On Grand Strand Golf: Hilliard ends long, successful run leading Myrtle Beach course owners

ablondin@thesunnews.comMay 26, 2014 

For the first time in the 26-year history of the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association, it is now being guided by someone other than George Hilliard.

Hilliard, 74, has retired from the executive director position that he accepted in October 1988 with the creation of the owners association, which was a progression of the less formal Grand Strand Executive Golf Association that formed in 1978 with volunteer administrative positions.

“It’s a little emotional to be leaving. It has been a fun ride,” Hilliard said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve had great people to work with who are willing to give. We’ve had good camaraderie and we’ve accomplished a lot of things.”

Tracy Conner, a past general manager of Bay Tree Plantation who has been the general manager of the Grand Strand Tee Time Network since 2007, succeeded Hilliard on April 1, though Hilliard will maintain a consultant’s role through the end of the year.

In what has been officially a part-time job consisting of 20 to 30 hours per week, Hilliard has led the development and implementation of policies, programs and projects that have helped the MBAGCOA prosper and progress.

The association developed the Grand Strand Tee Time Network beginning in 1990 to link the reservation systems of area courses and it went operational in the spring of 1992 with 35 courses and 15 hotels. It now includes nearly all of the Strand’s 90-plus public courses.

The Myrtle Beach Golf Passport program started in 1993. It offers discounted golf rounds on Strand courses for about $40 per year and has more than 14,000 subscribers in 2014.

Other MBAGCOA accomplishments under Hilliard’s direction include the offering of a health insurance program for area courses, the relieving of some property taxes for courses, and the successful lobbying for a new IRS policy that allows courses to depreciate greens, tees and bunkers, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for courses across the U.S.

“I’ve had an awful lot of help,” Hilliard said. “The credit goes to the way the golf community gives of their time and money to make things happen here, and that is really what makes Myrtle Beach golf click.”

Hilliard also helped bring the American Junior Golf Association’s Ping Myrtle Beach Junior Classic to the area and served as tournament chairman for 10 years from 1989-1998. The tournament was held at a few courses including Quail Creek Golf Club, Burning Ridge Golf Club, Sea Trail Resort, Pine Lakes Country Club and Myrtlewood Golf Club.

He ran the GSTTN for 18 years, which gave him a full time job combined with the MBAGCOA through 2007.

“That took some of the work load off,” Hilliard said. “Now it’s time to retire-retire. I’m in a retirement mode now.”

He attended the graduation of one of his grandsons this past weekend from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Hilliard has four children and 14 grandchildren, and his grandson is following in his footsteps.

Hilliard retired in 1988 as a colonel at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter after 26 years of service and was looking for a management job when he learned of the MBAGCOA position.

Hilliard had 4,400 flying hours and 100 combat missions over North Vietnam. His military honors include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross (2), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (4), Air Medal (11), Joint Service Commendation Medal, and two Air Force Commendation Medals.

His honors continued post-military. He was given the Champions Award in 2005 from the National Golf Course Owners Association. It recognizes individuals or entities that have worked on behalf of a group of owners and garnered significant victories for them.

Hilliard was also named the 2012 Father of the Year by organizers of the National Father & Son Team Classic on the Strand.

“He’s been a steady hand through good times, difficult times and all the challenges inherent in a golf and management association made up of all the multiple golf course owners we have here,” Conner said. “What a wonderful man and a steady hand he has.”

Hilliard remains active in the leading of community and church groups.

A pair of aces

Just two months ago, a visiting golfer from Pennsylvania made a pair of holes-in-one in a single round at Oyster Bay Golf Links.

This past Thursday, another ace unusuality occurred on the Grand Strand.

Prestwick Country Club members Esther Goroski and Barbara Duimstra made aces in successive groups on their home course’s 16th hole. It was playing approximately 70 yards with a back center pin and both players used pitching wedges to clear a creek and elevated, bulkheaded bank.

Goroski made her hole-in-one first – she now has three aces – and Duimstra made her first ace in the following group, though there was too much of a gap between the groups for Duimstra to know the ace had been made in the group in front of her.

With the women’s tee box lower than the green, neither player saw their ball go in the hole. “So that’s a bummer,” Duimstra said.

Duimstra called her husband, Pete, to inform him of her good fortune and he drove to the clubhouse to celebrate with her. When he arrived he told everyone of his wife’s shot.

“Everyone there said, ‘No, Esther had one,’ ” Duimstra said. “So there was confusion about who had the hole-in-one, and we both did.”

Duimstra bought the obligatory round of drinks for those in the clubhouse, then celebrated Goroski’s ace without her knowledge. “We all decided to have a drink on Esther. I’m not sure if she knows that or not,” Duimstra said.

The aces were rewarded. Duimstra was in the club’s hole-in-one fund, which was worth $700, plus she and Goroski should both collect approximately $200 or so through a women’s hole-in-one fund. “Maybe I’ll buy some new clubs,” Duimstra said.

Masters tickets for grabs

Augusta National Golf Club is accepting applications for 2015 Masters Tournament tickets, which the club says are randomly awarded through a lottery process.

The entry deadline is June 30 for practice round tickets and June 1 for daily tournament round tickets, of which there is a very limited number. Applications are under the “Tournament” tab at Masters.com.

Practice rounds are April 6-8, 2015, and tournament rounds are April 9-12.

Weekly tournament badges are still only awarded to patrons on a longstanding ticket list.

Anyone interested in attending the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., must also complete free online pre-registration at http://www.pgachampionship.com prior to Aug. 11 to be eligible to purchase tickets during the public sale, which will run from Aug. 11-30, 2014.

HGTC students assist

Sixteen students from the Horry-Georgetown Technical College Golf and Sports Turf Management program recently served as volunteers at the PGA Tour’s $10 million Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

They joined workers from many nations, including Scotland, Malaysia, Chile and Argentina, and were featured live on Golf Channel during a “Pink Out” on Mother’s Day feature when they helped remove flowers on holes 17 and 18 and replaced them with pink varieties to honor mothers.

During the week, at least two HGTC students found jobs through connections made there and others were invited to help with major tournaments, including the upcoming U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 course.

“I believe these opportunities will prove to be among the ways we expand our brand and continue to keep the college among the most popular turf programs in the country,” HGTC professor Richard McGuinnes said.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284 or on Twitter @alanblondin, or read his blog Green Reading at myrtlebeachonline.com

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