Group that operates Whispering Pines buys golf course on the north end of the Strand

The clubhouse at Brunswick Plantation in Calabash, N.C., which will now be managed by Atlantic Golf Management, the same company that operates Whispering Pines Golf Club in Myrtle Beach.
The clubhouse at Brunswick Plantation in Calabash, N.C., which will now be managed by Atlantic Golf Management, the same company that operates Whispering Pines Golf Club in Myrtle Beach.

Chip Smith has turned Whispering Pines Golf Club into a profitable golf course for the City of Myrtle Beach.

He’s now going to see what he can do for himself and a couple partners as the new owner of Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort in Calabash, N.C.

“We feel we’ve found a real diamond in the rough in terms of what we can do there,” Smith said.

Smith, the former TPC Myrtle Beach managing partner whose company Atlantic Golf Management has been operating Whispering Pines since November 2014, closed on the purchase of Brunswick Plantation last week.

The sale includes the 27-hole golf course, clubhouse, resort check-in building that is being converted into a bar and grill, and a condo rental business that allows the possibility of stay-and-play packages.

Smith and his Atlantic Golf Management partners – longtime area golf course superintendent Andy Apple and Grand Strand restaurateur Steve Harnish, who owns a number of McDonald’s locations – purchased Brunswick Plantation through their company Atlantic Golf Acquisitions NC, LLC. for $2.8 million, according to Smith and Brunswick County Register of Deeds records.

They purchased the course from Caw Caw Land Corp., a company that includes three local residents and businessmen in president Mason Anderson and partners Jimmy McLamb and Tripp Sloane. The three friends developed the golf course and large housing development that surrounds it and includes well over 1,000 homes with room for more.

Brunswick Plantation’s 27 holes are designed by Willard Byrd. The original 18 is nearly 7,000 yards and opened in 1992, and the final nine opened in 1998. The golf course is restricted by a conservation easement, so it has to remain some form of open green space.

“I think there is a real market for that price-pointed golf course in both the package public play and membership side. I think we’ll do real well there,” Smith said. “It might be the best purchase we’ve made yet, even more so than TPC.”

The new owners began renovating the clubhouse about three weeks ago after the property was under contract. The interior was painted, the bar floor was re-tiled and new carpet has been installed in heavy traffic areas. “We’re just updating things,” said Smith, who has more renovations planned.

Smith first noticed Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort was for sale when it was listed in an auction through Hilda Allen Real Estate of Georgia, which specializes in golf course sales and auctions.

Smith did not bid on the course, and he believes Caw Caw retained it because the minimum bid wasn’t met. Smith was later contacted by a group of Brunswick Plantation homeowners who were interested in partnering to purchase the course to ensure it remained open for years to come. They wanted to partner with someone who had golf course management experience.

“I ultimately determined I’d rather do it on my own,” Smith said. “With our due diligence, I thought it had a ton of potential. With our management practices we think we can turn it around and turn it into what it should be.”

Smith said he plans to promote affordable green fees.

“I think there’s a huge market in Myrtle Beach for medium to low-end priced courses, more so than the high-end courses,” he said. “I’ll be very receptive to the local groups, memberships and the package business, and our packages will be affordable.”

Smith said there are 256 condominiums at Brunswick Plantation, and more than half are in the rental program that was part of the purchase and can be incorporated into golf packages that include rounds at Brunswick Plantation.

“There are not a lot of accommodations for golfers to stay up there that are interested in playing those courses on the north end,” Smith said. “We feel we’ve got a good opportunity there. We hardly have a unit available [on weekends] from now until the end of May. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are pretty much booked.”

The resort check-in staff is being moved into the main clubhouse and the 9,100-square-foot resort check-in building is being converted into a restaurant and sports pub that will serve dinners nightly.

The restaurant, which hasn’t been named yet, will have a sports bar theme with several golf items, including some from Coastal Carolina alumnus and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who is a friend and Smith’s former business partner in Banditos restaurant. Smith hopes to have the restaurant/bar opened by June.

He believes the rental guests and Brunswick Plantation homeowners will be enough to keep the restaurant/pub busy based on what he has already seen at the clubhouse bar, which remains open into the evenings if the crowd warrants it and offer dinners on Friday nights that regularly attract more than 100 residents.

