LEAD LETTER OF THE WEEK

Letter | Supply and demand ‘revenue’ woes fuel fate of Myrtle Beach golf courses

April 6, 2014 

It may not be well known, but Myrtle Beach golf history reveals that in 1950 there existed only two courses, Pine Lakes and The Dunes Golf & Beach Club. During that era we became recognized as a popular May through Labor Day, short-stay, inexpensive, family-oriented beach vacation resort destination. Unexpectedly the shops and hotels became extremely quiet, and eventually closed. It was then that golf opened up for play on the Strand.

At that time, the Caravelle Hotel on Ocean Boulevard was owned jointly by the late Buster Bryan and Air Force pilot James Hackler. Both were accomplished, ardent golfers, as well as successful businessmen. Perhaps because of their interest in golf, history tells us that they decided to take a business gamble, so they advertised a cheap $72.50 six-night, seven-day golf package promotion deal.

We know now that it worked, and it wasn’t too long after that golfers as far as Canada and numerous U.S. states began pouring in, especially during the months of February through April, since the northern “snowbirds” had been snowed in for months. We soon became recognized as a year-round, unparalleled, Mecca for the working man’s “buddy getaway” golfing destination.

Witnessing all the success of the Bryan and Hackler’s hotel packaging venture other “good ole boy”, family owned hotel businesses became involved and there was a sudden quest of “building a course a day”. Before long we had more than 100 courses vying for their share of fiscal revenues.

One of our unique and exquisite playing features is that golfers can play on a number of different courses within a “cluster” concept. That is, several courses around one accommodations complex in one place. It was an innovative idea designed to make course accessibility more convenient.

Now, unfortunately, our long exuberant golf market boom is declining as we witness courses incurring steep fiscal revenue losses, and eventual closures. As spring arrives on The Strand, it marks the beginning of the 2014 peak spring golfing season. We are reminded again of the sobering trend of our growth dwindling with no further sign of improving. There is evidence the game has lost approximately 5 million players in the last decade for various reasons according to recent National Golf Foundation (NGF) validation. They further announced that course closings outnumbered openings for the eighth consecutive year in 2013, continuing a downward trend. This is marked by a net loss of 643 US courses since 2006.

The consistent drumbeat of our current course closings has recently triggered two of our long-time leading local golf packaging business titans, Burroughs and Chapin and Myrtle Beach National to revaluate their involvement in a distressed golf market. Burroughs and Chapin said they are going to become more heavily weighted toward income-producing real estate investments. Myrtle Beach National will turn more of their focus toward their families resort hotel business.

In the meantime, the “tug-of-war “green fee pricing woes continue with courses offering marketing schemes featuring every promotional playing enticement but a lap dance for players to book a future tee time.

With the recent closing of Cypress Point on Feb. 23, one can not help but wonder what course will be next? It could very well be city-owned and operated Whispering Pines, which city officials are considering.

Let’s hope not.

The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.

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