MYRTLE BEACH — Catering to older golfers and those who dont have a lot of time to play a round of golf could be what the City of Myrtle Beach needs to help it operate the Whispering Pines Golf Course more efficiently, city staff hopes.
Assistant city manager Ron Andrews said staff is proposing that Myrtle Beach set aside 40 of the golf courses 200 acres and reconfigure the layout to create a shorter executive course that golfers can get through more quickly. The 40 reserved acres could be used for other park or recreation needs the city may have in the future, he said.
People who are older, like me who dont hit the ball  or 400 yards can get through the course more easily, Andrews said.. We dont know that its going to have any more success than what we have now. But well see what happens.
The course, which first opened for play in 1962, is the only city- or government-owned course among approximately 100 on the Grand Strand.
Whispering Pines general manager Alan Chasteen said he worked with Andrews and course superintendent Bob Warner to create a rough draft of a new layout that would take at least 600 yards off the courses current length of more than 6,700 yards. Executive courses typically consist of par-3s and short to mid-length par-4s and have no par-5s.
Personally, I think it will be a good thing, Chasteen said. The golf business isnt growing. It will be faster rounds. You get more women-friendly, you get beginner-friendly. You have to build the golfers up again and I think this will be a way to do that. The biggest problem is people spend too much time playing golf. There are going to be a lot of advantages to it.
Additionally, Andrews said he hopes the city creates programs at the course that would work to increase an interest in golf among children. Wed make it available for the children of our community, particularly in the afternoon when golf courses are typically empty, he said.
Mayor John Rhodes said he thinks creating an executive course could be a way to boost business at Whispering Pines. The business leveled, like all the golf courses around here. Weve already taken our licks, he said. We need to figure out something to do to potentially increase play.
Rhodes warned that the idea is just a proposal that will require a lot more consideration and deliberation. Its not going to be closing anytime soon, Rhodes said. We need to determine if it would it be economically feasible to do that.
The mayor also cautioned that he believes recent changes at Whispering Pines havent been given enough time to prove their worth. Rhodes said it has made financial strides since it has gained more exposure with holes running across from the new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport and alongside Harrelson Blvd, and an entrance directly across the street from the new airport entrance.
Its still losing money, but its making progress. I think weve made headway to getting business back, Rhodes said. So lets give it a shot, lets give it a chance. Im not for closing anything or changing anything until I know its going to work, and I personally like the golf course.
More immediately, Rhodes said the city is considering renovating the driving range and installing lights on the practice facility to allow use well after dusk. That could be accomplished as early as the spring, he said. We think that will increase income significantly, Rhodes said, and we would promote the driving range being there and having lights.
Andrews said he will need to get the OK from the U.S. Department of the Interior and prove the changes would continue to provide a public benefit.
The U.S. government gave the former Air Force Base course to the city when the base closed in 1993 and must approve any changes, city officials said. The course must be used for golf or other recreation, though Andrews said the federal government frowned upon changing the course to a park in the past, Andrews said.
From time to time well hear that we need more fields, Andrews said. Well reserve 40 acres out there so that we dont (have to purchase land for any future athletic fields.
The city has worked for years to come up with ways to make Whispering Pines more successful. In the early years, the course performed well as a city course, but has accumulated some losses in recent years, according to the city.
In 2011, the city considered allowing a third party to manage the course, but abandoned the idea after talks with the Department of the Interior indicated the lease would give up too much ownership of the course, Andrews said then.
Staff reporter Alan Blondin contributed to this report.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.