“We feel we have a captive audience. It shows every night with people coming in there,” Smith said. “Rather than driving to Calabash or North Myrtle Beach, they can drive their golf cart, have a good time and go home. They won’t have to leave the neighborhood to have dinner or drinks.”

Smith said a members welcome reception Thursday at the clubhouse attracted more than 200 people.

The new owners are offering golf memberships and social memberships, and have several member-only functions planned. “We have an active social calendar planned a year out,” Smith said.

All three Atlantic Golf partners will be active in the operation of the property and bring their own area of expertise.

Smith specializes in marketing and golf course management. He became involved in golf in the early 1990s as general manager at Prestwick Country Club, then was vice president of marketing for the five-course Legends Group and helped then Legends owner Larry Young become a partner in Barefoot Resort from 2002-08 with its developer Sammy Puglia. He also handled marketing for Harnish’s McDonald’s restaurants years ago.

Apple specializes in agronomy and course conditions, and Harnish has food and beverage expertise.

“I think we’ve got a really good combination between the three of us to make a good run at our business plan,” said Smith, who plans to be at Brunswick Plantation daily. He said his house at the TPC in Murrells Inlet is for sale so he can move closer to Myrtle Beach and shorten his commute.

In addition to Whispering Pines, the Atlantic Golf partners are involved in another golf success story in Palm Beach County, Florida.

They became minority owners of a struggling public course called Binks Forest Golf Club in Wellington, Fla., in 2016 and have turned it into a private club with 300 members renamed Wellington National. Smith said a Wellington, Fla., resident is the majority owner there.

Brunswick Plantation will remain a member of a marketing cooperative run by East Coast Golf Management that also includes Whispering Pines.

Brunswick Plantation might not be Smith’s last purchase in the area. Smith said his group is interested in adding more courses in the market, if the time and place are right.

“We move slow and methodically and try to grow slow instead of fast, so if the opportunity arises we’re there,” Smith said.

Ginella includes Whispy

Golf Channel and travel golf writer and contributor Matt Ginella has compiled a list of golf courses that he considers good values across the U.S., and Whispering Pines Golf Club in Myrtle Beach has made the cut.

He lists Whispering Pines with a $55 green fee, which is about as much as someone will pay during the peak of the spring golf season, as its average price is closer to $35 with locals getting a preferred rate. “To say it’s the best value along Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand is all you need to know,” Ginella writes.

The list includes 57 courses in 26 states. The average price is $65, though nearly half are $55 or less even during peak season, and the most expensive is U.S. Open host Bethpage Black in New York with a $150 price tag.

Scotland calling

Junior golfers in South Carolina, including those from the Grand Strand, now have more incentive to play well if they join a chapter of the South Carolina Junior Golf Association’s Hootie & the Blowfish Junior Golf Series.

The SCJGA and East Lothian Junior Golf League in Scotland have created the biennial Watson Cup Matches, which are named after the five-time British Open champion and will feature a team of eight junior golfers from South Carolina against a comparable team from Scotland.

The inaugural matches are Oct. 14-15 at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort and the Kiawah Island Club’s Cassique Course. Return matches will take place in Scotland in July 2020 at Muirfield in East Lothian and The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh, founded in 1735.

The matches are modeled after the Ryder Cup and Walker Cup. The South Carolina squad will include the top four finishers in the boys 13-18 division at both the 2018 Thomas D. Todd (Upper State) and Tommy Cuthbert (Lower State) All Stars championships, which are held in August as the culmination of the summer Hootie series. The Myrtle Beach Chapter is run by Dale Ketola, the director of instruction and club fitting at The Golf Performance Center at Grande Dunes.

Handicap overhaul

The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship might become even a little bit more equitable for its thousands of participants from more than 20 counties with the expected implementation in 2020 of a new World Handicap System.

It will be overseen by the USGA and R&A, with local and regional golf organizations administering it, and will replace six handicapping systems worldwide run by Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, the European Golf Association (EGA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA), the Argentine Golf Association (AAG) and the USGA. Approximately 15 million golfers in 80 countries maintain a handicap.

The new system will have similar goals to the current USGA system: encouraging golfers to maintain a handicap, enabling players of different abilities, genders and nationalities to compete fairly, and determining the score a golfer is reasonably capable of shooting at any course.

Highlights of the WHS include worldwide use of the USGA course and slope rating system, flexibility in recording different formats of play, and a minimum of 54 holes to establish a new handicap.