These elite golfers, programs bringing their game to the Grand Strand

Former University of Virginia player Danny Walker hits a shot into the 11th green at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club during the 2016 General Hackler Championship. The Dunes Club is No. 34 on Golfweek’s Top 100 Resort Courses list.
Former University of Virginia player Danny Walker hits a shot into the 11th green at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club during the 2016 General Hackler Championship. The Dunes Club is No. 34 on Golfweek’s Top 100 Resort Courses list. file photo

Coastal Carolina is bringing three of the top seven college golf programs to Myrtle Beach for the 17th annual General Hackler Championship from March 10-11 at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club.

Golfweek magazine’s Sagarin rankings have Texas A&M ranked second, Georgia Tech ranked fifth and LSU ranked seventh in the nation.

Texas A&M won three of its four events in the fall, 2015 national champion LSU won two tournaments and Georgia Tech won two of its four events with an additional runner-up, so the Hackler will be a battle of multiple champions.

The Hackler has a total of eight teams ranked in the top 40 as No. 23 Kentucky, which also won two fall events, No. 30 North Florida, No. 31 Kent State, No. 33 South Carolina and No. 36 N.C. State are also in the field.

Other schools joining host CCU and those in the top 40 in the 15-team field are East Carolina, East Tennessee State, Liberty, Princeton, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

“The field depth this year is incredible,” said first-year Coastal coach Jim Garren. “It wouldn’t surprise me at the end of our event if we’re ranked [by Golfweek] as one of the top 10 tournaments for strength of field in the country.”

Players in the tournament ranked among the top 50 college players by Golfweek include Texas A&M junior Chandler Phillips, N.C. State’s Stephen Franken, North Florida’s Phillip Knowles, Georgia Tech’s Jacob Joiner and Luke Schniederjans, and LSU’s Jacob Bergeron. LSU’s Philip Barbaree won the 2015 U.S. Junior Championship.

Texas A&M featured Cameron Champ when the Aggies committed to the Hackler. But Champ, a long-hitter who tied for 32nd in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last June as an amateur, turned pro after the fall season.

Because he played in the Walker Cup and had a PGA Tour start, the Aggies earned all three fall wins without him.

“We’re excited Texas A&M is joining us again,” Garren said. “I expect them to be right where they were before. They have great team chemistry, and we’d like to keep them coming back year after year. That’s the kind of golf program we want coming to our tournament every year.”

Garren, who was an assistant with national champion Oklahoma last season and replaced Kevin McPherson at the helm of the Chants, has added the Grande Dunes Marriott as the host hotel as he tries to continue building the event.

“The Dunes Club sells itself, and using the Marriott has a big-time feel to it,” Garren said. “Everything I’ve heard from The Dunes Club and coaches, they all say it’s a great event. If we can provide a big-time field, which I feel we have this year, that will help it grow.”

Garren wants the Hackler to have a strong field annually, and the Chants to have a strong schedule in general.

“We’re the second-worst ranked team in the field, but we’re 5-1 or 6-1 against teams in the field,” Garren said. “That shows you how important strength of schedule is.

We want to have a schedule so when we play well and beat people we have a ranking we deserve.”

The Chants begin the season Feb. 17-18 at Florida’s SunTrust Gator Invitational, which also has a very strong field.

“The Florida event and Hackler will be eye-opening events for this group,” Garren said. “There are some big-time players here. This field will have more top 100 players than (the Latin America Amateur). It will be a big week for us.”

Double or nothing

After more than a decade of producing and selling his golf invention, Walt Graves of Little River is ready to sell his remaining inventory and all but give up on his hope of having it go mainstream.

Graves, 74, created “Double Duty - The Divot Repair Putter,” which has two prongs on the back of the putter head to repair ball marks on greens without having to bend over. The putter essentially has a ball mark tool built into the back of the head.

He has used it to protect a creaky back and thought it would be popular with older golfers, but sales never reflected his enthusiastic outlook.

Graves had 1,100 produced over the years and has 200 left in his garage that he is willing to part with for $20 each, with an additional $19.50 if shipping is required, though he can ship up to five in one box at that charge.

Graves will deliver putters up to 50 miles from Little River for free, as well. “I need to get rid of them. They’re sitting here and they’re not doing me any good,” Graves said.

Ten putters are left-handed and all putters are made of 431 stainless steel, have a 360-gram face-balanced head, 72-degree shaft angle, 3 degrees of face loft, standard putter grip and 36-inch shaft.

After four years of working on the putter and attempting to receive the USGA’s approval that it conforms to the Rules of Golf – which he did in the third attempt in 2009 – Graves first introduced the putter to consumers at the 2009 PGA Merchandise show. He returned to the show in 2010 and ’11.

He tried several strategies, including partnering with InventHelp out of Pittsburgh to put some on the market and having club maker Infiniti Golf outside Chicago manufacture hundreds of the putters, but he was never able to get the putter to appeal to the masses.

“Most of the big guys, if they do a new idea it has to come in-house,” Graves said. “I talked to a bunch of them and they liked the idea but they weren’t interested in making them.”

The Double Duty even did well with some raters. It was included in the 2011 GolfTest USA putter evaluation, in which a couple hundred golfers rated dozens of putters. On scale of 1-10, it averaged 8.5 to receive GolfTest’s “Seal of Approval” and a three-star rating out of five stars, and it received a score of at least 8.3 in all categories: distance control, alignment, accuracy, forgiveness, sound, appearance, feel, design, recommend and overall.

Graves holds a patent on the putter and has a patent for a new head that he’s willing to sell or share with a manufacturer willing to produce them. Though it has cost him money and time, Graves said he’d do it again.

“It was worth it,” Graves said. “When I was playing a lot and would go buy a putter, I never would get a putter off the rack and hit it. If I picked up a putter and it felt good in my hand, that’s the one I would take. Every time I pick up one of my putters it feels as good or better as the one I just sold.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it again. I’d do some things different, but that’s the past. It just didn’t catch on.”

Graves can be reached at 843-399-4043 or

Tidewater renovates

Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation has taken advantage of the slower winter weeks with a partial renovation of the clubhouse that continues work that was done last year.

New hardwood flooring was installed in front offices and a front meeting room where women’s members play bridge, the foyer was repainted, and new tables and chairs were added to the dining room, where new hardwood flooring was installed last year.

A renovation of the pro shop and an outdoor paint job are planned later this year before the club hosts the Mentor Cup to benefit the Gene’s Dream Foundation in late October.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin