On Grand Strand Golf: Sole celebrating 50 years as an instructor

Mel Sole (center) offers instruction at one of his golf schools. Sole is celebrating 50 years as a golf instructor
Mel Sole (center) offers instruction at one of his golf schools. Sole is celebrating 50 years as a golf instructor Submitted photo

Mel Sole has now spent more than a half century helping others improve their golf games.

The 68-year-old native of South Africa and owner/operator of the Mel Sole Golf School is celebrating 50 years as a golf instructor and member of the PGA of South Africa this year, including the past 27 years as an acclaimed instructor on the Grand Strand.

“We’re in it because we love the game, we love helping people,” Sole said. “If you’re a good teacher and getting good results it gives you a lot of satisfaction. Even taking a 36 handicap and five or six years later they’re a 9 handicap, that makes you feel good and it’s the enjoyment you get out of teaching.”

Sole began teaching on the Strand in 1989 with his own swing instructor and teaching mentor Phil Ritson at the Phil Ritson Golf School at Legends Resort. He said he quickly purchased the business from Ritson, who instructed nine-time major champion Gary Player, and moved the Phil Ritson-Mel Sole Golf School to Pawleys Plantation in 1991.

The name changed to the Mel Sole Golf School a few years ago and he added a second area location in 2012 at the Grande Dunes Resort Course.

The schools are on the move, however. Sole said Founders Group International, which acquired Pawleys Plantation and the Grande Dunes Resort Course in April 2015 as part of a 12-course purchase from National Golf Management, informed him it no longer wants to house his schools.

Sole said he has reached a verbal agreement to move to the Tupelo Bay Golf Center in Garden City Beach, and is still looking for a second location.

“I think [Tupelo Bay] is going to be a really good location for a golf school and the traffic there will work out well for us,” Sole said. “It’s very central and has accommodations right there and will be great for families, so we’re looking forward to a new venture.”

There are five Mel Sole Golf School locations, including Furman University Golf Club in Greenville, Holiday Valley Resort Golf Course in Ellicottville, N.Y., and Club de Golf Malinalco in Malinalco, Mexico. The Mexico location is only open for a month in the winter, and Sole serves as the lead instructor.

Sole had three teachers including himself at Pawleys Plantation, and one full-time and one part-time teacher at Grande Dunes. He said he hopes to semi-retire within a couple years.

His schools have maintained consistency and continuity because his primary instructors have been with him for a couple decades. David Olberding, who has been the lead instructor at Grande Dunes, has been with him more than 20 years. Tim Calcagno has been with Sole 20 years at Pawleys Plantation, and Jennifer Shillington, who runs the Greenville school, has been with him for nearly 20 years.

Sole’s wife of 30 years, Rosemary, has been part of the business since leaving a position at a law firm in Toronto in 1989, when the couple moved to the Strand.

Among the accolades for the Mel Sole Golf School, it has been ranked among the “Top 25 USA Golf Schools” by Golf Magazine since 1999 and was awarded the Certificate of Excellence by based on high customer ratings. He has been selected a “Top Teacher” by Golf Magazine and one of the top teachers in S.C. by Golf Digest.

Sole turned pro in February 1966 and was hired as an assistant pro at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, a highly regarded private course. He got the head pro job a couple years later at Port Elizabeth Golf Club, which permitted him to play professionally for 10 years on the South African PGA’s Sunshine Tour for the four months a year the tour was in operation. When he wasn’t playing he was teaching.

His teaching of junior golfers and golf teams helped produce national and provincial champions.

Sole was named one of just 17 Master Professionals by the South African PGA in 2013, and is one of only two to receive the designation while living outside the country.

The status is reserved for professionals of South African descent who have made outstanding contributions to the game as teachers, players, club pros and mentors. Sole had to write a thesis on his teaching and philosophy, which took about a year to write, and he interviewed with the Master Professional committee.

