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Winter Fun Guide | Can-Am Days hit golden anniversary

Snowbirds visit the Grand Strand every year from December to April, but the area opens its doors even wider for a few weeks in March, welcoming Canadian and American visitors to Canadian-American Days. This year marks the event's 50th anniversary.

The event originally started in 1961 as Canada Days, which were meant to attract Canadian families who were on Easter Week, a school holiday in Canada, according to Nora Hembree, public relations coordinator for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. In 1963, the name changed to Can-Am Days and has blossomed into a nine-day celebration for Canadians, snowbirds and locals.

This year's event takes place March 12-20, which will coincide with both St. Patrick's Day festivals that are being held March 12 in North Myrtle Beach and at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach.

While many of the details of the event are being finalized, Hembree said the opening event this year, which used to be held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, has been moved to Coastal Grand mall.

Hembree also said that the popular military band concerts are still planned for this year's event, although there may be some different performers than in years past.

An event that is picking up steam is the Battle at the Beach golf tournament, now in its third year. It's slated as a friendly competition between Canadian and American golfers, and this year it will be played at Prestwick Country Club.

Last year, 144 players competed for the RBC Cup at Pine Lakes, and the U.S. team, led by Coastal Carolina University head football coach David Bennett, won the cup.

All the individual contests, however, were won by Canadians, such as the longest drive and the closest-to-the-pin contest.

Bennett will be the U.S. team captain again this year, and returning as the captain for the Canadians is 10-time Stanley Cup winner Yvan "The Roadrunner" Cournoyer.

At press time, there were about 45 spots left in the tournament.

The tournament in 2010 raised $15,000 for Myrtle Beach Haven, a nonprofit that helps area homeless. That group will continue to be the fundraiser recipient this year, with a goal of around $20,000, according to Steve Carter, senior market manager with the Royal Bank of Canada, a sponsor of the golf tournament.

"This is kind of a different year for us," Carter said. "We're making it the RBC Battle at the Beach festival. We've teamed up with the PGA of America, who will have seven to 10 teaching professionals at the event who will give out free golf lessons and tips for people who are attending the tournament. We'll also have representatives from different golf groups, like Nike and Titleist."

The consulate-general from Canada will also be at the festival, as will a real Canadian Mountie, who will be available for photo opportunities. A booth will be set up to distribute information on Canada, as well as some giveaways.

Carter said they are also planning to involve the Prestwick community this year. The Prestwick social directors are excited about the chance to get involved.

"We want to encourage the public to come out and attend the festival," Carter said. "All the events are free, except for the tournament itself, and we're asking people to bring nonperishable items to donate to Myrtle Beach Haven.

"Anything to give back is what we're looking for."

Myrtle Beach Haven has been the beneficiary of the tournament since its inception. It's the oldest shelter in Horry County and is a United Way charity. It is at 975 Campbell St. in Myrtle Beach.

"It's an amazing facility and is the only homeless shelter [in the area] that can take in whole families - that keeps the mother, father and children together. So obviously the needs for that type of shelter are different," said Carter. "It's for homeless people who need a helping hand up, who aren't just looking for something for nothing."

Also new this year is a grand prize awarded by Direct Air, the presenting sponsor: a three-day, two-night all-expense paid vacation for the winning team. If the U.S. team wins, their trip will be to Niagara Falls, and if the Canadian team wins, Direct Air will pay for them to return for a vacation in Myrtle Beach.

The Canadians really want to win the cup this year, Carter said, and added that Bennett is feeling the pressure to defend the U.S. title. "He's been a great leader, and he really believes in what we're doing it for, which is Myrtle Beach Haven."