Over the past 50 years, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday has been largely responsible for building the Grand Strand into one of the largest and most recognized golf markets in the world.
At its peak in the early 2000s, the market featured about 120 courses and more than 4 million rounds played per year.
After five decades, it’s time for a change.
Golf Holiday will continue to exist as a non-profit marketing cooperative, but on Jan. 1 its entire staff will transition to corresponding positions in a new company called Golf Tourism Solutions that will address the growing needs of golf-related businesses in the market created by technological advances.
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“There was time spent kind of rethinking the model,” said Golf Holiday president Bill Golden, who will retain that position and will be the CEO of Golf Tourism Solutions. “The model has served us so well up until this point. What’s the next evolution of this model moving forward for the next 10, 15 or 20 years?”
Golf Holiday has been the marketing arm of the destination since the mid-1960s while the Grand Strand Tee Time Network has been the technology arm since 1991, connecting the tee sheets of golf courses with hotels and golf package providers.
The GSTTN is essentially being reorganized into the new company with added employees and an expanded mission that includes assistance with marketing, promotion, technology and social media for its members for an additional fee.
“Over time we realized marketing and technology have to be in the same offering,” Golden said. “Marketing and technology work together. Those are services we provide our member properties, but at the moment they are two separate organizations. It’s a concept that has been in our minds for a few years now. We needed to figure out a way to kind of combine those services.”
Golf Holiday and Golf Tourism Solutions will remain two separate organizations that share resources such as golfer databases, tournaments, websites, etc., through a contractual relationship.
That will allow Golf Holiday to maintain its tax-exempt status and allow it to receive some matching funds from the state level through collaboration with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Golf courses are required to do more and more every day as it relates to technology, as it relates to marketing and social media, managing all they manage,” Golden said. “It’s a different dynamic now than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago in terms of what their responsibilities are. As a result they need additional outside support and resources as it relates to social media, web development, content development, videos – all the things they need to do to sell their golf courses or sell their golf packages, whatever it might be.”
Golf Tourism Solutions will also be available for hire by outside entities in and out of the market including area private clubs, real estate companies, entertainment companies, etc., particularly those that want to further tap into the golf industry.
Golf Holiday has the assets of a golf media company, including the email addresses of about 700,000 golfers, and Golf Tourism Solutions plans to roll out new digital and marketing products. Golden described Golf Tourism Solutions as a for-profit corporation with non-profit motives.
“We’ve got significant assets, and as Golf Holiday we were never in a position to monetize those assets,” Golden said. “When you have the reach of what we have from a marketing entity, there are other potential clients and companies that would want to participate in that with us. So we’re going to spend some additional time and resources creating marketing opportunities for folks to bring in additional revenue so we’re not constantly looking at our own members to fund additional initiatives. We’re going to help fund some of those initiatives on our own.”
Golf Holiday has helped the Myrtle Beach golf market grow through a rare cooperation and solidarity between in-market competitors.
The GSTTN and Golf Holiday memberships are now being combined into one Golf Tourism Solutions membership at a savings.
The membership cost for Golf Holiday will decrease from $20,000 per 18-hole course annually to $15,000, and from $3,000 plus a $1.50 per round transaction fee for package providers to $3,000 and $1.15 per round. The GSTTN fee will drop 40 percent per member.
The changes are expected to increase membership. Golf Holiday currently has 63 courses and 66 golf package providers as members, and the GSTTN has 72 courses and 55 travel providers.
The projected Golf Tourism Solutions membership is 75 courses and 70 travel providers.
Tracy Conner, executive director of the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association and general manager of the GSTTN, will be president of Golf Tourism Solutions’ technology division. He said the course owners are looking forward to the potential of the company. “Membership voted in June and it was overwhelmingly approved by golf courses and travel providers,” Conner said. “In every meeting I’ve been in members are very enthused about the changes. It will help us provide additional benefits to members.”
Golf Holiday will continue doing what it has done for years, including running tournaments. It currently operates eight, including the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship, which annually attracts 3,000 or more players in late August.
Golf Holiday has struggled to quantify the amount of business gained for individual members since it markets the area as a whole at regional and national levels. Golden believes Golf Tourism Solutions will be able to better show successful marketing.
“As a destination marketer it’s difficult to show direct value to an individual property in today’s environment. It’s really complicated,” Golden said. “So now there are additional services we can provide that are able to show instant return on investment from a marketing standpoint.”
Lathrop leaves legacy
Although you may not know Happ Lathrop, you’ve likely watched the result of some of his work on television.
When you see players who grew up playing golf in South Carolina including Dustin Johnson, Lucas Glover, Bill Haas, Jonathan Byrd, Kevin Kisner, Scott Brown and Wesley Bryan winning tournaments on the PGA Tour, it was all made possible by Lathrop.
Lathrop, the 40-year executive director of the South Carolina Golf Association, the governing body for amateur golf in the state, is going into semi-retirement at the end of the year. He’ll continue to run some events and work with the organization’s junior foundation.
“It hasn’t been a job with me. It’s what I love. It’s been my passion, a lot of other things than a job,” said Lathrop, who recently turned 68. “It is a form of retirement. I’m stepping back, not out. I’ll still handle a lot of things I’ve been handling. I’ll probably be like one of these clubhouse dogs waiting for somebody to throw them a scrap or pet them or something.”
In 1976, Lathrop became the first full-time employee of the SCGA and helped create the subsidiary South Carolina Junior Golf Association in 1989 and South Carolina Junior Golf Foundation in 1995.
He built the statewide junior program into one of the most successful and respected junior development programs in the country. It has produced numerous PGA and LPGA Tour members, and in 2008 Golf Digest named the SCJGA the No. 1 junior golf association in the U.S. Since 2002, SCJGA alumni have won 39 PGA Tour events.
“It’s been a joy to watch, particularly with our junior program,” Lathrop said. “We tried to give them an arena to enhance their competition abilities. All those kids who have tour cards now [from S.C.] have come through our program.”
Under Lathrop, the SCJGA has also awarded 106 scholarships worth approximately $800,000.
The SCGA included 99 clubs and about 11,500 golfers in 1976 and assets stood at $50,000. Today, the association commands more than $1 million in assets and represents the interests of more than 270 member clubs and 57,000 individual members.
The association conducts over 20 statewide championships, 71 one-day contest, 10 USGA qualifiers, seven 40-plus tournaments and six special events. It takes part in the organization and is a beneficiary of the annual Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am held each April at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club.
Lathrop was inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame in 1997 and Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame, which is housed at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, in 2008.
Lathrop will remain a SCGA senior advisor and his son, Biff, who has been with the organization for more than 20 years, will become the new executive director of the SCGA on Jan. 1.
“Things have changed so much with attitudes and technology and I’m not there with it,” Lathrop said. “It’s time to let somebody come up with young ideas.”
The CGA has been providing competitions and services to member clubs in the state since 1929.