The Highland Games that have bloomed into a start-of-spring staple for the Grand Strand will shift with a new name and site for 2018.
The third annual Saltwater — formerly Myrtle Beach — Highland Games, honoring Scottish, Irish and British heritage, will compete, dance and fly March 23-25 at the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex, at S.C. 90 and Robert Edge Parkway. The changes result from the games’ growth and need for more festival space to widen an already packed menu of activities.
Todd Cartner, the games’ executive director, said Thursday that turnout for the first two festivals, in March 2016 and 2017 at Myrtle Beach’s Grand Park, across from The Market Common, was 6,800 and about 10,000 people, respectively. He said he and coordinators — who had expected 2,500-3,000 people for the inaugural Myrtle Beach fest — have learned from visiting other Highland Games that visitors often would stay for 2-3 hours, but most people would spend the whole day in both Myrtle Beach events, from about 9:30-10 a.m. through the closing ceremonies at 4:30 p.m.
That further spurs the need for more acreage to accommodate such all-day attendees, in line, Cartner said, with coordinators’ goal of adding two or three more activities annually, “to keep people coming back, with something new each year.”
Pat Dowling, spokesman for the city of North Myrtle Beach, said the move should provide a boon for the city’s economy.
“It will introduce many new people to the city of North Myrtle Beach and its offerings during a time when our economy needs that attention the most,” Dowling said via email. “We anticipate that the financial impact will be notable. We also recognize that, as the Saltwater Highland Games continues to grow, it will continue have a positive economic impact all along the Grand Strand …”
Cartner brought up quidditch, a contact sport based on the game from the “Harry Potter” series, blending parts of rugby, basketball and dodgeball. He said it has become “very popular” among colleges. That prompted contact with the quidditch sports club at Coastal Carolina University to stage a demonstration at the Saltwater Highland Games. CCU quidditch players were “looking for a home to have a tournament,” Cartner said, so planning for the 2018 games progressed with hopes “to bring teams from 8-10 colleges from the Southeast to compete.”
Soon after North Myrtle Beach opened the sports complex in 2014, the International Quidditch Association had its “World Cup VII” tourney there, with dozens of players traveling from schools nationwide, including the universities of North Carolina and South Carolina.
Dowling said the Highland Games falls into the vision the city had for the complex.
“In part, the Park and Sports Complex was built to generate new sports tourism, festivals and other business during the offseason in order to add value to the North Myrtle Beach economy,” Dowling said. “The Highland Games certainly figure into the vision that city council had in constructing the facility.”
Dowling said the facility also was built to add fields and opportunities for local youth and adult sports leagues, which it has done. He would not get into detail on which, if any, other events were looking at moving to North Myrtle Beach.
“Many people with existing events or new ideas contact our recreation staff weekly,” Dowling said. “Staff also works to come up with new ideas. We try to make sure that that we host events that our business community is equipped to service and our residents and vacationers will find enjoyable.”
Other amenities coming for the Saltwater Highland Games include a 5k run, for which consideration of beneficiary charities continues, Cartner said, as well as a “junior athletic competition,” for boys and girls, ages 13-15 and 16-18, scaled and modeled after such adult games as stone puts, and hammer and other weight throws.
Cartner said activities the past two years have been plentiful for children younger than 5, including face painting and scavenger hunts, and for ages 6-12, with the nine-hole miniature golf that was a hit this past March. Adults have had no shortage of options, either, including pipe and Celtic bands entertaining, and whiskey tasting, hence the new direction taken for teens.
A goal, Cartner said, is to have a small group of Highland Games across the Carolinas — including the Saltwater games’ plans for 2018 – each start these junior competitions, at which athletes can take part in several festivals, possibly with trophies awarded for combined scores at the end of the season, and with hopes to give scholarships to overall winners.
“This would be fun for us to add for that age group,” Cartner said, imagining another way to bring out “the moms and dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and grandmas and grandpas” eager to root for their family, and all youth, participants.
Cartner also stressed the importance of the Saltwater Highland Games staying fresh and innovating, always with “something for everyone.”
Contact Steve Palisin at 843-444-1764, and Jason Rodriguez at 843-626-0301.