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May 13, 2014

Myrtle Beach seeking proposals from those wanting to manage Whispering Pines Golf Course

Whispering Pines Golf Course, which the city had been considering closing, will stay an 18-hole course but under a new management company if federal officials approve the city’s latest plan.

Whispering Pines Golf Course, which the city had been considering closing, will stay an 18-hole course but under a new management company if federal officials approve the city’s latest plan.

The city is soliciting proposals from firms interested in taking over the management of the course, but that idea must be approved by the U.S. Department of Interior because the federal government gave the course to the city for recreational use when the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base closed in 1993. Proposals are due by 5 p.m. May 23.

“It looks like Whispering Pines will remain an 18-hole golf course,” assistant city manager Ron Andrews said.

The city has received a number of suggestions for the course since December, when the city council first talked about the idea of shutting down the course. Suggestions ranged from using it for a junior golf program to improving how the course is managed.

“We’ve had so much interest, so many suggestions, so much discussion, so many people approaching individual council members, I thought this was the best way to bring it all to a head,” Andrews said.

During the city’s annual budget retreat in Pinopolis last month, City Council decided to keep the course as-is for the next year while exploring the possibility of having a vendor take over management of the course.

Andrews said he will write a vendor agreement and present it to the Department of the Interior if City Council approves one of the management plans.

“We’ve sent out a fairly general request for proposals and we can hear what people have to say in a formal setting,” Andrews said.

He said he didn’t want to go to the Department of the Interior until he knew exactly what a possible vendor would propose for the course, which is off Harrelson Boulevard across from Myrtle Beach International Airport.

“We don’t know what it is that they’re going to do out there,” Andrews said. “Until we know, there’s no point in doing a vendor permit.”

Past PGA of America presidents and Strand residents Gary Schaal and Will Mann, who is now director of Coastal Carolina University’s Professional Golf Management Program, said they will be submitting a proposal to City Council. The PGA of America is the association of club professionals and instructors.

“I’m extremely excited about our proposal to City Council, and I hope they will be, too,” Mann said. He declined to share details of the proposal before he could meet with the city.

The U.S. government gave the former Air Force Base golf course to the city when the base closed in 1993. The course must be used for golf or other recreation and cannot be leased to another entity. However, Andrews said he would try to find a way to draft a vendor agreement that the federal government would accept.

Council also decided during retreat to begin treating the course as a recreation asset instead of as an enterprise fund, the way it has been operating. The change is mainly a shift in accounting, where money generated by the course would cover the operational cost, Andrews said.

“We don’t want the city to have to contribute any [money] to it,” Andrews said.

Whispering Pines has lost an average of $250,000 a year over the last four years, Andrews said. The city has struggled to determine how best to handle the 6,700-yard course, which first opened for play in 1962 and is the only city- or government-owned course among about 100 on the Grand Strand.

Andrews said he will review the proposals and present some or all of them to City Council at its May 27 meeting. Mann said he plans to attend that meeting to discuss his proposal.

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