Could the Myrtle Beach market be on its way to the first calendar-year increase in golf rounds played since 2004?
The market is off to a good start through the important spring golf season.
According to statistics compiled through the Grand Strand Tee Time Network and provided by the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association, rounds have increased 5.66 percent through May compared to the first five months of 2016.
Favorable weather for an entire winter and spring has facilitated the increase.
“Really this whole year the weather has been significantly better than 2016,” MBAGCOA executive director Tracy Conner said. “I don’t think you can attribute all of it there. I think there’s a little increase in demand, as well. All in all 2017 is off to the right start.”
Conner said revenue is up accordingly with the increase in rounds played.
This isn’t the first time rounds played have been promising through the spring season, however, only to finish with a slight decrease in rounds played by the end of the year.
Last year there was a 2.1 percent increase in rounds through June but a 0.62 percent decline for the year, and rounds from March-May also increased in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015 before rounds fell short of a calendar year increase.
The early-season increase is significant this year, and Bill Golden, president of marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, believes 2017 could be different.
That is sustainable. We look at that as positive momentum and certainly a trend we’re going to continue to build on.
Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday president Bill Golden
“That is sustainable. We look at that as positive momentum and certainly a trend we’re going to continue to build on,” Golden said. “Fall is going to be a challenge because we need to overcome the last two seasons of a flood and a hurricane [the first weekend of October]. We need to overcome the fact that weekend that the storms hit has been the highest [fall] week for rounds and revenue, so that has impacted golfers’ experiences here.
“We need to make sure we’re even more aggressive this fall to not lose that momentum trying to overcome the fact we had that hole in the calendar for two years in a row.”
The increase in rounds may be correlated to increases in both reported hotel occupancy rates and deplanings at Myrtle Beach International Airport this year compared to 2016.
“When there are more people in town and the weather is better, you’re going to get more replays or more rounds booked on the ground the week of play. All of those factors contribute to it,” Conner said.
Combined rounds in the months of March, April and May – when green fees are at their peak for the year – were down 0.4 percent this year compared to 2016, but sizable increases of nearly 24,000 rounds and 19.5 percent in January, and more than 52,000 rounds and 34.2 percent in February helped account for the 5.66 percent increase in rounds through May.
March was generally stagnant and April rounds were down this year because the traditionally slow Easter weekend moved from March in 2016 to April this year, and April had just four weekends this year compared to five in 2016. May rounds were up 3.8 percent.
“If you look at the February rounds, those aren’t just local rounds,” said Golden, whose cooperative includes 65 courses and 68 package providers. “There’s no way the 52,000 additional rounds are strictly local rounds. March and April we held steady, so those are good months for us. Those are really high revenue months for the golf courses, and the fact that May increased 4 percent is a fairly significant number for May, and that increase would represent tourism rounds for us. If you look at occupancy rates and airport numbers, those all line up with the increase.”
Mark Stoneking, general manager of The Golf Desk package provider, said his company experienced a small decrease in package rounds – which combine accommodations and golf – but a 3-4 percent increase in total rounds.
“We had such wonderful weather in December and January we finally got some marketing success in drivable areas,” Stoneking said. “A lot of those rounds came from Charlotte and North Carolina areas. People were able to take advantage of their second homes or last-minute trips.”
The Golf Desk booking engine allows for late bookings, and he said the number of rounds booked within 48 hours of the tee time has increased from 50 in all of 2015 to 800 this spring. The late bookings are encouraged by 48-hour discount pricing by courses.
“I think you’re going to see a concerted effort by us, golf courses and the whole industry to try to get away from that last-minute stuff,” said Stoneking, who added more advertising from the market is now encouraging advance bookings. “In my business, the tee sheets, for lack of a better term, belong to me the package provider in advance. Once we get to a two-week window before playing, that power leaves us. … If the courses hold firm and don’t [pimp] themselves out the last minute they can reverse that and get people to pre-book golf like they used to.”
Stoneking said late April was like old times, with full tee sheets throughout the Strand. He had to send golfers outside the area or inform golfers he had nowhere to send them.
“The end of April was a bum rush, a huge success,” Stoneking said. “I could have filled Myrtle Beach twice in the last two weeks of April.
“Until they call a golf course and the golf course says, ‘We’re full, you can’t come out,’ they’re going to keep going that [late] route. Hopefully that momentary insanity gets out there on the grapevine. If we can create that scenario two or three more times during peak season we might move people back on earlier.”
The rounds data for the past four years is according to the Grand Strand Tee Time Network and its T-Links reservation system, which documents rounds as they are booked through nearly 80 Strand courses in Horry, Georgetown and Brunswick (N.C.) counties.
The numbers were accumulated by marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday in past years.
All 78 Tee Time Network courses participated in individual workshops over the winter to strategize, improve accuracy and efficiency, and clean up both current and historical data.
“We feel better about the information,” Conner said. “The information is certainly not perfect but it is in a better place than it ever has been as far as accuracy goes.”
Yearly rounds comparison
Year to date