Myrtle Beach area golf suffers from soggy spring

ablondin@thesunnews.comJune 27, 2013 

An early-morning foursome drives away from the 10th tee at Kings North at Myrtle Beach National Golf Course.

TOM MURRAY — The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News

— Marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday would like to make a fair comparison of the Grand Strand golf market’s performance this past spring compared to recent years.

But that would be difficult to do, considering the variables the market faced in March, April and May – which essentially comprise the all-important spring golf season.

Unseasonably cold and rainy weather, particularly in March and April, contributed to a 3 percent drop in paid rounds played this spring compared to 2012, according to a $1.50 per-round transaction fee collected by Golf Holiday on golf package and walk-on rounds.

“It’s hard for us to get a clear picture of the health of the golf business in the spring given the fact that we experienced so much rain, and in particular so much rain Thursday through Sunday for what we would consider weekend rounds,” Golf Holiday president Bill Golden said. “It’s nearly impossible to interpret how spring would have been.”

The transaction fee rounds do not include member, replay, complimentary or promotional rounds, such as a special granting a free round for every four or five paid rounds. But member and replay rounds surely dropped precipitously because of the weather, along with those rounds from locals and golfers from drive markets.

Golf Holiday figures show walk-on rounds dropped 12.5 percent in March and 17.9 percent in April while increasing 3 percent in May compared to 2012. They also fell 28.8 percent in February.

“The spring was challenging,” said Mike Buccerone, president of East Coast Golf Management, which manages six Strand courses. “The weather really affected our local play and our member play. When they look outside and it’s going to rain they decide not to play. For our package play we had a decent season. Rain is not going to affect those guys. They’re going to play anyway.”

According to Weather Trends International, the amount of Golf Playable Days on the Grand Strand from Thursday through Sunday dropped 20 percent in February, 5.3 percent in March and 17.6 percent in April. In addition, the amount of playable rounds Thursday through Sunday dropped 27 percent in February, 21.1 percent in March and 12.7 percent in April.

“It’s really difficult to recoup Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings in the spring,” Golden said. “That’s prime time; that’s the sweet spot of the industry.”

A ‘Golf Playable Day’ is defined as a day in which more than 10 hours of playable conditions are present. To be labeled as a playable hour the temperature must be above 45 degrees and below 97 degrees, with rainfall below .05 inches and wind speed below 34 mph. Playable hours must be during daylight hours.

“I can’t recall a spring that was as wet and cool as it was, particularly in March and early April. It has a tremendous effect,” Golden said. “It’s hard to sit here and say we’re down because of the weather, we don’t want to paint excuses, but it is what it is. Those numbers are what they are. It’s unfortunate.”

Package rounds increased 1.5 percent this year, though some rain checks had to be handed out, and there’s no telling how much package play was affected by the weather.

“If the weather had cooperated I think the beach would have had one of its better years in the past 10,” Buccerone said. “But you can’t control the weather.”

Package rounds drive the spring and accounted for more than 64 percent of the transaction fee rounds this spring after making up 61 percent in spring 2012, when there were 28,000 more walk-on rounds.

The spring of 2012 was one of the warmest and driest on record in the United States, which helps explain the 5.7 percent increase in rounds nationally last spring over 2011, according to the National Golf Foundation.

According to the NGF’s monthly rounds played reports, play was down nationally 15.1 percent through April, including down 7.5 percent in the South Atlantic region that includes the Carolinas, and down 6.2 percent in South Carolina. May’s figures were not available.

The Strand was coming off three consecutive years of increased paid rounds in the spring, including a 0.7 percent increase in 2012 that followed more significant increases in 2010 and ’11.

The market’s 2012 spring season had its own travails with the abrupt closing and bankruptcy filing by Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air in mid-March. The airline flew passengers from several golf markets, and booked passengers had to make alternate travel arrangements to honor planned golf vacations.

The Strand is coming off three consecutive calendar years in which transaction-fee rounds fell less than 2 percent after significant decreases for several years. The market has some ground to make up in the final seven months of the year, with a decrease of 4.8 percent thus far through May.

Golden is concerned about the effect the weather may have on future spring rounds.

“It has an impact moving forward, too,” he said. “The people that were in town those weekends, it wasn’t an ideal scenario, an ideal vacation situation where they could enjoy themselves and enjoy the weather. … From that standpoint we were not able to deliver the typical golf vacation experience we have in the past.

“We’re just going to have to work harder to reassure our consumers that spring is the ideal time to be here.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at (843) 626-0284.

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