Vernon Brake talks MB Golf HOF (Video)
One man involved in both ends of the Myrtle Beach package business during the initial burgeoning period for the area golf industry, and another largely responsible for the survival and success of the largest single-site amateur tournament in the world will comprise the 2017 class for the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame.
Hotelier and golf course owner Vernon Brake and the late Bob LeComte, who helped save and grow the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship, will be inducted at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 26 in the Hall of Fame Garden at Pine Lakes Country Club.
Brake has been an owner of The Breakers hotel for 47 years, was among the original partners of the Myrtle Beach National Company and Arrowhead Country Club, and has served on the boards of several area golf-related organizations.
“I’ve got a lot of people to thank for where I am, but it’s quite an honor that I’m pleased to get,” said Brake, 87. “I’m real proud of it.”
Lecomte convinced DuPont executives to sponsor the World Am in 1986 and the title sponsorship lasted for two decades. He served as the tournament’s executive director for 13 years and moved to the Grand Strand for the final 22 years of his life. LeComte died in June 2014 at the age of 83 after battling lung cancer for two years.
“I feel Bob would really be pleased and honored that he was thought of for this award,” said LeComte’s widow and wife of 62 years, Marilyn. “I think it’s absolutely fabulous.”
Brake is a native of Rowland, N.C., and 1954 Wake Forest graduate who moved to Myrtle Beach in 1961 to operate a Firestone tire store that he ran until 1965.
He operated the Cottonwood Motel from 1965-70, which introduced him to the Myrtle Beach golf package, and he partnered with friends in 1970 to purchase The Breakers hotel.
“I saw what the primary business was. I saw golf had to be a part of it,” Brake said. “I played golf and was interested in golf before I ever got involved here in Myrtle Beach so it fit right in. I got into the motel business, and if you were in the motel business you needed to be in the golf business.”
The Breakers was initially a beach house that expanded, and became a three-story structure in the 1960s. Brake and his investors built an 11-story hotel in the early 1970s once the city increased its building height limit to 11 floors.
It was merely a coincidence that Brake purchased a hotel named Breakers. “A lot of people called me Mr. Breakers instead of Brake,” said Brake, who was the Breakers managing partner until his retirement in 2004 at the age of 74.
Brake was an original shareholder along with several other hotel and campground owners of Myrtle Beach National Co., which formed in 1971 when there were 10 golf courses on the Grand Strand and opened the three courses at Myrtle Beach National Golf Club in 1973, ’74 and ’75. “You couldn’t get tee times at the courses,” Brake said. “The popularity was growing faster than the golf courses.”
Myrtle Beach National Co. expanded to own 10 courses and operate 14 at its peak – many are now part of Founders Group International. Brake remains impressed by the cooperation among hotel owners and golf course owners that has allowed the Strand to become a national golf destination.
“That was really a surprising thing to me,” Brake said. “When I got into the hotel business, all those people in it are your competition, but the fact is if we all work together everybody is going to get their share of the business. Some of my best friends came from them being involved in the golf industry.”
Brake has been an integral part of several organizations that have helped build the Myrtle Beach golf market.
He sat on the boards of marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, the Grand Strand Tee Time Network, Myrtle Beach Hotel-Motel Association, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, and The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, where he is a 52-year member. He was on the Golf Holiday board for 28 years, and is a charter member of the tee time network and hotel-motel association.
“It has been a privilege to be on the boards and be active in it and have a chance to have a say-so in it,” Brake said. “I’ve enjoyed it all the way through.”
Brake is also a founding partner of the 27-hole Arrowhead Country Club, which opened in 1994, and was part of a group that for several years traveled to various northern cities to promote Myrtle Beach as a golf destination.
Brake has been a formidable golfer, shooting his age on a few occasions in his 70s, and he still plays with a Wednesday group at The Dunes Club. He has been married to wife Georgia Ann for 58 years and has two children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and has served as a deacon, elder and treasurer at First Presbyterian Church.
LeComte’s personalized license plate befittingly read “World Am,” as he is largely responsible for the success of the tournament.
The 22-year Murrells Inlet resident was born in Brooklyn and moved to Wilmington, Del., in 1955, where he had a 37-year marketing career at the DuPont company.
He may have saved the World Am in its infancy in 1986. The event was initially run by Golf Digest and sponsored by Rawlings, but it was without a title sponsor and in debt after two years. That’s when LeComte convinced DuPont executives to sponsor the tournament, which the company did for 19 years through 2005.
LeComte served as executive director of the tournament for 13 of its first 15 years – seven years as a DuPont employee and six years for Golf Holiday. The tournament grew under his leadership and peaked with a sellout of more than 5,000 players in 2000.
He made his way to the Grand Strand when Golf Holiday took over tournament operations from Golf Digest in ’92, and he was director of the event through 1998.
LeComte was responsible for several popular World Am features. Among them: he introduced a championship round for flight winners, expanded the 19th Hole expo and its offerings, offered high-dollar grand prize drawings, and enticed celebrities to make appearances and writers to participate and publicize the event.
LeComte also played an integral role for Golf Holiday in negotiations to bring the Senior Tour Championship to the Strand. It was played at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club and TPC Myrtle Beach from 1994-2000.
When the event needed a title sponsor in 1995, LeComte composed sponsorship proposals for 20 companies for Golf Holiday, which led to Energizer’s title sponsorship. He also recruited Mickey McCamish, whom he knew from McCamish’s days as a 10-year tournament chairman for the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in Wilmington, Del., to join Golf Holiday to run the Champions Tour event. McCamish eventually became Golf Holiday’s executive director and president.
In 2013, LeComte received a new World Am lifetime achievement award that is named in his honor and is being awarded annually to individuals who have meant a lot to the event.
“He was happy with his life and he loved Myrtle Beach,” said Marilyn LeComte, who is 87. “We came here and it really became his life. He loved everything about the area.”
LeComte and Marilyn had four daughters and a son, and the family now includes 15 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
The Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame was created in 2008 to recognize people who have made an indelible mark on the Myrtle Beach golf industry, and a committee annually selects new members based on nominations.
Brake and LeComte will be joining the 21 existing members of the Hall of Fame: General James Hackler, Cecil Brandon, Clay Brittain, Carolyn Cudone, Jimmy D’Angelo, Robert White, George ‘Buster’ Bryan, Charlie Byers, Paul Himmelsbach, Gary Schaal, J. Egerton Burroughs, J.Bryan Floyd, Edward Jerdon, Casper Leon Benton, George Hilliard, Critt Gore, Russell ‘Doc’ Burgess, Sandy Miles, Phillip Goings, Edward Burroughs and Kelly Tilghman.
“I think it’s a great organization without a doubt that recognizes all these people that have put so much time into it and done so much for the golf industry,” Brake said. “A lot of them are my friends and I’m pleased to be elected to go into it.”