On Grand Strand Golf: Success of recent PGA club pro championship puts The Dunes Club in line for bigger events

ablondin@thesunnews.comJune 30, 2014 

Now that The Dunes Golf and Beach Club has hosted – successfully from pretty much all accounts – the PGA Professional National Championship with the assistance for a couple days from the Grande Dunes Resort Course, it’s time for the club to consider it’s possible future with PGA of America events.

Worthy courses often go through a progression of hosting championships with either the PGA of America or United States Golf Association, and The Dunes Club can now look at its options moving forward.

“We were delighted with everything – the way it went, the way we were received, the way the club hosted it,” said Kerry Haigh, PGA of America chief championships officer who was in Myrtle Beach for the PPNC. “We really enjoyed being here and hope we can come back.”

Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, for instance, hosted the same PPNC in 2005, followed by a senior major in the 2007 Senior PGA Championship and one of pro golf’s four major championships in the 2012 PGA Championship. Each event brought with it more media attention, television hours, recognition, exposure and attendance.

Though a few PGA-run events could be considered, the Senior PGA Championship seems to be the most likely target for a few reasons.

It appears to be next in line with PGA events; its traditional May dates would be advantageous compared to summer dates when the Grand Strand is teeming with tourists, traffic and full hotels; and attendance would be manageable in terms of shuttling spectators.

The Senior PGA’s next available date is 2019. It is scheduled for French Lick Resort in Indiana in 2015; near the headquarters of its presenting sponsor KitchenAid at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich., in both 2016 and 2018; and Trump National in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

“With the Senior PGA we have a presenting sponsor, KitchenAid, and we certainly have to bear in mind their thoughts in terms of what particular market or area they’re interested in playing the event,” Haigh said. “But it’s certainly a possibility.”

With just three of 312 PGA of America pros under par and the winning score at 2-under 286 on Wednesday, both Grande Dunes and The Dunes Club held up well to the club pro competition. The 76 competitors who played all four rounds played three at The Dunes Club.

“The overall conditioning, the layout, the design, the shot values were excellent. I think the players appreciated that and we do,” Haigh said. “I think the golf course was superb. It was a great test. It was everything we wanted it to be and more. Both courses were very good for this championship.”

And The Dunes Club could be set up to play a lot more difficult than it did last week. It wasn’t set up to exceed 7,200 yards in its four championship rounds, and it has about 200 more yards through a redesign overseen by Rees Jones last summer. Par-3s, in particular, were generally played from forward tees. Rough was also not grown to be overly penal.

“The golf course absolutely can host anything. It’s that good of a golf course,” said Haigh, who has been with the PGA for 25 years and came to Myrtle Beach in the early 2000s to tour The Dunes Club to consider it for future championships. “The difficulty of the golf course is not an issue. Provided you use the right tees, the bunkers are right where they should be in the landing areas. I love the golf course.”

The champion, Michael Block of Mission Viejo, Calif., didn’t break par in his three rounds at The Dunes Club, shooting scores of 73, 72 and 72 following a 69 at Grande Dunes. “It’s a great test of golf,” Block said. “… It’s a tree-lined golf course that’s very, very tough. The [430-yard] 18th hole is one of the best championship final holes I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, you have to hit two absolutely unbelievable shots to get on there in two.”

Approximately 600 volunteers assisted in the operation of the $550,000 PPNC, and Haigh said volunteer support, performance and attitude were “outstanding. We were extremely pleased and delighted with the support and the interest from The Dunes Club and people,” he said.

The semi-private Dunes Club would have to convey a desire to host another of the PGA’s championship, and club president Jack Bonner believes the bulk of its 735 members – of which about 80 percent hold golf privileges – enjoyed hosting the PPNC.

“I think the majority of members were pretty pleased with the outcome based on what I’ve heard,” Bonner said. “I think the board will meet in the next couple weeks and evaluate the pluses and the minuses to the membership of hosting such a championship.”

For a future PGA event to be held at The Dunes Club, Bonner said a proposal would have to come from the club’s golf committee and be approved by the nine-member board of directors. Bonner serves as its chair and votes only to break a tie.

In addition to the $10 million PGA Championship and $2.1 million Senior PGA Championship, which was won in May by Colin Montgomerie, the PGA of America conducts the Ryder Cup, a biennial match between the top players from the U.S. against those of Europe that is run by the PGA when it’s in the U.S. every four years; PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which pits the four major champions in a two-day, 36-hole stroke play competition – past major champions are invited as fill-ins if invitations are declined by one or more of that year’s major winners; and PGA Cup, a biennial Ryder Cup-style event for PGA of America members and their European counterparts that is held in the U.S. every four years, including in 2015 at CordeValle Golf Club in California. The 2019 PGA Cup site hasn’t been announced.

The PGA Championship has sites through 2019, the next domestic Ryder Cup site to be announced will be for 2028, and the Grand Slam of Golf has been played in Bermuda since 2007.

