Myrtle Beach area golf course owners donating $250,000 to Grand Strand Senior Center

The Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association has made a commitment to donate $250,000 to the Grand Strand Senior Center over the next five years.

The association has donated $50,000, which is the first of five planned annual donations of $50,000 pursuant to an agreement reached between the two organizations last year when the course owners absorbed the senior center’s discount golf program into their own Myrtle Beach Golf Passport discount program.

“Our Passport members and senior center members are of that age and [the senior center] provides a great, meaningful service to our community and we wanted to be a part of that,” MBAGCOA general manager Tracy Conner said. “It’s a way for our association to kind of give back to a community that has been so good to us over the years.”

The senior center sold its VIP Golf Book that offered discounted green fees on area courses to its members for 20 years as a fundraiser, charging $20 for the book in addition to a $20 center membership – some members surely joined solely for the golf discounts.

The VIP program hit a peak of about 10,000 members in the early 2000s and still had about 5,000 members in 2012 and 2013.

But with a number of discount golf programs in the marketplace, some courses began paring down the number of programs they were accepting.

After National Golf Management, which operates 22 Strand courses, stopped accepting the VIP Book early last year, it was seemingly in peril despite still having 74 participating courses on the Strand and surrounding areas of Wilmington and the Pee Dee.

Many VIP Book holders made a public campaign of their displeasure with being locked out of discounts on NGM courses.

The VIP memberships ran through September, and last June the MBAGCOA reached an agreement to incorporate the VIP Book into its strong program for the remainder of 2013 for loosely negotiated future considerations that became the $250,000 in donations.

“I believe it’s a win-win-win for us, and the Passport and the owners, and the golfers too,” said Ray Fontaine, executive director of the Horry County Council on Aging, which oversees the Grand Strand Senior Center on 21st Ave. in Myrtle Beach and another 10 senior centers in the county. “They’ll still get an opportunity to play at about the same cost.

“We were making a little bit more than that, but we don’t have to run a complicated golf service. We send people to them and they pay us so it’s a great program for us.”

The Passport is $42.50 including tax and it was already thriving without the added senior members. About 10,000 had sold each year in recent years, and as of Monday, Conner said 14,219 Passports have been sold in 2014. Each allows a Passport holder to book a foursome at the discounted rate. “It was a strong, viable program prior to the merger,” Conner said.

Fontaine said the donations are earmarked for food home-delivery, home cleaning service and transportation for Myrtle Beach seniors, and the services help seniors remain in their homes rather than moving to nursing homes. He said that last year in the county there were more than 800 clients receiving home cleanings and 250,000 meals were served.

“The programs are getting more and more expensive, and people are moving down here like crazy,” Fontaine said.

While the $50,000 annual donation is the MBAGCOA’s largest financial commitment to a community entity, it regularly makes other donations to community organizations and sponsors events including next week’s Veterans Golf Classic and Coastal Carolina University’s annual General Hackler Championship.