Golf

ClubstoHire.com rental business exits Myrtle Beach market after two months

Sea Trail Golf Resort has renovations planned

Sea Trail Golf Resort & Conference Center in Sunset Beach, N.C., has a $1.3 million renovation planned this summer involving its Jones Course and Magnolias Restaurant
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Sea Trail Golf Resort & Conference Center in Sunset Beach, N.C., has a $1.3 million renovation planned this summer involving its Jones Course and Magnolias Restaurant

The existence of golf club rental company ClubstoHire.com in the Myrtle Beach market was short-lived.

With only a handful of bookings in its first two months on the Grand Strand – two of the busiest months of the year for golf courses – the company is pulling out of the market.

ClubstoHire.com had 20 full sets of new TaylorMade and Callaway clubs available in the market and had hired two Myrtle Beach residents to deliver them on a storage and commission basis.

“It’s just been dead,” said ClubstoHire chief executive officer and co-founder Tony Judge from his home in Dublin, Ireland. “We’ve only had a handful of bookings so we have 20 sets sitting there.

“I’m pretty disappointed, but there’s no point in having the sets sitting there, particularly when we’re under pressure in Europe.”

ClubstoHire rents high-end golf clubs with requested specifications for a flat fee of $80 per week, and they are delivered and picked up at locations and times determined by the renter. The company was created in 2010 and is active in approximately 30 locations worldwide, and Judge said the company is thriving in Europe, where some locations have done tens of thousands of rentals.

“I am surprised. I’m very surprised,” Judge said of the lack of business in Myrtle Beach. “Generally when we would open in a location in Europe, it picks up very quickly. But the whole concept is understood a little bit more in Europe.

“You could spend half a million dollars trying to educate the market there, for the moment we don’t feel it’s the way to go. We may revisit this. We’re looking at other ideas. But for the moment we’re going to pull the stock out of there.”

Myrtle Beach was the fourth U.S. market, joining golf hotbeds Las Vegas, Phoenix-Scottsdale, Ariz., and Orlando, Fla. Judge said Orlando is the busiest U.S. market, but much of that is from traveling European clients.

“We’ve had some American business but nothing to be writing home about,” Judge said. “The American market just hasn’t taken to the model. We felt we got a ton of hits on the site and a lot of hits from U.S. IP addresses but they weren’t converting to bookings, and we can’t continue forever trying to do it. I just don’t think the market is ready for it over there yet, but that might change.

“Orlando is doing okay, Vegas and Scottsdale are doing okay, but it’s tiny compared to what we’re doing in Europe. We’ve spent a good bit of money on PR and effort getting the [product] out there, but they’re either into their Ship Sticks or they’re into just taking their own. I don’t know what they’re into, but they don’t seem to be into renting.”

For those wanting to rent clubs rather than travel with or ship their own, there are still golf retail shops and courses on the Strand offering daily club rentals.

Four-balls progressing

Conway native and Columbia resident Brent Roof reached the match play portion of the second annual U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., with partner Paul Tucker of Waxhaw, N.C., but did not advance through the first round.

Roof and Tucker tied for 22nd at 4-under 70-66–136 in two rounds of stroke play to be among the 32 teams that advanced to Monday’s first round of match play. But they fell 3 and 2 to Alex Buecking of Columbine Valley, Colo., and Jason Enloe of Dallas, who shot 132 in stroke play.

The U.S. men’s and women’s four-balls are conducted by the United States Golf Association, and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship is being held at Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green, Fla.

The Dunes Golf and Beach Club will host the 2017 women’s four-ball from May 27-31, and entries are already available at champs.usga.org.

Sea Trail renovating

The three-course Sea Trail Golf Resort & Convention Center in Sunset Beach, N.C., will be undergoing an estimated $1.3 million in renovations this summer, highlighted by the installation of new greens on its Jones Course and renovation of its Magnolias Restaurant.

More renovations are planned in the next couple years, as well.

The Jones Course is scheduled to close on June 27 and reopen on Sept. 6, and the restaurant will likely be closed about the same dates.

The 6,761-yard Rees Jones design that opened in 1989 has L93 bentgrass on its greens but will be receiving Champion ultradwarf Bermudagrass, which is already featured on the resort's Byrd Course. The Jones Course received cart path and bunker renovations last year.

Resort operators hope to implement a renovation project on the Byrd Course next year and the Maples Course, which still has bentgrass greens, might undergo a green-changing renovation project in a couple years.

To help oversee and implement the improvements, Sea Trail hired Raymond Crabb in January. Crabb has been involved in hotel and resort management on the Grand Strand since 1985. He worked 12 years at the Landmark Hotel, a few years at Ocean Drive Resorts in North Myrtle Beach and most recently spent 16 years as the director of regional operations for Myrtle Beach National at Litchfield Beach & Golf Resort.

“I think over the next three to five years there is a lot we can get done here,” Crabb said. “We have a plan, we just have to execute the plan year after year.”

The 2,000-acre community was purchased in June 2013 at a Chapter 11 bankruptcy auction for $8.5 million by a Chinese businessman known as Mr. Pan, and has had a lot of turnover at key positions since.

Crabb hopes stability has arrived.

