Mother Nature may have stolen a second consecutive positive number from the Myrtle Beach golf industry.
The Myrtle Beach golf market endured one of the worst weather years in memory in 2018, and it was reflected in the number of rounds played on area courses.
Rounds played in the market dropped 7.13 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, according to rounds booked on the T-Links electronic tee sheet reservation system used by nearly 80 Strand courses and reported by the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association.
It’s the largest drop since 2009 and follows the first increase in total rounds played over the previous year in 13 years, as rounds in 2017 increased 4.1 percent compared to 2016.
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“We pulled weather for the past 10 years and 2018 was the worst weather year for the golf industry, and I don’t recall a more difficult or challenging year than ’18 with what we had to overcome,” MBAGCOA executive director Tracy Conner said.
The MBAGCOA and Golf Tourism Solutions, a marketing and technology agency that promotes the Myrtle Beach market, track how weather conditions impact rounds played through BlackSky Global, a Seattle-based satellite imagery company.
Though rounds dropped more than 7 percent, statistics show the amount of playable hours allowed by weather in the market dropped 15.2 percent last year – more than 10 percent in each region of the Strand – so 2018 outperformed 2017 when taking into account weather conditions.
“The takeaway is the demand in 2018 was strong,” Conner said. “But we had to overcome some difficulties when it came to weather. When the opportunity presented itself we did well.”
The playable hours are broken down by region, with courses around Pawleys Island, Myrtle Beach and Calabash, N.C., accounting for the north, central and south areas of the Strand, respectively. Further, each individual course can get the weather conditions specific to its exact location.
The weather report considers conditions between one hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset and factors in temperature, wind speed, precipitation and forecast precipitation, Conner said.
“It’s inarguable that there is a correlation,” Conner said, “and rather than just saying weather was poor or a challenge for us last month, this quantifies it. It’s not perfect, but it quantifies weather.”
Weather challenges in 2018 included a winter freeze in early January when the high temperature over a week never reached 35 degrees, an unusually rainy summer, and Hurricane Florence making landfall in September and the weeks of flooding that followed.
Five months saw a decline of at least 12 percent, and the fall season was particularly hard hit, as three of the final four months of the year experienced declines of at least 12 percent, peaking with September’s drop of 30.3 percent.
Rounds were also down 12.6 percent in July, when it rained nearly every day for three weeks.
The January freeze also contributed to a winterkill of Bermudagrass that caused more than a dozen courses to close in the summer or late spring to replace or repair greens, and impacted spring and summer course conditions, costing some courses rounds and certainly costing some courses revenue.
Courses were affected by the winterkill, a term used to describe grass that is damaged or killed by harsh winter conditions, essentially from mid-April into August, though the breadth of the market likely helped it withstand the winterkill epidemic.
“You’re going to lose some [rounds], but there’s enough inventory . . . so you may have a golf course having some challenges due to winterkill but their demand was satisfied by neighboring courses,” Conner said.
The Strand wasn’t alone, as the National Golf Foundation blames weather at least in part for 4.7 percent fewer rounds being played across the country through November in 2018 compared to 2017.
Rounds in the U.S. were down year-over-year in 10 of the first 11 months in 2018, affected in large part by colder weather and heavier precipitation than normal during the busiest months for golf.
Weather impacts included above-average rainfall in the Midwest and Northeast, wildfires in the West, volcanic explosions in Hawaii, and record rainfall totals in Florida, including an unprecedented soaking in May that surpassed the state’s previous high-water mark in 1895.
The numbers have already improved on the Strand in 2019.
Through the first 25 days of January, rounds in the month were up approximately 20 percent compared to last year, when rounds were down approximately 26 percent, Conner said, and pre-booked rounds in 2019 have increased compared to this time last year and are comparable to 2017 bookings.
“Anytime you’re up double digits that’s a positive sign,” Conner said.
One trend in the market that is continuing this year is a shift in the spring golf season.
For at least a couple decades the spring season ran from mid-February to mid-May, with March and April seeing by far the most rounds of any single months on the calendar.
But rounds have been pushed back. April remains the busiest month of the year and March is second, but May rounds have approaching March numbers and June has become a busier month.
Last year, 323,830 rounds were played in March, 277, 273 were played in May and 216,375 were played in June.
Weather in May on the Grand Strand is much more consistent than March, and green fees have decreased some from their April peak, particularly in the last couple weeks of May during Harley-Davidson and Atlantic Beach bike rallies.
“Twenty years ago we had such a strong demand for the last half of February through March and it went through April, now the demand has just shifted later,” Conner said.
Easter is traditionally a slow week on area courses, and with Easter coming late on April 21 this year, pre-bookings show even more rounds being pushed into May and later in the spring season.
Rounds played 2018 vs. 2017
Golf rounds played in the Myrtle Beach golf market, stretching from Georgetown, S.C., to Southport, N.C., in 2018 compared to 2017.
* According to rounds booked on the T-Links golf rounds reservation system.
The number of hours per month in 2018 compared to 2017 that golf rounds could reasonably be played according to weather conditions, combining the hours from three total locations in the north, central and south areas of the Grand Strand.