On Grand Strand Golf | Sea Trail seeking buyer to emerge from bankruptcy

ablondin@thesunnews.comDecember 24, 2012 

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Conference Center has an approved plan of reorganization to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Now it just needs a buyer.

Course owners had their plan of reorganization approved by a judge in late October, and an integral part of the plan is the sale of the huge property in Sunset Beach, N.C.

The 2,000-acre three-course resort includes courses designed by Rees Jones, Dan Maples and Willard Byrd, two golf clubhouses, completed housing developments, a 50,000-square-foot convention center, an estimated 400-unit rental business, unsold vacant lots and approximately 240 acres of undeveloped land.

The courses and other resort businesses remain in operation under the direction of Matt Smith, the property’s bankruptcy court-appointed chief restructuring officer who is working on behalf of Sea Trail under the supervision of the court.

“We’re still actively marketing the property, working toward a process where we can find the right buyer and the right terms and get a deal to close,” Smith said. “We just kind of have our head down working.”

Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services, one of the country’s leading golf course brokers, is assisting Smith in his search for a buyer. “There remains a lot of interest, it’s just a big property,” Smith said. “It just takes time.”

Robert Harper of Conway is part of one group that has been involved in discussions to take over the property.

Harper is managing partner of Southern Dunes Inc, which operates the annual Golf Dimensions National Father & Son Team Classic and publishes Golfer’s Guide magazine. During his diverse golf career, Harper has held positions with the PGA Tour’s golf course properties division, been director of golf operations for Burroughs & Chapin Co. and served as president of the Carolinas Section of the PGA of America.

“[Harper] has been involved in a group that has expressed interest, but we don’t have an agreement with anybody right now,” Smith said.

Smith said that Sea Trail is keeping up with payments to its vendors for current business.

“The business has stabilized, though financially it’s still tight,” Smith said. “We couldn’t be prouder of the progress we’ve made with the resources we have operationally. The place is looking better and operating better than it was this time last year. I think we have a better asset than we did when we started this process.”

The Maples Course, which operates out of its own clubhouse, is generally open just a couple days a week this winter – often Thursday and Friday. The Maples hours were limited in the heat of the summer, as well.

“We looked at all the expenses and how we’re running the resort, and this time of year we only need two courses,” Smith said. “… It’s somewhat business as usual but we’re trying to make good business decisions.”

A subsidiary of Charleston Hotels has been operating or assisting with Sea Trail’s rental properties, golf packages and the convention center through the bankruptcy process. Bill Shiles has been the GM of the courses since late February, and Eddie Pratt has been retained as the head professional.

Sea Trail’s owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors in September 2011.

Among the claims filed in the bankruptcy case is $487,758 owed to Brunswick County for property taxes in 2010 and 2011, and approximately $16 million owed to First Community Bank (formerly Waccamaw Bank). Unsecured claims include approximately $4.8 million in loans from the shareholders in Sea Trail Corp., consisting of members of the Gore, Thompson, Dennis and Pope families who founded the resort in 1976.

Lifetime golf memberships are voided by the approved reorganization plan.

“Fortunately the bankruptcy proceeding is behind us,” Smith said. “We’re focused on two things. We’re trying to have the best operation we can have . . . and we’re also trying to find the right buyer that understands the Myrtle Beach market and Sunset Beach-Ocean Isle Beach market.”

Hackler league starting

The professionals at the Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina have created an amateur community golf league for players of all abilities that will have events throughout 2013.

The General’s Golf Association will have two 18-hole events a month and one major championship each quarter. The majors are the Member-Member, Member-Guest, Coastal Open and GGA Club Championship, and members will have to play in a minimum number of events each quarter to qualify for a major.

Hackler Course head pro Chuck Johns sees an available niche on the Grand Strand for competition that fits between events for low-handicap amateurs and charity scrambles. “We’re trying to find the middle void for the locals,” Johns said. “It’s set up as tournament play with USGA rules but it’s for the average golfer that just wants to play in tournaments.

“We’re trying something different and I think we’re in a position to do it here.”

The semimonthly tournaments will have a myriad of formats and will be either individual or two-person team events, and participants can earn “Player of the Year” points in them.

Annual membership in the GGA is $60, which covers a handicap service and prizes for a year-end banquet, regular events are $25 each and majors are slightly more.

Johns foresees the GGA participating in interclub matches with local clubs and possibly in the Carolinas Golf Association’s annual interclub competition.

The Hackler Course has hosted a two-player team summer league since 2005, which started with 20 players and has grown to 100. Membership is $50 per player and nine-hole events are $20 each and include food and prizes.

“I look at our facility as a local facility,” Johns said of the CCU-owned course. “A lot of people in the Conway area are looking for a place to play and have fun.”

Players interested in the General’s Golf Association can contact Johns at 843-349-6596 or golfpro@coastal.edu.

Johnson back on air

Coastal Carolina alum Dustin Johnson and four other players from September’s Ryder Cup matches will be featured in the 2012 Tyco Golf Skills Challenge, airing from 4-6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday on NBC.

A total of $800,000 in prize money will be at stake between four two-man teams in the 21st annual event. Johnson is paired with Keegan Bradley, and they’ll be competing against the teams of Justin Rose and Peter Hanson, Zach Johnson and Kyle Stanley, and Mark O’Meara and Mark Calcavecchia.

The event was taped in November at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla. Competition in six skills – long drive, mid iron, bunker shot, chip shot, trouble shot and short iron – will be followed by the reverse scramble, in which opposing teams choose which shot of two a team must play. All players are equipped with microphones throughout the competition.

Silvers becoming gem

South Carolina alum Mark Silvers of Savannah, Ga., who regularly competed on the NGA Tour Carolina Series in 2010 and 2011 on the Grand Strand before joining the NGA Tour’s national Pro Series in 2012, has furthered his career by winning the Golf Channel’s Big Break series.

Silvers defeated James Lepp during Tuesday night’s 18-hole match play series finale, which was taped earlier this summer. He was 2 down through 15 holes but rallied to win the final three holes and claim the title.

Silvers earned an exemption into the PGA Tour’s 2013 Greenbrier Classic, $50,000 cash, a $10,000 gift certificate to Dick’s Sporting Goods and an Adams Golf equipment deal. The Greenbrier Classic will be held July 4-7 at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, where Big Break was taped.

Silvers earned nine top-10 finishes on the NGA Pro Series, including three in his first four events of the year, earned his first Pro Series win in the Avoca Classic in his fifth start and finished fifth on the 2012 money list.

“To be able to get a win early in the NGA Pro Series was a huge confidence booster for me,” Silvers told NGA officials. “. . . I carried that momentum the rest of the year. I used that on the Big Break.”

Silvers earned the NGA Tour Golf Achievement Award, given to the golfer that best personifies a professional both on and off the course, and advanced to the Final Stage of PGA Tour Q-School, earning conditional status on the Web.com Tour for 2013.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284. To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

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