For four decades, Les Dunning of Cleveland, Ohio, has organized a family and golf vacation to the Grand Strand.
The 40th annual trip began Saturday, and has endured and expanded to include four generations of family members.
For once-a-year visitors, the group has amassed quite an impressive golf record. Les estimates his group has played approximately 1,700 rounds covering more than 30,000 holes since the inaugural trip in 1978.
Generally between four and six golfers will play a round every day of the two-week vacation. “When we were younger we’d play 36 holes a day,” Les said. “At 87, those days are gone forever.”
A total of 48 people have been involved in the family vacations over the 40 years.
The first trip included Les, his late first wife, daughter Cheryl and her husband – who was her fiancé at the time – his aunt and uncle, and his sister-in-law and her husband.
The family initially stayed at the Roy-Al Cottage in Cherry Grove, where they returned for the next 16 years. The cottage was chosen for its ease of access, as Les’ wife had multiple sclerosis and the family wanted a ranch-style home with minimal stairs.
Les is a retired ceramic engineer and international manager for the Ferro Corp, which produces inorganic coatings such as oven liners, stove tops, etc. One of his co-workers who took an annual spring golf vacation to Myrtle Beach discovered the home for the family.
The family has been in a larger house – two houses this year because the party is 16 including four generations of the family – for the past 23 years in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.
Roger Gries, an 80-year-old emeritus Catholic Bishop and Benedictine Monk, missed only the first trip. He became a family friend after he assisted the Dunnings’ parish in the Cleveland area and performed a ceremony for the family at Holy Family Catholic Church.
“He loved to play golf,” Les said. “One Sunday I told him we were going on vacation and asked if he’d like to join us. My wife said he’ll never go. And he said, ‘Oh yes, I’ve heard of Myrtle Beach. That’s the golf capital of the country.’ He’s been coming 39 years.”
The core golfers in the group are now Les, his son John, grandson Jared and the Bishop. John is a 2 handicap and Jared is also a solid single-digit handicap. Jared had the low score Sunday in the foursome by a stroke over his father. “So that’s all we heard about [Sunday] night,” Cheryl said.
Les has been as good as about a 10 handicap and helped teach most of the younger family members the game. “The worst part is you teach them, and then they wind up beating you,” Les said.
“It’s a very competitive family,” said John’s wife, Beth, “and [Les] is the most competitive, then the gene goes down through the generations.”
It’s a very competitive family, and [Les] is the most competitive, then the gene goes down through the generations.
Les and John tied for the net club championship at Ironwood Golf Course in Hinckley, Ohio, two years ago after John missed a 4-foot putt on the final hole, and John was asked by club officials if he wanted to go to a playoff to determine the champion.
“My son’s exact words were, ‘Hell no. If I beat my father, my wife, my sister and my stepmother will all be on my back,’ ” Les said. “ ‘If he should win, I’ll never hear the end of it.’ So we were co-champions.”
Les books the Strand golf rounds well in advance so the group can snag early tee times in order to both beat the heat and play at their pace.
The participants meet in January to deliberate how many strokes each player will be either giving or getting in the matches.
The Grand Strand golf matches don’t involve money, only pride and bragging rights. “And believe me, that is far more important than money with this group,” Cheryl said.
Les estimates the group has played about 80 courses on the Strand, which reached a peak of approximately 120 layouts around 2004. They’ve played several Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island courses but don’t get that far south much anymore.
“We have never been able to play them all. We gave up on that goal,” said Les, whose favorite area course is Tiger’s Eye Golf Links at Ocean Ridge Plantation in Sunset Beach, N.C. The one course closure that he laments the most is Marsh Harbour Golf Links, a scenic course along the Intracoastal Waterway in Calabash, N.C., that closed in 2002.
The family used to regularly play in the Summer Family Fun Tournaments operated by Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, and a foursome is playing Tuesday in the Fourth of July Tournament at Thistle Golf Club.
Others will be on the beach. “Some people are beach people and some people are golf people,” Cheryl said.
Dunning family members have experienced two hurricanes during their vacations – Bob in 1985 and Bertha in 1996. They rode out Bob in their Cherry Grove beachfront rental, but were evacuated from Ocean Isle Beach for Bertha and packed 18 people into two hotel rooms in Whiteville, N.C.