Sole schools have a Kids Learn Free program, allowing adults in one- to three-day golf schools to bring a junior age 16 or under along with them for free instruction.

Prior to moving to the Strand at the request of Ritson, Sole launched the Canadian Golf Academy, an indoor-outdoor teaching facility.

He authored the instruction book Golf Step by Step, has had lessons published in several national golf magazines, and regularly posts instruction videos on YouTube. Sole uses bio-mechanics in his teaching to optimize a student’s swing based on body measurements and swing speed, and tries to keep the swing and instruction simple.

Kirk seeks three-peat

Katie Kirk of Greenville, N.C., is trying to become the sixth woman to win three consecutive Carolinas Women’s Amateur Championship titles this week in the 90th Carolinas Women’s Amateur at The Reserve Club in Pawleys Island.

Kirk won last year by two strokes at Treyburn Country Club, and in 2014 she won by one stroke at Wachesaw Plantation Club over both Bailey Cocca of Myrtle Beach and Tiffany Robbins of Fort Mill.

Cocca recently completed her senior year at Coastal Carolina and is among 85 players entered in the 54-hole event being played Monday through Wednesday.

Kirk was the recipient of the 2015 Dinah Shore Trophy Award while at East Carolina University, which recognizes excelling in academics, athletics, leadership and community service. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree, and said she has played in just one event since the U.S. Women’s Amateur last August.

“I've really missed the competition, so more than anything I'm just ready to play in a tournament again,” Kirk said in a Carolinas Golf Association release. “I'm going into this event with no expectations, but I definitely have my eye on a third win.”

Kirk said she has been battling hip issues that might include a labrum tear in one or both hips and have limited her ability to play and practice.

Others who figure to contend for the title include Ashley Sloup, 20, of Southport, N.C., a rising junior at Winthrop University; Mallory Hetzel, 29, of Waynesville, N.C., who won back-to-back Carolinas Women’s Match Play titles; Lea Anne Brown, 59, of Mount Pleasant, the two-time reigning Women’s S.C. Golf Association Player of the Year; reigning N.C. Women’s Senior champion Kim Briele, 55, of New Bern, N.C.; and Patty Moore, 66, of Charlotte and Lea Venable, 42 of Simpsonville, who each have multiple CGA titles.

Others entered from the Grand Strand include Pendleton Bogache, Suzanne Moro and Karen Zeip of Myrtle Beach, Kathy Judge and Ellen Miller of Pawleys Island, Kelli Smith and Barbara Sobolewski of Murrells Inlet, Sara Murphy of Georgetown, Anne Washington of Conway and Marjorie Rogers of Surfside Beach.

Tee times are from 8-10 a.m. for Tuesday’s second round and there is a 9 a.m. shotgun start for Wednesday’s final round. The championship division will play the Greg Norman-designed course at about 6,200 yards and the tournament is open to spectators.

Ketola on move

After four years at Farmstead Golf Links, Dale Ketola has moved his Potential Golf instruction and fitting business to River Hills Golf & Country Club in Little River.

Ketola, who played on the men’s golf team at Coastal Carolina, said he lives in the River Hills neighborhood so the course is a better spot for him.

Members Club adding tees

A new set of forward tees are being constructed on the Grande Dunes Members Course that will play to about 4,400 yards, or less than 250 yards per hole. The 16 new tee boxes will be built in early June and will range from 800 to 1,000 square feet.

The tees are the result of a two-year analysis conducted by Members Club head professional Brian Vest, superintendent Ryan Gamble, McConnell Golf Vice President and Director of Agronomy Michael Shoun, and Craig Schreiner, the Myrtle Beach-based course architect who designed the Grande Dunes Members Course with major champion Nick Price.

Less severe angles coupled with reduced yardages will make each hole more forgiving for anyone using the tees.

“We think these new tees will be popular among a younger audience, as well as females and senior players alike,” Vest said. “We’re expecting an immediate impact.”