Everything looks right on target for the 13th annual "Ghost on the Coast" dart tournament in Myrtle Beach.
The action at Sea Mist Oceanfront Resort Conference Center opens tonight and continues through Sunday.
Bud Grazioli of Myrtle Beach, director of the tournament with about 40 dartboards, remembered his father running a darts competition every Halloween in Surfside Beach. He said Ghost on the Coast found its annual place at the end of October because good deals on hotel rates prevail, usually with autumn warmth that families and golfers can enjoy.
"It clicked and it felt so natural that we stayed with it," Grazioli said.
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"It's not too hot, not too cold. Where else can you go for $40 a night and have a good time? ... You can stay three or four nights and not break the bank."
Grazioli spoke about the casual, family friendly nature of the tournament and the sport itself. About 400 such "shooters" turn out for Ghost on the Coast in a smoke-free environment to throw steel-tip darts. The opening-night blind draw usually attracts close to 300 entries. Spectators are welcome.
"It's not just a bar game for young men," Grazioli said.
Although taverns provide the most common place of business for darts, the sport consumes professionals who practice for several hours a day and travel the country to compete, Grazioli said.
"They play in leagues," he said. "They go to tourneys every weekend."
Dressing up darts
Grazioli notes there are added amenities of the tournment here every Halloween weekend.
"We take it to the next level," he said, "because we have events and a costume contest."
Although not a dress-up faceoff in a traditional sense, during the Saturday night mixed triples, "If you're the last person still playing in costume, you get the prize," Grazioli said.
He thinks darts continue to make inroads in the U.S. even as its popularity remains constant around the world.
"You can't walk into a pub in England and not find at least one dartboard," Grazioli said.
Advances in electronics, like automatic scoring, also draw new players to darts.
"It simplifies the game more for beginners," Grazioli said.
However, anyone tossing darts at Ghost on the Coast keeps score by hand on paper sheets.
"It could scare people who are bad with math," Grazioli joked, promoting thebenefits of knowing how to tally scores manually, drawing a parallel to bowling.
Overall, he said this tournament draws crowds - locals and travelers - who find fun in a getaway from "the everyday trials of work and anything else."
Patrick Ellis of Myrtle Beach said he has enjoyed throwing darts for a decade.
"My wife's involved; my kids are involved," said Ellis, who also takes trips to North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Virginia for tournaments.
Putting in about two hours daily in practice, Ellis said the competition, not the prize money, keeps him glued to this hobby.
"Darts is a very addictive game," he said. "You want to get better and better at it."
Ellis also pointed out the easy access darts gives people.
"You can have a one-stool bar and people will come," he said. "Not a lot of space or equipment is required."
No matter the income level, size or agility of a person, darts doesn't present limits on its patrons, Ellis said, citing its all-inclusive attribute.
"You don't have to be a super-athlete to do it," he said.