The operators of Azalea Sands Golf Club are building a 500-yard driving range that will position the course to host long drive competitions, and are altering the layout to make room for it.
The existing first and the ninth holes are being eliminated, holes are being added and a few holes on the back nine are being modified to change the Gene Hamm design from a 6,900-yard par-72 to a par-70 that will be an estimated 6,400 yards.
Superintendent David Trout is overseeing the changes, and the course will remain open throughout them.
Chuck Hutchison, a partner in both the H&BB company that has a long-term lease on the course and the company that manages it, East Coast Golf Management, said he expects the driving range to be lighted and open by March. “We think it will drive a lot of traffic,” Hutchison said.
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Azalea Sands is also home to the Kilted Caddy Club & Café and features two holes on each green – a regulation hole that is 4.25 inches in diameter and a larger hole that is 8 inches in diameter.
“If people are really serious about growing the game of golf, which we are, you’ve got to try some different stuff,” Hutchison said.
The course has featured two cups since the start of July. It installed the larger holes in November and reinstituted the regulation holes to appease traditional golfers. The smaller cups are placed from the middle to the front of greens and feature white flags, and the larger cups are on the back portion of greens with and have red flags and shorter flagsticks.
“We haven’t had any fallback at all about the two cups. I think it’s been very successful,” Hutchison said. “I think our biggest obstacle when we put the big holes in was losing the traditional guy. We just lost him. First of all he can’t put his score in for his handicap. Some of the guys didn’t want to play the big cups. With the two cups I think we’ve got everybody satisfied.”
The driving range will be approximately 185 yards wide and 500 yards long, and about 500 trees and countless stumps have already been removed to create space for it.
“We want to bring long drive competitions to Myrtle Beach,” said Bobby Peterson, one of four H&BB partners who has been a long drive competitor for two decades.
The ninth green will become a practice green on the driving range, and the first green will be retained at the back of the driving range for use during instruction, possibly by a future golf school. Hutchison and Peterson would like to eventually open a long drive school there.
The course is close to both Golfsmith Xtreme and PGA Tour Superstore locations, so it would give players interested in purchasing clubs a place to demo them. Hutchison said there have been discussions with PGA Tour Superstore officials about building a short cart path between the businesses to shuttle players to the driving range.
Peterson, 46, of Newton Grove, N.C., is a co-captain with world champion Heather LeMaster of the USA Long Drive Team, which competes in International Long Drive Challenge (ILDC) competitions.
The long drive genre is in a transitive state. The Long Drivers of America’s World Long Drive Championship, held annually in Mesquite, Nev., and broadcast on Golf Channel, is without a title sponsor with the loss of sponsorship by Re/Max after 20 years of support.
Peterson said competitions like the ILDC’s Bash for Cash and Long Drivers European Tour events would be candidates for Azalea Sands, as well as junior, female and Paralong Drive competitions for amputee, paralyzed and blind golfers. “As soon as we get a facility they’ll commit to coming here,” Peterson said. “I think now is the right time. Now long drive is wide open. There’s no big title sponsor.”
Peterson said he builds clubs for or instructs approximately 30 long drive competitors through his One Stop Power Shop company, and last year made about 600 drivers.
Kilted Caddy Club & Café president Kevin Brady said the company plans to build a caddie shack on the driving range with music and a bar and have food available “to create more energy.”
“It’s definitely a win-win for both of us,” Brady said. “If we create a situation like that where the guys can come at night and have a few beers, have a burger and hit balls with music and be around pretty girls, it’s a winner.”
Azalea Sands’ back nine will undergo several changes to account for the loss of the 515-yard par-5 first and 420-yard ninth holes.
The 410-yard par-4 13th hole is being changed from a dogleg right to a dogleg left and an adjacent par-3 is being built using the existing green. The 221-yard 15th hole is being converted into a 330-yard par-4, the 360-yard 17th is being converted into a par-5, and the 540-yard par-5 18th will be separated into a par-4 and par-3.
H&BB partner Tyler Hahn works for Traditional Golf Packages and will be promoting the course through golf packages and possibly golf school trips if a school opens.
“We’re trying to think out of the box to do different stuff to drive a different group of people to come not only to Myrtle Beach but to come play golf,” Hutchison said.
HJGT coming back
The second of three Hurricane Junior Golf Tour events on the Grand Strand in 2015 will be the Major Championship at True Blue from Aug. 15-16.
The Myrtle Beach Junior Challenge at the International Club of Myrtle Beach was held June 20-21, and the Myrtle Beach Junior Open is scheduled for Myrtle Beach National’s West Course from Sept. 26-27.
The entry fee for the True Blue event in Pawleys Island is $199 for tour members and $244 for non-members and the entry deadline is midnight on Aug. 5. The tournament is for players ages 11-18 and caddies can be used. Visit www.hjgt.org, call the tour at 904-379-2697 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to register.
Competition is in five divisions: Boys 11-12, 13-14 and 15-18, and Girls 11-14 and 15-18.
The HJGT hosts over 190 tournaments per year throughout the country, and winners qualify to be among 400 players in the HJGT National Championship from Dec. 5-6 in Florida on four total courses at ChampionsGate Golf Resort and Reunion Resort.
Play9 Day returns
Wednesday is the second annual Play9 Day, an initiative of the United States Golf Organization that is designed to encourage golf clubs and golfers to play nine holes as a more convenient way to enjoy the game.
Benefits of nine-hole rounds extolled by the USGA include: half the time commitment as 18 holes while still being eligible for handicap purposes; less intimidation for newcomers as they learn the fundamentals, etiquette and rules of the game; and less expense.
In 2014, the USGA’s Golf Handicap and Information Network recorded a 13 percent increase from 2013 in nine-hole rounds posted in the two months after the program’s launch. Golfers can visit www.usga.org/play9 to learn more.