The USGA would be another option for a significant event, though the club would have to reestablish a relationship. The USGA stages the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur, which was held at The Country Club of Charleston last year. The Dunes Club hosted the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open, which had a purse of $8,000 and was won by Murle Lindstrom.

“I don’t think anything is off the radar, but it’s all baby steps,” Bonner said. “If you do one and do it successfully, if they’re pleased with the occasion and test of golf, inevitably conversation will ensue.”

The Strand would have to step up to even host a Senior PGA Championship, which would require approximately 2,000 volunteers and corporate support from the community. “What we would need to have any major spectator event is to get the community support with whatever businesses there are here willing and able to support it,” Haigh said.

Gaining clout

The Dunes Club has raised its profile in the golf world this year, particularly across the pond. Bonner accepted a membership at Muirfield in Scotland – officially the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield – and a pair of respected and influential Muirfield members accepted honorary Dunes Club memberships.

Bonner has been a member at nearby Gullane for two decades, and mutual members of Gullane and Muirfield invited him to play Muirfield over the years. He is one of only 75 overseas members at the club, which has about 625 total members, he said. “In 2011 they asked me if I wanted them to put my name in for membership,” Bonner said. “Just to be considered is quite an honor. You don’t ask. That’s one way you never get in.”

The new honorary members of The Dunes Club are Alistair Low, a past captain (2011-12) of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, and George Macgregor, who will become the R&A’s 2014/15 captain on Sept. 19, the day after St. Andrews’ votes to accept female members for the first time.

Low is scheduled to visit The Dunes Club with a group in September, and Macgregor is expected in Myrtle Beach before the end of the year. “It’s good for the club, good for Myrtle Beach and the golf industry,” Bonner said. “We are raising the bar.”

Parting shot

Golf Digest gave the Myrtle Beach market some unappreciated publicity in its new back page feature called “Close Out.”

In the July issue, the page is a mock itemized bank statement of a golfer from the New York area who spent three days in June in Myrtle Beach, and includes a number of charges insinuating lascivious and otherwise questionable behavior, including three charges of $50, $50 and $889.43 at “Hush Hush Caberet,” a charge of $17.21 at “Grand Strand Pharmacy,” and charges at businesses called XYZ Discount Liquors, No Regrets Tattoos & Piercings, Fend Shui Spa, Twice Baked Smoke Shop, Princess Party Pony Rentals, Spic & Span Carpet Cleaning and You’re Innocent Bail Bonds.

Those are followed by expenses from North Jersey Flowers & Gifts and the East Orange Holiday Inn, as the wife apparently wasn’t pleased with the charges.

“It’s a poor attempt at humor,” said Bill Golden, president of marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. “The magazine industry, and Golf Digest in particular, is trying to redefine themselves and I think it smells a little bit of desperation. I guess that’s the direction they’re trying to take the magazine and I guess they thought taking a poke at Myrtle Beach golf was part of that. At the end of the day it’s not going to affect us really at all.”

Pete Hunsinger, president of Golf Digest and Golf World, knows and appreciates Myrtle Beach as much as any visiting golfer. He’s been making an annual golf pilgrimage to the area for about 35 years with a group of fraternity brothers from Miami University in Ohio, and is returning in September with a group of a dozen or more.

“There’s no better place to go. We love it. We have a great time there,” said Hunsinger, who explained that the magazine is trying to relate to a younger audience, evidenced by Jimmy Fallon appearing on the cover of the June issue. “… Humor motivates them. How funny it was, that’s always in the eye of the beholder. If it was taken as a poke at Myrtle Beach that wasn’t the intention. Guys will be guys at times. Part of the magic of golf is the stories that come out of it. It wasn’t meant as something to offend or challenge people.”

In its January issue, Golf Digest dedicated eight pages to a comparison of buddy destinations and featured the destinations of Ireland, Bandon Dunes (Ore.) and Myrtle Beach. “We care about Myrtle Beach a lot because it is one of the great engines in golf,” Hunsinger said.

Golden spoke with Hunsinger on the phone Monday to express his displeasure.

“Certainly Myrtle Beach is known for a lot of things. We’re a diverse destination,” Golden said. “… I would challenge the magazine and editorial staff to find a [Golf Digest] article about Myrtle Beach golf that doesn’t include some snarky remark about some component of their trip, and that’s our issue.”

Keur, Huskey advance

Julian Keur of Summerville and Victoria Huskey of Greenville won the boys and girls titles in the Carolinas Junior PGA Championship on Sunday at the General Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina, qualifying for the 39th Junior PGA Championship presented by Under Armour and Genesis Networks from July 29-Aug. 1 at Miramont Country Club in College Station, Texas.

Keur’s pair of 69s were enough to defeat Golden’s 15-year-old son, Patrick Golden of Murrells Inlet, and Kobdech Rodrat of Hilton Head Island by two shots each after they both posted consecutive 2-under 70s.

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

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