On Grand Strand Golf: McConnell Golf ending outside play at Members Club at Grande Dunes

ablondin@thesunnews.comJanuary 6, 2014 

McConnell Golf has started to implement its policies at the Members Club at Grande Dunes, and one of its first actions is to eliminate all public play at the club.

Since early 2011, the club has accepted outside play from resort guests and select hotels and golf package providers. The infusion of revenue has helped a membership that lags behind those of other private clubs in the area financially support the club.

The Members Club, a 7,029-yard par-71 Nick Price and Craig Schreiner co-design, had been entirely private from its opening in June 2005 to early 2011 but struggled to attract members, particularly after the housing slump and recession began around 2007.

“The immediate plan is to restore the facility to the original intent,” said McConnell Golf chief operating officer Christian Anastasiadis. “When we looked at the property they lost the vision and the identity. The first thing you want to do is reestablish the vision Burroughs & Chapin had when they built the course.

“… I think it is good to stay private in a market that is oversaturated with public courses.”

McConnell Golf now has a collection of 10 private clubs at eight facilities in the Carolinas, including the Reserve Club in Pawleys Island, with limited reciprocal playing privileges between them.

McConnell Golf was hired by LStar Management to operate the Members Club, Ocean Club at Grande Dunes, and Anchor Café on the Intracoastal Waterway and Grande Dunes Marina. LStar completed a purchase of the 2,200-acre Grande Dunes resort and development from Burroughs & Chapin Co., on Dec. 20.

The Members Club is the first of the 10 courses McConnell Golf operates that it doesn’t own, and Anastasiadis said the two-year management contract is automatically renewable. McConnell has been approached several times in the past about management contracts.

“We won’t be taking on a lot of clubs,” Anastasiadis said. “We want quality and they want quality, so it’s a good fit. I think there is value in it.”

Outside play at Grande Dunes was priced among the top tier courses in the market and was limited to certain times of the day and days of the week. Members Club head pro Brian Vest said member, guest and public play combined to total nearly 18,000 rounds in 2013.

The course has had to cancel package rounds that were already booked for this upcoming spring.

According to Vest, the Members Club has 185 golf members plus an additional 180 social members. It had less than 125 members in early 2011 when it began allowing outside play, and has bolstered its numbers by dropping an individual initiation fee that was originally $45,000 to as low as $2,500 for a while. It has been $7,500 recently and Anastasiadis said it will remain a non-refundable $7,500, with dues remaining approximately $430 plus tax per month.

“I think it will have a lot of takers in the near future,” Anastasiadis said. “It’s a great facility and it is in a great spot. The area of the Grande Dunes is perfect for being a private facility. There’s still a lot of growth there. With LStar’s development we expect a good amount of new members to join.”

Anastasiadis said the few new home buyers in the past three weeks have all wanted to look at the club. “The momentum is there,” Anastasiadis said.

The Members Club’s early initiation fees were 70 percent refundable after resignation, with one refund for every three new memberships, and that policy remains intact. “It’s good stewardship to honor the old contracts,” Anastasiadis said.

McConnell’s clubs in North Carolina are Sedgefield Country Club (two courses), TPC Wakefield (18- and nine-hole courses), Raleigh Country Club, Old North State and Treyburn Country Club. In South Carolina it owns Musgrove Mill and the Reserve Club, and also has a consulting agreement with Roanoke Country Club in Virginia.

Members Club members now have unlimited access to Musgrove Mill and have up to 12 visits to other McConnell facilities. The Members Club will be open to members at other McConnell clubs in a couple months after some physical and service improvements are made.

Cups are being painted, greens are being walk-mowed and members are being picked up at their cars in the parking lot. Car windshields will be washed by staff on specific days. “I believe strongly that our team can implement the McConnell Golf quality,” Anastasiadis said. “You will see those little touches.”

Anastasiadis said all Members Club employees have been retained. Former Old North State general manager Teresa Bellote has been named GM, and former TPC Wakefield first assistant superintendent Ryan Gamble is the new super and has retained much of a crew that was outsourced from National Golf Management.

McConnell acquired the Reserve Club in May 2010, and Reserve Club member and past club president Mike Marino believes Members Club members will be pleased.

“He’s put a lot of capital and a lot of effort into the [Reserve] Club,” said Marino, mentioning the rebuilding of a practice facility this past summer that was already impressive. “This to me is a perfect solution to the issue we’ve heard they’ve been having up there because he’s a great operator.

“… For us it’s more gravy: another opportunity to play a terrific golf course.”

Myrtlewood suffers loss

Players returning to Myrtlewood Golf Club may notice something is missing since their last visit.

Kevin Seymour, an assistant pro at the course for more than 10 years, died last week at the age of 53 after having a seizure.

Seymour was a paramedic in West Virginia before attending the Myrtle Beach campus of the Golf Academy of America and getting into the golf business. He gave lessons in addition to working in the pro shop and taking a weekly Sunday shift on the bag drop.

“He loved dealing with people,” said Myrtle Beach National Golf Club head pro Rick Schultz, who spent 27 years at Myrtlewood before moving to MBN in the summer of 2012. “He just became part of the family there. He was outgoing and big-hearted, and he liked to be kind of a kidder, a jokester. The more he kidded with you the more he cared about you.”

Seymour beat the odds a few years ago after he was T-boned on U.S. 17 as he was driving to open Myrtlewood on a Sunday morning. Schultz said he was hit by a 15-year-old girl who was rushing to get home following a night of partying.

Seymour suffered severe head trauma and had brain surgery, and Schultz said he was given only a 5 percent chance to survive by doctors. He sometimes spoke loudly because he lost hearing in one ear, but Schultz said the accident and injuries didn’t have an impact on his demeanor or positive outlook on life.

Schultz knows Seymour will be missed most by the remaining staff at Myrtlewood, as well as the members, retirees and snowbirds who frequented the property’s two courses.

“When it happens to somebody whose life was too short and happens within your staff, it impacts a lot of people,” Schultz said. “I know he’ll leave a big void at Myrtlewood.

“When you have all these winter regulars who considered Myrtlewood a home away from home . . . and you make an impression and people remember you, they’ll be asking about him.”

Seymour was an avid sports fan who avidly followed the Dallas Cowboys and West Virginia Mountaineers, and was a season ticket holder of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, whose executives and game-day staff knew him well.

He is survived by several relatives, including his mother, Jackie, in Green Sea and daughter, Alicia, in Morgantown, W.Va.

NGM hires Hendrick

National Golf Management has hired Chris Hendrick as South Regional Operations Manager, and he will oversee operations at Pawleys Plantation, Willbrook Plantation, River Club, Blackmoor Golf Club, Litchfield Country Club, Wachesaw East and Tradition Club.

Hendrick, who majored in economics at the State University of New York at Buffalo and has been a Class A PGA member for 15 years, had been the area general manager of two 18-hole facilities in Florida since 2011.

Previously, he served as regional manager of four facilities with Meadowbrook Golf in Orlando, Fla.; general manager of Tiger Point Golf Club in Gulf Breeze, Fla.; and director of golf operations at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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