LONGS — China residents Chun Lan Li and Shi Lin Zou planned to buy a retirement home near New York City to be near their son and daughter, who have been living and working in the city.
But after the married couple traveled to the Grand Strand while on vacation for the Chinese New Year in February, the plan changed.
They came across Black Bear Golf Club, and the search for a home became a new search for a home in the vicinity of the golf course they now own.
They closed last week on the $1.5 million purchase of the 25-year-old, 6,787-yard Tom Jackson design that sits on 186 acres off S.C. 9, becoming the third Chinese person or couple to buy a Strand course in the past year.
“We looked at it and fell in love with it,” said Li through Keller Williams Realty agent Jane Zheng of Myrtle Beach, a China native who served as a realtor and interpreter for the new owners. “It’s more beautiful than New York and the people here are more friendly.”
Li and Zou said they will keep the course in operation and currently have no plans to build housing or commercial developments on the property. They plan to maintain dual residences on the Strand and in the China city of Nanjing.
The restaurateurs have sold the bulk of their restaurants but still have a minor stake in some. They plan to make improvements to Black Bear beginning, naturally, with the kitchen and menu, and will assess other needs. They also expressed a desire to be good neighbors and assist the community through Black Bear when possible.
Their son, Kang Zou, 34, is a product designer who has been living in New York on a green card but plans to also move to the Strand and do some importing and exporting while gradually learning the golf business.
No one in the family plays golf, but they all plan to learn now that they are course owners.
As much as anything related to golf, they appreciated the beauty of golf course property, especially since their home city is fairly close to Shanghai and is beset with smog and pollution.
“We love the trees and vegetation and surroundings; the blue sky and sunshine; the clear water,” Li said. “It’s hard to see that in China.”
China residents now own five Strand courses at three facilities, with more purchases likely.
Shengwen Lan of Dalian, China, who became familiar with the Strand after playing in the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship last August, purchased Crown Park Golf Club in February for $1.5 million plus the assumption of equipment leases that made it about a $2 million transaction.
A Chinese businessman known as Mr. Pan – he prefers to be identified without a first name according to Sea Trail Golf Resort assistant general manager Dana Connelly – was behind the $8.5 million purchase at a Chapter 11 bankruptcy auction last June of Sea Trail, a 2,000-acre community that includes three golf courses in Sunset Beach, N.C.
All of the Chinese owners have expressed an interest to keep their golf courses in operation.
“In China, more and more rich people are looking for more luxurious products like golf courses,” Kang Zou said.
Zheng alone has multiple Chinese investors looking to purchase land on the Strand, including any golf courses that are listed for sale. “In China, golf courses are way more expensive,” Zheng said. “Only the richest can possibly afford a golf course. People like them, small business owners, can’t even entertain the thought. Here they can make it happen.”
Li and Zou said they will try to attract more Chinese visitors for golf, tourism and possible investments.
They purchased Black Bear from GGG of Myrtle Beach, which owns the Classic Golf Group management company and includes principal owners Robbie Byers and Ed Jerdon, as well as stakeholder Roland Thomas. Byers had been the developer and owner of Crown Park before selling that course in February.
The new owners have not retained the management of Classic Golf Group, though the entire staffs of Black Bear head pro Patrick Wilkinson, superintendent Jim Brown and food and beverage manager Patricia Estep have been retained and will operate the club independently.
“I’m excited to have them here with us,” Wilkinson said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they want to do with the golf course. They’re going to make some improvements and have the capital to do it.”
The sale drops the number of courses GGG still owns and operates through Classic Golf Group to three: Burning Ridge Golf Club, Indian Wells Golf Club and Founders Club at Pawleys Island.
“We want to stay in the golf business,” Classic Golf Group general manager Rick Taylor said. “We’re not concerned. We feel we have three really good ones left. The opportunity came to sell it and we just decided to sell it.”
GGG owned and operated six courses in the mid-2000s. It previously sold what is now the Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina and what had been the Burning Ridge West Course. It rebuilt Sea Gull Golf Club into the Founders Club for a 2008 opening.