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Eight golf groups show interest in Whispering Pines in Myrtle Beach

Some of the major players in the Grand Strand’s golf industry, as well as two national golf management companies, are interested in running Whispering Pines Golf Course for Myrtle Beach, which is considering new ways to make the course self-sustaining or profitable.

Eight firms responded to the city’s call for interested groups that could take the course to the next level. The course’s employees, led by General Manager Alan Chasteen, are among those tossing their hat in the ring.

The City Council hasn’t decided whether it will use an outside group to manage the course, but wanted to see what interest was out there.

The request attracted some among the who’s who in golf management locally and nationally:

Billy Casper Golf of Vienna, Va. The firm manages 120 courses in 27 states, the District of Columbia and Costa Rica. It has shown an interest in taking over management of five former Legends Group courses if General Electric Capital Corp. sells four of the courses and a lease agreement on the fifth.

Burroughs & Chapin Golf Management Co. of Myrtle Beach. B&C has 10 courses along the Grand Strand, including those at Grande Dunes, Myrtlewood, Pine Lakes and Arcadian Shores.

City of Myrtle Beach – Alan Chasteen of Whispering Pines Golf Course. Chasteen, who could not be reached Tuesday, has said the course’s 11 employees know the course’s operations, have a stake in the course and should have the first chance to run it – especially if the city follows through with suggestions to end some of the city-imposed rules that some say put the course at a disadvantage amid the competitive Grand Strand golf industry.

JMJ Golf Management of Longs. JMJ manages the Valley Club at Eastport in Little River.

Kemper Sports Management of Northbrook, Ill. Kemper manages more than 100 courses in 28 states, including Cape Fear National in Leland, N.C.

Danny Young of Legends Group LLC.

RTM Golf Inc. of Myrtle Beach. RTM was formed in July by golf industry veterans Robert Harper, Tom Morrison and Mike Buccerone. The firm is responsible for generating rounds and revenue for about a half dozen courses, including Eagle Nest and Sea Trail Golf Resort.

Signature Golf Group of Surfside Beach. Signature manages seven courses along the Grand Strand, including Azalea Sands, Rivers Edge, Island Green Country Club, Wicked Stick Golf Links and River Oaks Golf Plantation.

Several of the groups said Whispering Pines is in a good location and would make for a solid course to manage.

“It doesn’t really have any negatives,” said Steven Taylor, chief financial officer of Signature Golf Group. “This golf course would fit right into our portfolio.”

Responding to the city’s call for qualified firms to run the course is just the first step. The City Council could request a proposal from each of the firms, a few of them or none. The topic is likely to come up during the council’s next meeting Dec. 14.

The City Council opened the door for interested companies after growing frustrated with the course’s up and down performance in the past 10 years.

The course has had mixed success, swinging from about a $200,000 profit in 2000 to a loss of about the same amount last year. The 18-hole course has made money five of the past 10 years, but the $209,916 loss during the 2008-09 budget year was too much for the City Council to take – especially considering drastic cuts the council made as it scraped to find any extra revenue to help ends meet.

“It’s something you have to look at,” Mayor John Rhodes said. “We are going to be extremely, extremely careful if we are to turn it over to someone else.”

The council will consider a firm’s experience, references and look at the other courses it manages if it decides to pick an outside firm, he said.

“Is that the right thing to do? We’ll have to see,” Rhodes said, adding that he prefers the city to continue managing it with changes to some of the city-imposed rules.

The city has operated the course since 1993, when the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base closed and gave the course to the city. The city-imposed rules aim to ensure there’s always a spot available for locals, which some say have hampered the course’s ability to compete with the other nearly 100 courses along the Grand Strand. Some council members have said it’s time to loosen those rules.

RTM would brand the course and reintroduce it to Myrtle Beach residents, Buccerone said, adding that tournaments and a junior golf program might be part of the mix.

“We look at it as restoring the glory to Whispering Pines,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity. We’d really like to make it one of the top municipal-owned courses in the country.”

B&C has the ties locally and nationally to grow the course’s business, B&C spokeswoman Lei Gainer said.

“We have a variety of relationships in every aspect of the industry from the local to the national levels, and those help us to minimize expenses and optimize growth,” she said.

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