The success of the Myrtle Beach area golf industry was built through cooperation, with golf packages and the combining of resources for the greater good through marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.
Gene Augustine, Myrtle Beach campus president of the Golf Academy of America, wants to take the cooperation a step further, and he called the first meeting this past week of the Grand Strand Golf Alliance.
The proposed purpose of the group is to bring people from different facets of the golf industry together to form mutually beneficial relationships to help the individual members and golf business as a whole grow and reach more customers.
The inaugural meeting featured 12 people.
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“I saw we had all these things going on individually, so how can we raise these up to help each other out,” said Augustine, who has been campus president since January of the two-year school that prepares students for a career in the golf industry. “We’ve declined over the past couple years but so has the golf industry. Now the golf industry is coming back and there are more opportunities for our graduates.”
Attendees at the inaugural meeting included Augustine and Adam Riedel of the GAA Myrtle Beach campus; Emily Christy, founder of Shecaddie, which aims to increase the participation of women in golf; Darren deMaille of the Double-D Golf Academy, Adaptive Golf and the Stand Up and Play Foundation; Veteran Golfers Association South Regional Director Gary Yeatts; WBTW News 13 general manager and vice president Jeff West; area Golfweek Amateur Tour director and Myrtle Beach VIP Vacations owner Jason Dores; Tom Plankers of East Coast Golf Management, Keith Stanzel of ECGM and Whispering Pines Golf Club; First Tee of the Grand Strand executive director Rich Abraham; and Kelley Pogonovich of Fairway Advantage Therapeutic Massage.
“If everybody at the beach would work together I think the offseason would be so much better to prepare for the upcoming season and stand up in the offseason,” Dores said. “I think relationships that can be built can open doors that should have been opened already. It can be extra exposure for everyone, and you share ideas.
“I like what he’s trying to do. I think it’s going to take time to build.”
The next meeting has been proposed for Dec. 12.
First Tee changing
The First Tee of the Grand Strand, a youth development organization that utilizes the game of golf as a vehicle, already reaches close to 800 children in Horry and Georgetown counties with direct programming and about 12,000 more through elementary school physical education classes.
Leaders of the organization believe they will be able to impact even more kids, and reach them more effectively, through a pending consolidation with two other First Tee chapters in southeastern North Carolina.
All are currently under the direction of The Carol S. Petrea Youth Golf Foundation as a parent organization, but are operated largely independently.
They are coming together to form the singular The First Tee of the Coastal Carolinas through a foundation initiative dubbed “Drive the Future,” with the consolidation expected to be completed by Jan. 1.
The other chapters are The First Tees of Brunswick County and Eastern North Carolina, which includes Carteret, Craven and Pamlico counties to the north of Wilmington.
Lindell Bradley, board chair of the Petrea Foundation, said the consolidation will strengthen the collective chapters by creating more financial efficiencies; enabling the increased use of shared resources such as technology, purchasing, marketing and human resources; and bringing consistency to programming.
“We have always been connected to the foundation but the programs in this area are now more supported,” First Tee of the Grand Strand executive director Rich Abraham said. “I think always being part of a larger organization is great. You have resources a larger organization can own.”
Bradley said the foundation has had to supplement Grand Strand chapter fundraising in recent years and believes the Horry and Georgetown county areas will be better funded under the new plan. And it will be targeted.
“The biggest growth opportunity we have right now is in the Horry County area,” Bradley said. “It has the largest population. We know there is a potential of reaching over 90,000 young people [combined].”
The area First Tee has also recently been boosted by increased support in recent months from marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which launched a Project Golf initiative that targets youth golf projects.
Though some paid positions among the three currently separate First Tee chapters are being eliminated to make the new organization more efficient, Abraham has been named the acting executive director for the Coastal Carolinas chapter and programs director Patrick O’Brien will retain a position.
The First Tee of the Grand Strand instructs about 150 children in its fall after-school/Saturday programs and about 650 fourth-graders through its off-campus school-day program in Georgetown County. Additionally, about 12,300 are reached by the national school program in PE classes in Horry and Georgetown counties.
The First Tee stresses nine core values to develop youth in addition to its golf programming. The Coastal Carolinas chapter will be headquartered at The Golf Club at Cinghiale Creek in Shallotte, N.C., which includes a Tom Watson-designed Par 3 Learning Course, driving range, three-hole loop and the Carolinas Leadership Academy, which hosts summer camps.
First Tee students in Horry and Georgetown counties will have access to First Tee coaching for a longer period since O’Brien recently increased his coaching level and Terry Mauney, the program director for the entire First Tee of the Coastal Carolinas, has the highest level of training.
“Obviously we want to keep teens in the program, and that allows us to do that,” Abraham said.
The First Tee was introduced to Myrtle Beach in 2005 as an independent chapter but it struggled to survive and was taken in by the Petrea Foundation in 2012, changing its name from The First Tee of Myrtle Beach to The First Tee of the Grand Strand.
“The Coastal Carolinas is one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S. and we believe the opportunity to reach more young people with the benefits that The First Tee organization provides is significant and critical,” Bradley said.
Smith Knaffle of Murrells Inlet, a junior at St. James High, has qualified for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship with future University of South Carolina teammate Skylar Thompson of Buford, Ga.
The duo earned medalist honors in a four-ball qualifier Saturday at Columbia Country Club in Blythewood, shooting a 5-under-par 67.
The national championship is scheduled for next April 28-May 2 at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif. Eighteen-hole qualifiers are being conducted at 27 locations around the country.
Knaffle and Thompson, a high school senior, carded a bogey-free round in a best ball format. Last week, Knaffle won her second straight S.C. Class 4A state individual title while helping St. James win its third consecutive team state title.
Knaffle qualified for a couple national junior championships last year, including the U.S. Girls’ Junior, where she qualified for match play and won a match to reach the round of 32, and will be playing against many adults in the 2018 Four-Ball.
Caroline Craig of Sautee Nacoochee, Ga., and Ally Williams of Athens, Ala., finished a stroke back in the qualifier to earn the second available spot from that site.
The 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball was played at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach in late May, and was won by former Furman University teammates Taylor Totland and Alice Chen.
The ninth annual Wachesaw Plantation Club Four-Ball Invitational Championship attracted its second largest and strongest field last weekend with 60 two-man teams from 12 states: California, Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, Connecticut and the Carolinas.
Despite the great distance traveled by many competitors, players from the Grand Strand captured titles in all three divisions – Mid-Am (ages 25-and-older), Senior (55-plus) and Super Senior (65-plus).
Sammy Truett of Surfside Beach and Randy Hebert of Murrells Inlet shot the low score each day in the Mid-Am division to win by eight shots over Mark Collins and Chase Baily of Roanoke Va., with a new mid-am tournament record 16-under 200.
Andy Congdon of Murrells Inlet and Bob Linn of Pittsfield, Mass., won the Senior division by two shots over Danny Hopkins of Myrtle Beach and Jack Allara of Salem, Va., at 13-under 203. Tournament organizer Mike Daniels of Murrells Inlet and Allan Small of Savannah, Ga., won the Super Senior division by shot shots over players from Florida and New York with a 202.
The winning teams in each division won $1,200 in pro shop gift certificates.
Truett followed up that title by winning the 44th South Carolina Senior Better Ball Championship at Santee Cooper Country Club on Sunday, shooting a 13-under 66-65–131 over the weekend with partner Tim Teaster to win by two shots.