Myrtle Beach leaders narrowly voted down a proposal that would have connected the Grande Dunes Members Club and former Waterway Hills Golf Club, a decision that will now provide public access to the private golf club.
After LStar Ventures proposed amending the Grande Dunes Planned Unit Development to connect two limited access private roads at the northern end in May, residents have come out in droves to public meetings asserting their stance on the project.
Following a contentious Planning Commission meeting last month where members recommended denying the proposal, city council members followed suit by voting down the project in a 4-3 vote during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’m really disappointed by this,” said Margaret Lacalle, president of LStar Ventures Coastal North Division. “We thought this was really in the best interest for all the residents of Golf Village at Grande Dunes.”
The company’s goal was to build a private road from a planned development called Waterway Hills Village, that will consist of nearly 900 homes, to the Grande Dunes private Members Club at Terra Verde Drive. The connection would be blocked by a gate that could be opened by members of the club.
The properties west of the Intracoastal Waterway touch at the border of the cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach with Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach and Waterway Hills to the north. Lacalle said LStar was looking to increase membership at the Members Club by allowing future Waterway Hills residents the opportunity to join.
Now, Lacalle said, the Members Club will be converted to semi-private within the next 30-45 days. She said the change will result in increased traffic to the community with drivers able to access the club only by a bridge that runs over the Intracoastal Waterway.
“Ultimately, what was voted results in the very thing that the opposition didn’t want, and that was the increase in traffic,” Lacalle said. “I’m just very surprised that’s what council decided, and we’re going to work on opening the club up to semi-private play.”
The Members Club is operated by McConnell Golf of Raleigh, N.C., which operates a collection of 14 private courses – 13 in the Carolinas including The Reserve Club in Pawleys Island. It began operating the Members Club in the summer of 2014 when the course was struggling with low membership.
McConnell’s management agreement with LStar includes the Grande Dunes Members Club, social Ocean Club, Anchor Café and Grande Dunes Marina.
The Members Club is one of two courses in its private agglomeration that McConnell doesn’t own, as the company added Porter’s Neck Country Club in Wilmington, N.C., through a management agreement two months ago. It also leases the public 27-hole Raleigh Golf Association facility.
McConnell chief operating officer Christian Anastasiadis said The Members Club loses money. He said the club has 415 members in various categories, including approximately 200 golf members, and only 29 percent of Golf Village homeowners are members, 16 percent of them golf members. L-Star and McConnell Golf vowed to not allow public play at The Members Club when they took it over.
“But times change,” said Anastasiadis, who estimates the club will add approximately 7,000 public rounds. “The club needs sustainability and access to new members. The way the club is constituted right now it is not sustainable. We really thought [connectivity] would put the Members Club on the way to sustainability. Opening up to semi-private you never know where it’s going to go.”
The precedent has been set for McConnell to allow outside play at one of its private courses, as Sedgefield County Club opened its Pete Dye Course (formerly Cardinal Golf Club) to limited public play on March 1.
“With our experience with The Cardinal we think members will continue to support the facility and outside play will supplement the [income to pay] operating expenses. Down the road adding extra rounds of golf . . .will make up for some of the losses you have incurred by not gaining extra members.
“But it’s a bad day for the Members Club and a bad day for the community. In soccer we would call it an own goal.”
Some Golf Village residents who strongly opposed the project said connectivity had the potential to devalue their homes and dramatically impact their roads by providing “unlimited” access to Waterway residents. Other residents said they purchased their homes with the understanding it was a private community.
“Connectivity will destroy our private gated community, although it will enrich LStar significantly if it has a guarantee of connectivity,” said Roger Markwoitz, who submitted to council a 300-signature community petition.
While LStar’s proposal was submitted to the Planning Commission in May, LStar and members of the Golf Village Property Owners Association have been in negotiations over the connectivity for nearly three months, with the proposal needing at least 67 percent approval from residents.
According to POA president John Bree, no progress had been made between the two groups to form a legally binding agreement. Bree said his association refused to agree to a non-binding proposal that didn’t include contingencies for community approval of the proposed access.
“It would be nice if grown folks can sit down and really work out their differences,” said Councilman Michael Chestnut, who voted against the proposal. “If you guys can’t work out your differences, then the decision comes to us.”
While Bree advised council to oppose LStar’s proposal, supporters of the connectivity, who were carrying signs and sporting stickers stating “Yes! For The Future of GD,” said connecting the roadways would provide additional access to residents and emergency personnel if the bridge closed down.
Mayor Brenda Bethune, a former Grande Dunes resident, and Councilwoman Jackie Hatley both voted in support of connectivity solely to enhance public safety. Councilman Gregg Smith also voted in favor of the project, with the hope majority approval would give both groups additional time to negotiate.
“For me, this is an issue of public safety,” Bethune said. “I know how I felt when I lived there with the bridge, and there were times where the bridge was not operable, and I was there when fires occurred, so for me, this is only about public safety.”
Other residents believe the community will diminish with the Members Club changing to semi-private.
Resident Doug Ralph said LStar warned residents of its intention to modify the club in the event the PUD failed. The club will steadily lose private members and the condition of the golf course will deteriorate, Ralph maintained.
“Once it goes semi-private, it will never go back,” Ralph said. “That aspect of the neighborhood’s character and the role the Members Club plays in the social atmosphere in the community will forever be changed.”
The Grand Strand golf market from Georgetown to Southport, N.C., has approximately 90 courses, with only about 10 of those being private.