It's tee time.
The next several weeks mark the heart of fall golf season along the S.C. coast, which officials say should be on par with last year, if not better.
At the beginning of the fall golf season last year, the economy went into a free fall, and Tropical Storm Hanna brushed the state, devastating the season for course operators.
This year, officials are adding more value to package deals and staying strong in marketing efforts - two factors that will make all the difference, they say.
MYRTLE BEACH GOLF HOLIDAY
"Generally speaking, the market numbers for fall appear to be positive," said Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. "I'm hearing pre-bookings are up at the moment. I've heard anywhere from slightly over last year to 15 to 20 percent.
"We're in an environment now where there's a lot of pent-up demand for golf vacations," Golden said.
Golden said value deals - which might mean if a person plays three rounds, they will get a fourth free - are prevalent.
"We're seeing much more value now over past fall seasons," he said. "Those types of promotions may motivate somebody to make the decision, 'Hey, before the end of the year, I need to get my golf trip in.'"
OFFER: Lower rates on golf packages for Sunday and Monday arrivals
MYRTLE BEACH NATIONAL
Jim Woodring, vice president of golf marketing and operations at Myrtle Beach National, which operates 11 area courses, said the group is "cautiously optimistic."
"September was good, and October looks good on the books. It's certainly much more positive than in the spring."
Woodring declined to give details on numbers but attributed much of the success to the courses' unwavering marketing efforts.
"As a company, we have always been very focused on marketing, so we are not doing anything less in that arena than we have in the past. We haven't cut back," he said. "In difficult times, history has played out that companies that continue to aggressively market tend to increase their market share, and they come out of those times better positioned."
OFFERS: October and November discounts, buy three rounds and get two free, last-minute tee-time deals, among others
CLASSIC GOLF GROUP
The pre-bookings at the four Classic Golf Group courses are up 20 percent from about the same time last year, said general manager Tommy Smothers.
"People, I think, are struggling less through these economic times, and things are turning around." He said he sensed hesitancy last year because people were unsure whether they would still have jobs and had limited disposable income. But this year, the hesitancy is gone, he said.
BURROUGHS & CHAPIN GOLF MANAGEMENT
The 10 courses operated by Burroughs & Chapin Golf Management are strategic with their deals, said Bob Swezey, executive vice president of golf and resorts.
"We find that there are certain days within the week when we don't want to discount the times because we know that they will fill. Other days, we'll add value."
WHAT GOLFERS SAY
Larry Branham of Frankfort, Ky., came down with 11 of his buddies for their annual fall trip this week and said the deals were a pleasant surprise.
"The courses weren't as crowded, so they have more coupons to get people to play, which I think is great," he said.
Others noticed the slight change in prices but said it didn't make a difference in their decision to take the trip.
Wayne Burke of Chatham County, N.C., spent last week golfing in Myrtle Beach with 16 friends.
"Most of us are in construction, and after the summer, we want some time off. It's time for the boys to have a little fun and let off a little steam," he said.
Plus, Burke said, the weather is perfect.
"It's cooler. It's a good season to come down here. I don't think the spring is as good, as far as conditions, as the fall."
Golf course operators are eyeing the weather, too. As bookings "in the month, for the month" abound, they're crossing their fingers.
"As long as the weather stays cooperative, we'll get a lot of last-minute reservations," Smothers said.