive golf under their belt.

“But we also welcome amateurs to come play with the pros.”

The tour has had four events thus far, beginning with a tournament Aug. 18 at The Wizard that attracted 29 players, and continuing with events at The Witch, Man O’War and Southern Pines (N.C.) Golf Club.

The next event is Nov. 3-4 at Sandpiper Bay Golf Club in Sunset Beach, N.C., and Wilkins plans to have events through December, then shut down for three months and start the 2013 schedule in April.

The first four events have attracted more than 20 players, with the exception of the 17-player Southern Pines event. Former Coastal Carolina player Zack Byrd of Murrells Inlet has won two events, former CCU teammate Josh Jackson of Myrtle Beach has won one, and Mike Gemmer, who moved to Myrtle Beach from Virginia last year, has a win.

“It’s off to a pretty solid start,” Wilkins said. “We just wanted to give it a test run and have a couple events, and now it’s off the ground.”

Wilkins, 42, is a regional manager for a Nashville company that operates 26 dealer-only auto auctions. He moved to Myrtle Beach from Charlotte, N.C., 17 years ago and is a 4 handicap who competes on the Golfweek Amateur Tour, which has more than 50 regional ancillary tours, including a Myrtle Beach-Wilmington chapter.

“Golf has just been a big part of my family and it’s sort of a hobby,” Wilkins said.

Grand Strand Pro Golf Tour founder Steve Clark said he stopped holding events partially because the tour required his own financial contributions to keep it afloat. Wilkins said he’s prepared to support the tour for the time being.

“I’m taking the 2012 season and going at it pretty hard, trying to make the investment to get it off the ground,” Wilkins said. “My tour won’t be something to make a living. It’s more of a hobby. I’m throwing money at it to get it off the ground. I realize it’s an investment but I’m willing to do that to get it off the ground and get the word out there.”

The tour doesn’t have a membership fee, and entry fees are $150 for pros and $80 for amateurs for one-day events, and $200/$100 for two-day tournaments. All pro entry fees have been paid out in purses through the first four events and Wilkins pays at least the first four places, and low amateurs receive a $100 gift certificate to PGA Tour Superstore.

Wilkins has negotiated special rates for players at the Comfort Inn & Suites in North Myrtle Beach, he covers the cost of trophies, said he added $500 to the purse in Southern Pines to attract players from North Carolina and increase the tour’s exposure, and offered to pay players’ hotel costs at the event through his hotel reward points accumulated through his business travels.

Wilkins said the Southern Pines event attracted players from the Raleigh and Pinehurst areas, and five of those have already signed up for the tour’s next event.

“Technically I should be drawing income, but in order to build it and support it I know there’s an investment going in,” Wilkins said. “If I’m going to go at it I’m going to go at it full bore. Things like this are tough to market, and one of the best ways to market it is word of mouth and some of the golfers who play the tour.”

The tour has much smaller entry fees and purses than the Strand-based National Golf Association Carolina Winter Series, which tees off this week and has tournaments on weekdays. Wilkins hopes to attract NGA players by holding his one- and two-day events on weekends.

“Their events are during the week and a lot of the players will actually move here and get a winter rental or something to compete on a regular basis,” Wilkins said. “My tour will give them a place to play on weekends with reasonable entry fees.”

Wilkins intends to speak to the Carolinas PGA Section about sanctioning events to include more club pros, and he hopes to build the tour to the point local businesses would want to get involved as sponsors. He wants to maintain low entry fees. “I want to increase the number of players but keep the entry fees affordable,” he said.

Wilkins pairs amateurs with pros to add to their experience in events. “We really welcome amateur players,” he said. “They will have an opportunity to be paired with Zack Byrd or some other really talented players, so the education they get and the experience they get makes it a good deal for them.”

Visit www.coastalplayerstour.com for more information.

Winter series begins

The NGA Carolina Winter Series tees off Tuesday with a 54-hole event at Black Bear Golf Club. The 12-event schedule runs through Jan. 25 and features three-day events early and two-day events late.

Tour membership is $700 and entry fees are generally $600 for members and $850 for non-members. Byrd, Jackson, Sam Lyons, Yoshio Yamamoto, Roberto Diaz and J.P. Longueil are among the area touring pros expected to regularly compete in the winter series.

Courses hosting events include Brunswick Plantation, Panther’s Run Golf Links, Aberdeen Country Club, Long Bay Club, River Hills Golf & Country Club, Crow Creek Golf Club, Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club, The Pearl, Farmstead Golf Links and Meadowlands Golf Club.

Four-Ball growing

The Wachesaw Plantation Club Four-Ball Invitational grew a little bit more this year in its fourth playing and continues to attract quality amateurs from across the country, particularly the Carolinas.

Tournament chairman and Wachesaw member Mike Daniels said the event had its largest field this past weekend with 44 two-person teams from 11 states: the Carolinas, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, Tennessee, Arizona, Florida and Texas.

There were 13 Mid Amateur (ages 25 and up) and 31 Senior teams (over 55) competing in the scratch event. The inaugural tournament in 2009 attracted 34 teams.

Former Pawleys Plantation pro Will Akers of Akers Discount Golf and Tee Opperman, both of Pawleys Island, won the Mid-Am division by a stroke with a 72-67-68—207. The teams of Rich Weston of Pawleys Island and Gary Turner of Zaineville, Ohio, and Randy Hebert of Pawleys Island and Joe Shirley of Hollywood tied for second, and Sammy Truett of Surfside Beach teamed with Kevin Tompkins of Myrtle Beach to finish fourth at 210.

In the Senior division, Larry Boswell of Jamestown, N.C. and Ernie Newton of High Point, N.C., shot a 66-67-68—201 and won a sudden-death playoff over Mark Wagner of Statesville, N.C., and Jim Hunsuck of Troutman, N.C., with a birdie on the first hole.

The fifth annual Wachesaw four-ball tournament is scheduled for Oct. 18-20, 2013. Interested players can contact Daniels at 843-458-1580 or Wachesaw head pro Joe Gagliano at 843-357-1500.

An on-course date

Man O’War Golf Course is hosting the second annual Customshirtzone.com Couples Tournament on Sunday. The tournament has a 1 p.m. shotgun start and is limited to 72 players.

The two-person captain’s choice event will recognize gross and net winners and will include a raffle. The entry fee is $90 per team. Interested players can contact Jackie Miles at 843-457-5998 or Jackie.Miles@customshirtzone.com.

Read Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter posts at MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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