On Grand Strand Golf: Group of area courses hope new company boosts business

ablondin@thesunnews.comDecember 30, 2013 

Myrtle Beach area golf courses have generally passed on the barter agreements with the Golfnow.com tee time-selling service that has the backing and promotional power of Golf Channel because they don’t believe the business model benefits them.

But 28 Grand Strand layouts are among 50 courses in a few markets across the U.S. that have signed up for a competitor – Play18 Solutions – in its first month of existence. Play18 is more comprehensive in its offerings, however, than Golfnow.com and works on a different model that is more geared toward marketing.

It also helps that Play18 is the result of a merger of three companies that include two that many Strand courses were already subscribed to. They are T-Links, the Internet cloud-based tee time booking system that approximately 80 Strand courses utilize through the Grand Strand Tee Time Network, and Integrated Business Systems (IBS), a point-of-sale system that is in the pro shops of about half of the Strand’s approximate 100 courses.

They merged with Quick 18, which helps sell and market courses through the mediums of websites, mobile applications and social media.

The Myrtle Beach courses utilizing the Play18 Solutions offerings are all of National Golf Management’s 21 courses as well as Classic Golf Group’s four courses, the TPC of Myrtle Beach, Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club and Wicked Stick Golf Links.

Golfnow.com takes golf courses’ tee times as payment for the exposure gained through its website and sells those times, often at discounted rates.

George Hilliard, executive director of the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association, said the Strand has an arrangement with Golfnow.com that works on a commission basis rather than bartering, which allows the courses to set their prices and maintain the value of their tee time. That would happen with Play18 as well.

“A lot of the markets have been devalued and leaving money on the table for [bartering],” Hilliard said. “We have avoided the barter market in general, and hopefully we can keep it that way. We do not believe in the barter system at all.”

Hilliard said the National Golf Course Owners Association has set up a committee to find an alternative to the Golfnow.com method.

Play18 Solutions chief executive officer Brett Darrow is the founder of Golfnow.com, which he started in 2001 and operated until 2008 when it was acquired by Golf Channel. At that time it was in 40 markets. Darrow had a three-year no-compete clause, then re-entered the golf market in 2011 with Quick 18. Play18 Solutions was formed on Dec. 1.

Darrow refers to his company as a data-driven marketing company for golf courses and golf course brands. In addition to being a tee time portal, the company utilizes the data acquired through the T-Links and IBS systems when golfers book rounds and make purchases to market back to those golfers through mediums that include websites, social media and mobile applications.

“What Play18 will do is have an operational and marketing arm to drive additional round and revenues to the golf course without the course giving up its control of its price or their customer data or their brand,” said Tommy Smothers, former Classic Golf Group general manager who is the manager of the T-Links division of IBS and an account executive with Play18 Solutions.

Both T-Links and IBS will continue to do business as separate companies, though new IBS customers will likely be limited to private courses, and public courses will probably have to subscribe to the service through Play18.

Play18 is in the Atlanta and Phoenix-Scottsdale areas, and Darrow will soon be trying to add courses throughout the Southeast, Texas, Arizona and California.

“Myrtle Beach is a key market for us and we’re excited to be working with the facilities there,” said Darrow, who added that he did not attempt to add the Myrtle Beach market while running Golfnow.com. “With the penetration of T-Links, we feel there is great opportunity.”

There are three two-hour seminars at 1 p.m. next Tuesday and 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. next Wednesday at the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday offices to introduce the program to course operators in Myrtle Beach. Play18 Solutions will have a larger rollout at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in late January.

Cypress Bay plans

Lee McLoud, president of Mungo Homes’ Coastal Division, which includes the Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Savannah, Ga., regions, shed some light on the company’s plans with Cypress Bay Golf Club.

The company paid $3 million for the Little River course earlier this month, and it is being leased to the previous owners through March 1 and will remain open as a golf course through February.

“Then we will start the planning process to ultimately redevelop the property,” McLoud said. “The majority of what we do is single family, so we’ll be building single family there.”

The land is zoned as a PDD with an allowed density of more than 700 units, “but we don’t see ourselves getting anywhere near that count,” McLoud said.

The company is early in the planning process and hasn’t determined if it will include any multi-family units, but McLoud said it’s possible. Mungo has townhomes in its portfolio in a project in Raleigh, N.C., but “we have no land positions on coast that made sense for doing that yet,” McLoud said.

He doesn’t expect any building to take place until 2015, and said the permitting process for a project of that magnitude generally takes about seven months.

“Want to get to market as soon as we can but we don’t want to rush it,” McLoud said. “We have a lot of planning to do but we’re excited about being right on U.S. 17 and hope to make a successful product out of it.”

Maness back with Chappell

Galivants Ferry native and former University of South Carolina golfer Michael Maness will continue to caddie for Kevin Chappell as the California native plays in his fourth season on the PGA Tour.

Maness began caddying for Chappell late in the 2012 season. In 2013, Chappell earned nearly $1.6 million, made 16 cuts in 24 events and had three top-10s, including his second career runner-up finish at the Memorial Tournament in June.

“We had pretty good year last year,” Maness said. “I couldn’t be happier. It’s a good deal and he’s a really good guy.”

Chappell, who worked with instructor Nick Bradley of Sunset Beach, N.C., for parts of 2010 and 2011, won the NCAA individual and team championships at UCLA in 2008, when he received the 2008 Jack Nicklaus Award as the top male collegiate player.

Chappell has finished between 25th and 46th in three tournaments thus far in the 2013-14 season and intends to tee it up next at the $5.7 million Humana Challenge at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., from Jan. 16-19.

Maness said that will likely be the first of at least five consecutive events for Chappell through the Northern Trust Open from Feb. 13-16 at Riviera Country Club.

Maness, 33, caddied for nearly three years on the PGA Tour through 2011, primarily for Bill Haas, and gave his playing career another shot in 2012 before returning to looping after failing to advance through pre-qualifying at the 2012 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.

Heritage adds to gifts

The involvement of RBC Bank and Boeing as sponsors in the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island has made a significant difference in the amount of charitable donations attributed to the tournament.

Five Charleston area nonprofits received $10,000 each from the Heritage Classic Foundation this month: Communities in Schools, Lowcountry Food Bank, Ronald McDonald House, Charleston Trident Urban League and Habitat for Humanity of Dorchester County. Boeing has a plant in North Charleston and the check presentation took place in the Boeing Welcome Center.

The checks bring this year’s donation total to $2.1 million, and the Foundation’s grant total since 1987 to more than $25 million.

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

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