“We didn’t have anything to eat. All the restaurants were closed for the hurricane,” Cheryl said.
They finally found food at a Burger King that was open for the area’s police, fire and EMT workers. “They looked at us like, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ ” Cheryl said.
Hurricane Bob convinced the family to extend their planned vacations from one week to two weeks so an entire vacation wouldn’t be wiped out by another storm, so the trips have been a fortnight since 1986.
The trips have included several significant moments for the Dunnings and extended family. The Bishop has administered several baptisms and First Communions for family members during the vacations, and Paul Gibson proposed on the beach to Les’ granddaughter Kelly.
The family takes part in beach baseball games, cornhole and horseshoe tournaments, and it has even entered the Ocean Isle Beach patriotic Fourth of July parade with a decorated rented golf cart and a skateboard.
“Though we obviously love golf, the Grand Strand has been a great vacation spot for the whole extended family,” Les said.
Legends Golf Resort is beginning an extensive bunker renovation and removal project on the Parkland Course that is expected to take approximately 10 weeks and will occur while the golf course remains open.
The project calls for the removal of nearly one-third of the course’s sand traps, re-shaping of the remaining bunkers, and the addition of drainage and new sand.
Maintenance teams will work on two holes per week and are expected to be finished by the first week of September. Golfers will be able to see the work being done by heavy machinery as they play through, and Legends officials believe the work will only minimally impact play. Facility director of agronomy Mike Bankert will oversee the renovations.
The 7,108-yard Parkland Course layout is credited to Legends Group, and the course opened in 1992.
The bunker project is the latest renovation at the three-course Legends Resort, which is owned and operated by Century Golf Partners and Arnold Palmer Golf Management.
Recent improvements have included a complete renovation of Highlander’s Double Eagle Tavern, the main restaurant and bar in the main clubhouse, new bathrooms, a new snack bar, a new private lounge that can fit up to 100 guests, a new cart fleet from Yamaha, and a renovated pro shop, and more changes are planned.
According to Legends director of sales and marketing Matt Amos, the facility sought suggestions from Legends guests and members, and the bunker renovations were a popular submission.
Best ball on tap
The 10th annual Low Country Open two-player team best ball tournament is being played at Long Bay Club on Aug. 5-6.
An entry fee of $450 per team includes two tournament rounds, lunch each day, range balls and entry into daily skins games.
A full field of 120 players will pay out $17,000 in prizes, and participation has surpassed 120 players in past years.
The tournament will be flighted into a minimum of five flights based on first-round scores. Each flight will have monetary prizes for top teams and a pool for non-winners, and each par-3 will feature a closest-to-the-pin contest both days.
Professionals will play approximately 7,200 yards, amateurs under 55 will play 6,500, ages 55 to 65 will play 6,000 and 65 and older can play 5,800 yards. Sponsors include the South Carolina Golf Center, Srixon and Al Cloyd’s Custom Golf.
A practice round is available on Aug. 4 for about a cart fee. To enter, call the S.C. Golf Center at 843-369-3112 or Long Bay Club at 843-.399-2222. Contact tournament director Al Hogan at 843-267-5850 for additional information.
First Tee opportunities
The First Tee of Brunswick County has a few summer opportunities for juniors. The organization’s Summer Camps for participants ages 7 and older are held from 8:30-11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday and are just $40 per week for Brunswick County residents and $50 for non-county residents. Scholarships are available by contacting Shannon Parks at Shannon@thefirstteebc.org or calling 910-754-5288.
Four camps remain from July 11-14 and 18-21, and August 8-11 and 15-18.
There is also still availability for the final summer session at the Carolinas Leadership Academy from July 30-Aug. 3 for teens ages 14-17 at The Golf Park at Cinghiale Creek in Shallotte, N.C. The overnight camp is $300 per participant and scholarships may be available.
The First Tee of BC is holding a free Parent/Grandparent-Child scramble tournament sponsored by Srixon of up to nine holes on Aug. 5 at Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Contact Sandpiper at 910-579-9120 or firstname.lastname@example.org to enter.