Andrew Galbraith, who spent several years as a pro with ClubCorp, has been at Sea Trail about 18 months and was promoted to the head pro position last October.

In February, Sea Trail contracted with A.J. Gohil’s Worldwide Golf Marketing company to increase its marketing and package play. Gohil has 23 years of golf course marketing experience with Myrtle Beach National and National Golf Management, and has eight courses under his umbrella.

In addition to its three courses, Sea Trail includes two golf clubhouses, a 50,000-square-foot convention center, hundreds of stay-and-play villas and rental units, single- and multi-family homes, unsold lots and undeveloped land.

“Ultimately we want the same standard throughout the resort that the convention center sets,” Crabb said. “The Jones Course is an important part of that, then hopefully we’ll be moving on to the Byrd next winter.”

Magnolia’s Restaurant, which is located in the main Byrd/Jones clubhouse, will receive a complete redesign that includes an enhanced entry, outdoor patio dining with a fire pit and tropical landscaping, and an interior featuring cool slate, natural wood and stone surfaces.

The restaurant will have an open kitchen and buffet line. Theme dinners are planned and Crabb wants to attract meals from convention goers.

“We’re trying to give the homeowners a better dining experience, and you blend that together with what the golfers want . . . so you’ve got something for everybody, and we feel there are opportunities for local dining,” Crabb said. “Calabash has some restaurants but there’s room for more. So we’re hoping to hit all those markets.”

Food and beverage will be available this summer at the Maples clubhouse and through an expanded beverage cart operation.

Crabb said Sea Trail has supportive homeowners with strong men’s and women’s golf groups. “There are a lot of people who want it to succeed, so with that impetus and with some capital investment we can get back to where we should be,” Crabb said.

“Mr. Pan is an astute businessman and he’s very patient and he’s looking at the investment and return.”

Hootie series approaching

The 2016 Myrtle Beach Chapter of the South Carolina Junior Golf Association Hootie & the Blowfish Chapter Series will tee off on June 13 with a tournament at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club.

The series is for players ages 7-17, and this is the first summer the program is being directed by Dale Ketola, owner of Potential Golf instruction at River Hills Golf & Country Club and a former player at Coastal Carolina.

The schedule has nine tournaments including the chapter championship on Aug. 15 at the private Reserve Club in Pawleys Island, which will be followed by the statewide SCJGA All-Stars event at Seabrook Island for top local finishers on Aug. 20-21.

The local chapter schedule also includes afternoon events at Myrtle Beach National’s Southcreek Course, Pine Lakes Country Club, Prestwick Country Club, Myrtlewood’s PineHills Course, Arcadian Shores Golf Club, True Blue Golf Club and the Surf Golf and Beach Club.

Ketola, who went through the SCJGA program himself as a junior, has big plans for the program that include instruction and a year-round impact, and said the golf community has been receptive of his efforts.

“It has been very receptive, starting with golf courses,” Ketola said. “Every golf course I called was on board. They’re going to help us out any way they can with range balls and getting the kids on the golf course. All the courses have been tremendous.

“This year I tried to spread it out and make the schedule really nice, and it is. If you’re trying to increase participation you have to have something to offer.”

Ketola has also been fundraising to have prizes and giveaways for the participants. Registration is $160 plus $10 per event. They are generally on Mondays and are nine holes for players ages 7-12 and 18 holes for players 13-17. “Kids will get a great value for what they’re paying,” Ketola said.

Registration is ongoing at scjga.org. A registration day, during which participants will receive a goodie bag and parents will meet with Ketola, is scheduled for June 11.

Some instruction will be added to the curriculum this year, and the instruction schedule is forthcoming. Ketola wants to have one clinic per week that changes locations and involves different club and teaching pros in the area.

“I’m trying to create some opportunities for kids to play some good golf courses, get tournament experience and get some instruction,” Ketola said. “We’re working on getting them places to play and practice when they’re not at tournaments or clinics. That’s going to be a big thing. To me a program is something that is year-round and kids are able to participate. I’m a big believer the kids have to be out there playing golf and it’s my job to provide those opportunities.”

Ketola can be reached at 843-833-3332 or dale@potentialgolf.com.

Critt Gore passes

The Myrtle Beach golf market lost one of its builders and passionate supporters with the death of Critt Gore last weekend at the age of 81.

Gore was inducted into the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame in 2014.

The native of Bradford, Pa., moved to the Grand Strand with his family as a teenager and graduated from Myrtle Beach High in 1954 and Clemson in 1958. After farming and opening Dairy Queens in the area, his career in the golf business began in 1980 as a partner in a small group that purchased Possum Trot Golf Club. He became the course’s managing partner.

He and partners that included Paul and Jack Himmelsbach built Heather Glen Golf Links in 1987 and Glen Dornoch Golf Links in 1996, and he operated those as well.

He was a president of the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association and of The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, where he was a two-time club champion. He was also on the boards of marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday and the Grand Strand Tee Time Network.

Gore was still regularly working at Possum Trot through his 70s.

On the night of his Hall of Fame induction in 2014, Gore said: “Golf has been our life for I don't know how many years. I've loved every bit of it. It's a bunch of fun. I've had a very enjoyable time and I've had good people.”

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