December 23, 2013

Myrtle Beach considering making Whispering Pines an executive golf course

Catering to older golfers and those who don’t have a lot of time to play a round of golf could be what the City of Myrtle Beach needs to help it operate the Whispering Pines Golf Course more efficiently, city staff hopes.

Catering to older golfers and those who don’t have a lot of time to play a round of golf could be what the City of Myrtle Beach needs to help it operate the Whispering Pines Golf Course more efficiently, city staff hopes.

Assistant city manager Ron Andrews said staff is proposing that Myrtle Beach set aside 40 of the golf course’s 200 acres and reconfigure the layout to create a shorter “executive course” that golfers can get through more quickly. The 40 reserved acres could be used for other park or recreation needs the city may have in the future, he said.

“People who are older, like me – who don’t hit the ball [300] or 400 yards – can get through the course more easily,” Andrews said.. “ We don’t know that it’s going to have any more success than what we have now. But we’ll see what happens.”

The course, which first opened for play in 1962, is the only city- or government-owned course among approximately 100 on the Grand Strand.

Whispering Pines general manager Alan Chasteen said he worked with Andrews and course superintendent Bob Warner to create a rough draft of a new layout that would take at least 600 yards off the course’s current length of more than 6,700 yards. Executive courses typically consist of par-3s and short to mid-length par-4s and have no par-5s.

“Personally, I think it will be a good thing,” Chasteen said. “The golf business isn’t growing. It will be faster rounds. You get more women-friendly, you get beginner-friendly. You have to build the golfers up again and I think this will be a way to do that. The biggest problem is people spend too much time playing golf. There are going to be a lot of advantages to it.”

Additionally, Andrews said he hopes the city creates programs at the course that would work to increase an interest in golf among children. “We’d make it available for the children of our community, particularly in the afternoon when golf courses are typically empty,” he said.

Mayor John Rhodes said he thinks creating an executive course could be a way to boost business at Whispering Pines. “The business leveled, like all the golf courses around here. We’ve already taken our licks,” he said. “We need to figure out something to do to potentially increase play.”

Rhodes warned that the idea is just a proposal that will require a lot more consideration and deliberation. “It’s not going to be closing anytime soon,” Rhodes said. “We need to determine if it would it be economically feasible to do that.”

The mayor also cautioned that he believes recent changes at Whispering Pines haven’t been given enough time to prove their worth. Rhodes said it has made financial strides since it has gained more exposure with holes running across from the new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport and alongside Harrelson Blvd, and an entrance directly across the street from the new airport entrance.

“It’s still losing money, but it’s making progress. I think we’ve made headway to getting business back,” Rhodes said. “So let’s give it a shot, let’s give it a chance. I’m not for closing anything or changing anything until I know it’s going to work, and I personally like the golf course.”

More immediately, Rhodes said the city is considering renovating the driving range and installing lights on the practice facility to allow use well after dusk. That could be accomplished as early as the spring, he said. “We think that will increase income significantly,” Rhodes said, “and we would promote the driving range being there and having lights.”

Andrews said he will need to get the OK from the U.S. Department of the Interior and prove the changes would continue to provide a public benefit.

The U.S. government gave the former Air Force Base course to the city when the base closed in 1993 and must approve any changes, city officials said. The course must be used for golf or other recreation, though Andrews said the federal government “frowned upon” changing the course to a park in the past, Andrews said.

“From time to time we’ll hear that we need more fields,” Andrews said. “We’ll reserve 40 acres out there so that we don’t (have to purchase land for any future athletic fields.”

The city has worked for years to come up with ways to make Whispering Pines more successful. In the early years, the course performed well as a city course, but has accumulated some losses in recent years, according to the city.

In 2011, the city considered allowing a third party to manage the course, but abandoned the idea after talks with the Department of the Interior indicated the lease would give up too much ownership of the course, Andrews said then.

Staff reporter Alan Blondin contributed to this report.

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