MYRTLE BEACH — Golf competition is heating up along the Grand Strand -- but this time it isn’t on the courses.
Golf stores are stepping up their games, as a new chain retailer, Golfsmith, plans to open its first location along the Grand Strand this spring.
Golfers are the ones who will benefit from the new retail options, stores say.
“We think it will be good for the golfers. It will press everybody to perform better,” said Ralph Stokes, director of partnership marketing for Martin’s PGA Tour Superstore, which has two stores along the Grand Strand, in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
The Grand Strand’s reputation as a golf mecca has attracted Golfsmith, which is building a 36,000-square-foot store at the interchange of U.S. 17 Bypass and U.S. 501, near Costco.
The store, expected to open this spring, will sell golf clubs, shoes, apparel, balls and other accessories and create an environment in the store that encourages golfers to try out the equipment before buying it, complete with putting greens and hitting bays, said Bob Stiokas, Golfsmith’s regional director of stores who referred to the stores as a “Disneyland for golfers.”
Golfsmith, which started in 1967 as was mainly a catalog business until the mid-1990s when it started opening retail locations, is in expansion mode. It opened 10 stores last year and plans to open another 10 this year, including the one in Myrtle Beach and one in Columbia, which will open in April. The Myrtle Beach store is one of the largest under construction.
“It’s going to be big and interactive,” Stiokas said. “We are really excited to get in the Myrtle Beach area. Myrtle Beach is a hotbed of golfers.”
The busy spring golf season is starting to gear up along the Grand Strand, and golf promoters are hoping 2013 will produce the first increase in rounds played in a year since 2004, which is the last year more than 4 million total rounds were played on the Strand, according to statistics from marketing group Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.
Golf along the Grand Strand and nationally has had a rough few years, in part because of the down economy. In Myrtle Beach, loss of flights to key markets on Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air, which abruptly stopped flying and filed for bankruptcy, also hurt, officials have said.
With the economy still trying to recover, consumers don’t have as many discretionary dollars to spend on things such as golf, officials have said.
Still, some golf course operators see positive signs for a solid year, which golf stores take as positive signs for them, too.
“They are expecting a great year. We think that bodes well for us,” Stokes said.
Some golf stores say business has turned around in the last couple of years after golfers -- as well as other consumers -- cut back amid the Great Recession. But now, golfers again are slowly starting to splurge on new equipment.
New products from major manufacturers, including Callaway, Nike, Titleist, Ping and others, that hit stores in early February also has created an uptick in sales this month as golfers are excited to check out the latest equipment, store owners said.
“There’s just a lot of new equipment,” said Penny Philo, who along with her husband David Philo has operated The Golf Center in Pawleys Island, which has been in business there for 25 years. “That has excited people and brought them into the shop.”
Philo is expecting an increase in sales this year, adding that she’s not expecting Golfsmith to have much of an impact on her business. Golfers will check it out initially because it’s something new, but her prices are competitive and she’s far enough away from the new store that she’s not concerned about the extra competition, she said.
“I don’t think we will lose customers to them,” Philo said. “The competition is something I’ve never been afraid of. It doesn’t worry me that Golfsmith will be there.”
The owner of Golf Dimensions, which has operated for more than 20 years along the Grand Strand and has several locations, declined to comment for this story.
Golfsmith plans to hire about 30 full- and part-time workers for the Myrtle Beach store, including part-time managers and experienced club makers who build custom fit clubs. A job fair is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 2 and April 3 at Courtyard Myrtle Beach Broadway, 1351 21st Avenue North.
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