Golf tip: How to use the club
A decrease in the number of rounds played in the key spring golf season months of March and April put a scare into golf course operators on the Grand Strand.
But the Myrtle Beach golf market rebounded with a strong May that has rounds for the year on pace with 2018 and allowed the market to take a collective sigh of relief.
Rounds played through the first five months of the year are down less than 1 percent compared to 2018, though package rounds that combine golf and accommodations are down 7.7 percent, 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.
“We ended the first five months pretty well,” said Steve Mays, president of Founders Group International, which owns and operates 22 Strand courses. “We were concerned after April but we made up a lot of ground in the month of May. March started slow but ended strong. After the first five months we feel we’re in a good position. We’re seeing rates go up and have interest in the community.”
Rounds increased 10.7 percent and revenue increased 17 percent in May, according to the MBAGCOA.
“May beat our expectations in a huge way,” said Tracy Conner, the organization’s executive director. “As long as we’ve been tracking this we can’t recall a month outperforming last year’s month to this level.”
The market is coming off a 7.13 percent drop in rounds played in 2018 compared to 2017, in large part to a terrible year for weather. Last year’s drop followed a 4.1 percent increase in rounds played in 2017 compared to 2016 – the first increase in 13 years.
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.
Good weather this year has given the market an opportunity to bounce back, as the playable hours allowed by weather have increased every month in Myrtle Beach for a 13.3 percent increase through May compared to the first five months of 2018.
Much like the Myrtle Beach golf market will continue to try to overcome the aftereffects of weather occurrences in the fall in recent years such as hurricanes and flooding that might keep golfers from returning during those months, the market also had to overcome winterkill damage to grasses at most courses last spring and early summer caused by factors that included freezing winter temperatures.
“There was obviously concern because we had a lot of golfers that came down last spring that didn’t have their typical experience,” said Golf Tourism Solutions president Bill Golden. “When you have all those golf courses and their conditions are struggling that’s going to have an impact on social media and that word is going to get out, and rightfully so.
“We were worried how we were going to overcome the spring given what happened last year. Once we got into May, obviously we had a great weather month so that helps on the walk-in side, but the package business was extraordinarily strong and rates and revenue increased in May too.”
March continues to trend down as spring rounds have tended to shift later in the year to May and even early June in recent years. Total rounds in March were down 2.8 percent (9,071 rounds) and package rounds were down 12 percent (12,721 rounds).
Rounds were down 9.7 percent (35,828 rounds) in April, though Easter falling in the month always negatively impacts rounds played. After package rounds dropped 17.7 percent (29,124 rounds) in April they rose 10.7 percent in May.
“May from the standpoint of the golf industry is encouraging because the demand was there and the rates were there,” Golden said. “It wasn’t based on a reduction of rates to create the demand.”
The market is changing how it does business in some ways.
Longstanding periodic rate periods are coming to an end in favor of a different revenue management strategy. For decades, prices have increased incrementally on specific dates in the spring and fall and decreased incrementally on specific dates in the summer and winter.
The revenue has increased because courses, at the behest of the MBAGCOA based on research, have instituted flex pricing based on periods of demand broken down to hours of the day.
“We’re getting smarter about pricing,” Conner said. “That is a reflection of our golf courses more accurately pricing and anticipating demand, and presenting the right rate to the right customer at the right time.”
In an attempt to boost rounds in late February, March and April, golf leaders are looking at agronomy practices to make sure playing conditions are good, including a push to overseed more parts of the golf courses. Many courses will go wall-to-wall with tees, fairways, greens and roughs next winter after there was push to overseed less for cost and conservation purposes in the past decade-plus.
Overseeding requires more watering and a transition period where overseed grasses die and summer Bermudagrass is encouraged to grow.
“There are pluses in [overseeding] from a marketing standpoint and playability standpoint, and there are pluses and minuses to that from an agronomical standpoint. . . . So there’s a balance to that,” Conner said.
“Strategically we’re looking at how we positively impact the marketplace for next February, March and April,” Golden said. “We need to challenge ourselves as golf operators and golf marketers to reestablish March as a key month for package rounds and make sure we continue to push April as well.”
The late winter and early spring golfers include snowbirds and Canadians, who are hurt by the current exchange rate of one Canadian dollar being worth 75 U.S. cents. Some Canadian golfers have also expressed an aversion to President Donald Trump’s policies and actions.
“We’ve seen a decline out of the Canadian market and I think it’s two reasons,” Golden said. “One is the exchange rate is not favorable at the moment and two there is a lot of push back due to Trump. We have a lot of efforts right now that we started this year and we’re circling back focusing on the first quarter of 2020 on the Canadian market to reestablish that business, reestablish Myrtle Beach as their favorite golf destination and remind them of that.
“We think that’s part of the [rounds decline] issue in February and March. How big it is it’s hard to tell, but we’ve seen and heard it.”
Rounds Played 2019 vs. 2018
|Year||Total Rounds||Package Rounds|
Playable weather hours
* Measured at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach