Strand seniors perturbed about lost golf discounts in 2013

ablondin@thesunnews.comJanuary 15, 2013 

— Senior residents and snowbirds on the Grand Strand don’t want their discounted golf to be altered, and they’re letting it be known.

They are rebelling en masse against a decision by National Golf Management to no longer offer special rates to members of the Grand Strand Senior Center Golf Group, particularly through an email campaign of complaints to the company and The Sun News over the past week.

Without NGM’s 22 courses, the senior center’s VIP Golf Book offers discounted rates to 74 courses on the Strand and surrounding areas, including properties in Wilmington, N.C.

The senior center on 21st Avenue North in Myrtle Beach sells more than 5,000 VIP Golf Books annually to players 50 and older.

“We’re very much upset,” said Carol Nobles, a snowbird from Ontario, Canada, who has been visiting the Strand three winter months a year for the past several years and gets a VIP book along with her husband, Paul. “If they’re allowing other groups to participate we’re trying to find out why they wouldn’t let the seniors take advantage of it as well.

“You’d think they’d want more golfers because the golf courses are empty.”

Following the March 1 merger between Myrtle Beach National and Burroughs & Chapin Golf Management that formed National Golf Management last year, the company offered new specials about every 10 days to senior center golf group members for the remainder of 2012.

Myrtle Beach National courses had never been included in the senior center discount program prior to 2012, while B&C had regularly participated. National Golf Management courses include 14 former MBN courses and eight former B&C 18-hole layouts.

National Golf Management executive vice president Jim Woodring, who was an executive with MBN prior to the merger, said the company wants to limit the number of groups that receive discounts on its courses.

“We had never given the senior center rates until last year,” Woodring said. “We decided to try it for a year to see how it went. … We as a group decided we didn’t feel it was right from our company’s perspective to support all the different groups in Myrtle Beach.”

The three primary discount card programs accepted by most courses on the Strand are the senior center VIP Golf Book, Grand Strand Golf Association’s MyGolf card, and the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association’s Myrtle Beach Golf Passport.

National Golf Management does not accept the MyGolf card, either, and Myrtle Beach National also did not participate in that program.

National Golf Management does accept the Golf Passport since its courses are part of the MBAGCOA, and it has its own Prime Times Signature Card membership program for its 22 courses.

“We decided we were going to support the area golf course owners card, which we are a member of, and we have our own program – Prime Times – that we give rates to,” Woodring said. “We are part of two programs in the market, and that’s what we support.”

The Golf Passport annually costs $42.50 including tax and is available to anyone, while the 2013 Grand Strand Senior Center membership is $20 and the VIP Golf Book is an additional $20.

Most courses require discount card bookings within 48 hours of the tee time so they are discounting potentially unsold times, and one cardholder can get the discounted rate for an entire foursome. Discount card rates are as low as $17 per player on winter afternoons.

Many holders of the senior center VIP Golf Book are as upset about the timing of National Golf Management’s decision as the decision itself.

The senior center golf membership begins and ends on Oct. 1 each year, and National Golf Management stopped offering deals on Jan. 1, so thousands of the cards had already been sold.

Some snowbirds also purchased center membership and the card the first week of January, before Grand Strand Senior Center golf director Tony Perry said he learned the discounts would no longer be offered. He said members first learned when they called golf courses inquiring about discounted rates and were informed they were no longer offered.

“I think National Golf Management should have at least given some advanced warning so that we players could weigh our options prior to purchasing a golf membership,” said Bob Weiss of upstate New York, who is among a group of 10 snowbirds that take turns buying the senior memberships each year.

Tony Metro, who splits time between houses in Myrtle Beach and Virginia, has the senior card but played the National Golf Management-operated Arcadian Shores Golf Club on Tuesday through a friend’s Golf Passport.

River Oaks Golf Club general manager Scott Taylor said golfers often bring multiple cards into the pro shop. “The golfer’s got it figured out,” Taylor said. “They just lay them all out and say, ‘Which is the best deal?’”

Though his VIP Golf Book is still accepted at 74 courses, Ray Fontaine is concerned fewer will be sold without National Golf Management courses and some refunds may be requested.

Fontaine is executive director of the Horry County Council on Aging, a private non-profit that owns and operates the 11 senior centers in the county and provides home-based services to seniors including meals, house cleanings, etc. He said the county council on aging serves more than 11,000 seniors.

The VIP Golf Book program started in 1994 and Fontaine said proceeds help offset operational costs of the Grand Strand Senior Center, where membership can begin at age 50 rather than 60 at the other 10 centers because of the golf program. Grand Strand Senior Center Golf Group members account for more than $200,000 annually through center memberships and VIP book purchases.

“We’re willing to work with people, but we don’t want the book to go away,” Fontaine said. “We’re not copying anyone. We’ve been doing it 20 years. We certainly would like to know what we can do to keep on going. I don’t feel we’re hurting any business by having our little book. … We just want one little slice of the pie.”

And his VIP Golf Book holders don’t want their discounts messed with.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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