For the second consecutive year, the Grand Strand golf market experienced a decline in paid spring golf rounds played, and weather conditions likely contributed to the decline.
Based on the collection of a $1.50 per round transaction fee on walk-on and golf package rounds by marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, those rounds dropped 1.7 percent in the months of March, April and May compared to 2013.
The numbers do not include member, replay and complimentary rounds.
Golf Holiday calculations showed paid spring rounds declined 3 percent in 2013, which included cold and rainy conditions through much of March and April.
A cold and rainy March hurt golf courses this year, leading to a decline in rounds played of 11.4 percent compared to March 2013. The decline in March is 17.3 percent in 2014 compared to 2012.
“The last two winters and early springs have been very tough for golf around the country, and certainly tough for golf here,” Golf Holiday president Bill Golden said. “We’d love to be able to get a better shot at March. March was a big month for many years in the area and we’ve had a tough time the past couple of Marches.”
Rounds in April were up approximately 1 percent compared to 2013, and increased 6.7 percent in May, a month that is now challenging October as the third-busiest month on area golf courses.
According to Weather Trends International, the amount of “Playable Rounds” on the Grand Strand were down 11 percent in March, were up nearly 3 percent in April and were static in May compared to the same months in 2013.
To be labeled as a playable daylight hour the temperature must be above 45 degrees and below 97 degrees, with rainfall below .05 inches and wind speed below 34 mph.
April benefited from good weekend weather, as playable rounds Thursdays through Sundays in the month increased 9 percent.
The Strand had enjoyed three consecutive spring seasons through 2012 of increased paid rounds, including a 0.7 percent increase in 2012 that followed more significant increases in 2010 and 2011. The spring season is important to the market because a large percentage of annual rounds are played in the three months and green fees are at their peak.
“I think the spring was heavily impacted by the weather, particularly early on,” said Steve Mays, vice president of sales and marketing for National Golf Management, which operates 22 Strand courses. “As the weather got better throughout the spring the golf package business improved. Our May business has been increasing, so that’s a positive sign. If we can get a year of good [winter] weather it could set up for a good year for us.”
May has been buoyed by several direct flights – many of them new in the last year or two – that have commenced their routes for the year sometime from mid-March through May. “Air service has opened up doors in April and May that previously haven’t been opened before,” Golden said.
Golf course operators are hoping the rise of May isn’t to the detriment of March rounds. But that will be difficult to determine until the area enjoys good March weather.
“We’re concerned about early spring,” Golden said. “In the past couple years we’ve seen weather patterns in the first quarter that may have moved a lot of golf out of March into May. Certainly the May weather is a lot less questionable and the golf courses are in perfect shape. May has been a month that continues to grow.”
In paid rounds played in entire calendar years, the Myrtle Beach area was down approximately 6 percent in 2013 compared to 2012. That decrease followed three years of relative stabilization after significant decreases for several years.
The data is primarily collected from the 78 courses and more than 80 hotels and golf package providers in Horry, Georgetown and Brunswick counties that are Golf Holiday members.
The projected general improvement in the local and national economy should continue to help golf course operators.
“We’re still cautiously optimistic that golf is starting to come back a little bit,” said Dave Genevro, general manager for the four-course Barefoot Resort, who said Barefoot’s spring play mirrored the overall Strand numbers in monthly increases and decreases. “We’re seeing membership sales and home sales within the Barefoot community doing much better than they have in the years past, so that helps us with golf.”
Course operators are also hoping the recent and upcoming exposure the area is receiving from the Golf Channel telecasts of the PGA Professional National Championship last week and upcoming Big Break series will spur more interest in Strand golf vacations, particularly this upcoming fall and next spring.
“The PPNC and things like that are going to be good for the fall golf,” Genevro said. “A lot of times it’s not just what’s seen on TV, it’s the  pros that play in it and go back and talk to their members – 200 members here, 500 members there.”
With the number of golfers not growing nationally, and a plethora of destinations becoming competitors for golf rounds over the past couple decades, leaders in the Myrtle Beach golf industry continue to battle to attract golfers and keep the area among the top golf markets in the world.
“Evidenced by the things we’re doing with Big Break, with Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio, with the international PR efforts, with all the things we have going on, we have a full-court press to bring more exposure and find consumers we haven’t touched prior to talk about how great Myrtle Beach is as a golf destination,” Golden said. “Spring was a decent spring for us but we need to continue to push harder.”