After Gary Dowling brought the high-school golf team he coached to Myrtle Beach in the spring of 1974, he knew he would be back.
Its a very great place to come and visit with a family, said the Cement City, Mich., resident. And I can do Myrtle Beach in 15 hours. I usually drive because we come with a flock of people.
Dowling said he returned with his wife and two children that December for the Christmas holiday.
The kids wanted to stay somewhere that had a pool an indoor pool, he said. I called around and The Caravelle [Resort] was the only one with an indoor pool. Thats quite a change. Now so many of the hotels have indoor pools.
Dowling said thats just one of the changes hes seen over the nearly 40 years hes been visiting Myrtle Beach. The city celebrated its 75th birthday in March.
It doesnt seem like its been 40 years since I first came down there, he said.
Since then, his daughter has attended and graduated from Coastal Carolina University and Dowling said it was all of those family trips to the Grand Strand that influenced her college decision.
She fell in love with it, he said. We all did.
Dowling is one of many tourists who return to the Grand Strand year after year. In 2012, 62 percent of the estimated 15.2 million tourists who visited the Grand Strand were repeat visitors, according to information from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
The repeat visitors are extremely important, said city spokesman Mark Kruea. They are sort of like honorary citizens and have taken Myrtle Beach into their hearts and families. We know that people come back year after year or several times a year because they cant get enough of Myrtle Beach.
Brian Huffstickle of Lancaster said his familys love affair with the Grand Strand began when his grandparents started visiting Springmaid Pier shortly after it opened in 1954.
I remember, as a kid, coming down and they had these one-story apartments at Springmaid before they had the tall hotel, he said. And I remember the [Myrtle Beach] Grand Prix that was right across from Springmaid. I still have my lifetime drivers license.
Huffstickle said he visited Myrtle Beach many times a year with his parents and grandparents and now he brings his two songs, ages 5 and 7. He said that even though he misses the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, there still are many things for his sons to do in Myrtle Beach.
There is putt putt, bowling, Broadway at the Beach, he said, saying he and his family often stay just south of the city at Ocean Lakes Family Campground. Were so close to everything and theres so much to do.
Huffstickle said while many people may have a hard time dealing with change, he thinks the city has evolved for the better.
I feel they are good changes, especially from a tourist perspective, he said. Its definitely a place that were going to come back to again and again.
Loretta Roberts said she first visited the Grand Strand in the early 1980s and immediately knew she wanted to come back. She purchased a timeshare in North Myrtle Beach on that first trip.
Im impulsive, said the New York native and Philadelphia-area resident.
Roberts said shes come to the area almost every year since then and recently visited with her sister Chris Brower and their friends.
Its much nicer now, she said of the downtown Myrtle Beach area. Its really colorful and not as run down. The boardwalk is really nice.
Brower, who said she has made many of the trips to the Grand Strand with her sister, marveled at how nice the people in Myrtle Beach were during her trip. A New York native, Brower now lives in Clearwater, Fla.
Its even better than I ever thought it would be, she said.
Dowling, who on Wednesday was in Michigan preparing to welcome his first grandchild to the world, said the thing that kept him coming back to Myrtle Beach was all he could do with his children.
And now I guess well be able to do all of that with our grandchild, he said.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her on Twitter @TSN_MPrabhu.