The investor group from China established locally as Founders Group International has become the largest owner and operator of golf courses in the Myrtle Beach market.
The company has acquired the majority of National Golf Management’s assets, giving it a vested interest in 22 courses (423 holes) on the Grand Strand.
National Golf Management had been the largest owner/operator in the market with the 12 courses that it both owned and operated and an additional five run through management contracts and/or leases.
The courses acquired in the transaction stretch from Pawleys Island to Little River. They are: Long Bay Club; Pine Lakes Country Club; Grande Dunes Resort Course; River Club; Pawleys Plantation; Willbrook Plantation; Litchfield Country Club; the King’s North, SouthCreek and West courses at Myrtle Beach National Golf Club; and the Palmetto and PineHills courses at Myrtlewood Golf Club.
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The deal does not include National Golf Management’s management contracts for Farmstead Golf Links, Meadowlands Golf Club, Arcadian Shores Golf Club, Waterway Hills Golf Links and Blackmoor Golf Club.
Founders Group International’s Chinese parent company, Yiqian Funding, is primarily owned by Chinese investor Dan Liu and New York immigration attorney and FGI president Nick Dou.
Dou said Thursday that NGM had 600 to 700 employees and FGI now employs more than 1,000 people, making it one of the largest private employers in the area.
It also makes FGI a major player on the Myrtle Beach business scene and, as such, will give it a seat at the table for discussions of things such as how the area is marketed, said Brad Dean, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
“As key players in our tourism industry, Mr. Dou and Mr. Liu can certainly influence how the destination is marketed,” Dean said. “But ultimately they share one goal with every other business: attracting more visitors to the Myrtle Beach area.”
Overall, investors from China have purchased 27 of the Strand’s 80-plus public courses between Georgetown and Southport, N.C., since June 2013. Sea Trail Resort – which includes three courses – as well as Crown Park Golf Club and Black Bear Golf Club are each owned by different Chinese groups, families or individuals.
Grande Dunes, Pawleys Plantation and the King’s North Course are among the area’s upscale layouts, while Pine Lakes rivals The Dunes Golf and Beach Club as the area’s most iconic course. It opened in 1927 and is the oldest course on the Strand, upholds Scottish traditions, is considered the birthplace of Sports Illustrated and features a grand clubhouse that was designed in Classical Revival style by Raymond Hood, who also designed skyscrapers in New York. The course and clubhouse are on the National Register of Historic Places.
NGM’s courses are added to the layouts FGI has already purchased in the area: TPC Myrtle Beach, Aberdeen Country Club, Burning Ridge, Colonial Charters, Founders Club at Pawleys Island, Indian Wells Golf Club, River Hills Golf & Country Club, International World Tour Golf Links, Tradition Club and Wild Wing Plantation.
The acquisition also includes National Golf Management’s call center known as Tee Time Central, its golf package operations known as Ambassador Golf and Myrtle Beach Golf Trips, some of the Strand’s most visited golf-related websites including mbn.com, myrtlebeachgolftrips.com, myrtlebeachtrips.com and mbgolfinsider.com, and National Golf Management’s local course membership program known as Prime Times.
“We are incredibly excited about this acquisition,” Dou said in a release. “Not only does it add 12 great golf courses to our portfolio, it adds a marketing engine, call center and high traffic websites that will help drive rounds and revenue. We now have a diverse and experienced management team made up of skilled golf industry veterans to help us continue our success into the future. We have made a substantial investment in the Myrtle Beach community and look forward to a bright future here.”
The full sales price of Founders Group’s acquisition of NGM properties was not disclosed or immediately available. Prior to the purchase, FGI had spent approximately $58 million acquiring Strand golf courses and property since last year, according to Horry and Georgetown county property records.
NGM was formed in March 2012 as a merger of most of the golf-related assets of Myrtle Beach National Co. and Burroughs & Chapin Golf Management. It oversaw operations at 23 courses and Pawleys Plantation golf villas at its peak. A total of 17 of the courses it previously owned and/or operated are now part of FGI.
NGM president Bob Mauragas is not part of FGI, but NGM vice president of marketing and sales Steve Mays said that otherwise “the [NGM] operation and marketing teams are staying in place. Executives of the two companies will continue to manage this new entity.”
Mays has been retained as an FGI marketing and sales director along with fellow former NGM marketing executive Jim Woodring. The FGI management team has included former Classic Golf Group general manager Rick Taylor and World Tour general manager Tom Plankers.
“Of course we’ll reorganize it. It’s a big company with so many employees,” Dou told The Sun News. As with FGI’s prior purchases, employees at individual golf courses that wanted to be retained remain employed.
Mays said more course purchases by FGI are possible, though are not likely in the near future. “We will keep our options open, but at this time we will focus on operating the courses we currently have,” Mays said.
Dou said recently the company has no plans to redevelop any golf course property, and some of the company’s courses have easements preventing development. “We want to keep the golf courses as they are,” Mays said.
All of FGI’s courses, with the exception of Colonial Charters, are members of marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which markets the Strand golf market regionally, nationally and internationally.
“We plan to remain an integral part of the golf community and promotion of Myrtle Beach,” Mays said. “The involvement in the Myrtle Beach community is important to this company and important to Nick and Dan.”
Dou has said he is trying to make Myrtle Beach a golf destination for Chinese nationals.
“With their ties,” Dean said, “the number of trips and tours from China to the Grand Strand could grow much more quickly than expected.”
Yiqian Funding has spawned travel, golf and real estate departments to support its foray into Myrtle Beach, according to Dou, and it has partnered with a large travel agency in China to bring golfers and wedding parties to the area.
Liu is getting married on Tuesday in Myrtle Beach and approximately 60 China residents are expected to be in attendance and remain in the area for several days. Liu and Dou plan to make their homes in the Myrtle Beach area.
Founders Group International also has a division for residential and retail development. As part of its purchase of Wild Wing last week, Founders Group acquired approximately 200 lots and 241 acres of property around the course.
Dou said the company also acquired approximately 20 acres adjacent to one of its courses and, according to Keller Williams Realtor Jane Zheng, who brokered most of FGI’s golf course purchases, last year purchased the Stonewall Villas development off S.C. 9 in Longs for more than $1 million from Horry County State Bank.
Zheng said the Stonewall property will be developed into 80 residences in two- and four-unit buildings. A clubhouse and two buildings currently exist.
Yiqian Funding’s purchases have attracted the attention of other Chinese investors and helped raise Myrtle Beach’s profile somewhat, Zheng said.
She said she has five to 10 groups of other Chinese investors scheduled to visit the Strand this year. They’ll be looking for hotels, office buildings, raw land and other properties that can pay them a dividend, she said.
Zheng said that Myrtle Beach has yet to secure a place of its own in the minds of most Chinese investors, who think of Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and other major cities for U.S. purchases.
“It’s hard to get them here because nobody [in China] knows this place,” she said. “If they come, most likely they will like it.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765 or on Twitter @TSN_SteveJones.
Founders Group International courses
Aberdeen Country Club
Burning Ridge Golf Club
Colonial Charters Golf Club
Grande Dunes Resort Course
Indian Wells Golf Club
International World Tour Golf Links
Long Bay Club
Myrtle Beach National West
Myrtle Beach National SouthCreek
Myrtle Beach National King’s North
Pine Lakes Country Club
River Hills Golf & Country Club
Wild Wing Plantation
TPC Myrtle Beach (parts in both counties)
Founders Club at Pawleys Island
Litchfield Country Club