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‘We had a great year in 2023.’ Golf rounds in the Myrtle Beach market continue to rise

The game's resurgence continued last year and the Grand Strand was ahead of national increases

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Momentum created by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has endured for the Myrtle Beach golf industry.

Rounds played in the Myrtle Beach golf market were up 6 percent in 2023 compared to 2022, marking the third consecutive year of significant increases in rounds played in the market, according to the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association.

Those rounds were played on the 64 public courses that are members of the Golf Tourism Solutions marketing, technology and events agency that promotes the Myrtle Beach market.

A handful of area courses are not members of GTS, and their rounds are not included in the totals that are largely compiled through the tee time network that connects the GTS courses.

With approximately 2.76 million rounds recorded, the average number of rounds played on the GTS member courses last year was more than a robust 43,000.

Continuing an affiliated upward trend, revenue from green and cart fees increased 12 percent in 2023.

There is continued optimism in the market for 2024 as well, as the number of rounds booked for the year as of Jan. 10 are 2% ahead of 2023 bookings at this time last year.

“The results of Covid are not fleeting. It has some sustainability to it,” MBAGCOA executive director Tracy Conner said. “People started playing golf again or picked it up during Covid and they continue to play and continue to travel and play.”

Myrtle Beach was ahead of the national average in 2023, as rounds increased 4% nationally according to the National Golf Foundation and Golf Datatech, which compile the statistics across the country. The organizations claim the most annual rounds ever in the U.S. were played in 2023 at more than 500 million.

The golf market in Myrtle Beach was also ahead of pace compared to the overall tourism business in the area. Coming off a stellar tourism year in 2022, hotel occupancy was down 6 percent in 2023, according to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“While we’ve seen a modest adjustment with occupancy rates at 55 percent for 2023, down by 6 percent from 2022 largely due to inflationary pressures, it’s important to recognize this as part of a broader normalization of travel patterns,” said MBACC and CVB President and CEO Karen Riordan. “Amidst this backdrop, we’ve witnessed a remarkable uptick in golf tourism that underscores our destination’s enduring appeal.”

The coronavirus effect

The onset of Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions on many activities led to a national spike in interest in golf, which was never banned by either governor in the Carolinas and remained continuously available on the Grand Strand.

Rounds played for the calendar year increased approximately 11.5% in 2021 compared to 2019, 8% in 2022 compared to 2021, and 20% in 2022 compared to 2019, according to the MBAGCOA and GTS statistics. The coronavirus-impacted year of 2020 isn’t comparable.

Revenue from green and cart fees increased 13 percent and 31 percent in 2022 over 2021 and 2019, respectively, as the market has increased rates and benefitted from flex pricing to take advantage of peak times.

The increases were much needed for the industry and market, which had been in steady decline since the early 2000s.

The cost of doing business in the golf industry has increased significantly in recent years as well, however, so course owners aren’t necessarily pocketing all of the increased revenue, as much of it is going back into improvements and the upkeep of their facilities.

Costs have increased for things such as Insurance, fertilizer, chemicals, labor and grasses.

“Our cost to manage and run these golf courses is also significantly up, and many of the fixed costs are up more than 12 percent [in 2023], like property insurance,” Conner said. “Things like fertilizer have gone through the roof. It’s so much more expensive than it was three years ago.”

An uptick in 2017 was the first increase in rounds played in the market in 13 years, as golf participation waned nationally for more than a decade.

But an increase in 2019 followed a poor weather year in 2018, and golf has been picking up steam ever since.

“Really going back to 2019 if you kind of discount 2020, demand in our market for five years has just steadily gone up,” Conner said. “. . . It’s going to have to level off sometime. You can’t continue to grow your demand, but we’re in a really good place.”

Breaking down the numbers

2023 got off to a strong start with a superb January that was buoyed by good weather followed by a 3.2% increase in rounds in the three months of March, April and May that comprise the crucial spring golf season.

That  gain came following a big 11.6% increase in spring 2022 vs. spring 2021.

Package rounds, which generally combine lodging with tee times for traveling golfers, have made a resurgence along with the overall rounds. In 2023 they increased 2.2% compared to 2022, despite the number of package providers who are members of GTS decreasing from nearly 60 to about 40 over the past two years, according to Conner.

Parker Smith, owner of the Golf Trek and Travel Golf package companies and a partner in the three-course Sea Trail Golf Resort, is bullish on the future health of the Myrtle Beach golf industry in part because of the amount of people moving to the area and likelihood that many of them are golfers.

With no new courses under construction, existing courses will share in the increased demand.

Smith said more golfers are starting to book packages well in advance because of the dwindling tee times. Whereas three years ago the push for spring golf packages with his companies began in August, that shifted to July in 2022 and to June in 2023.

“We had a great year in 2023. People booked earlier than ever,” Smith said. “They didn’t get what they wanted so they’re starting earlier and earlier to get the most desired courses, times and lodging because of the unprecedented demand.

“. . . In 2024, all those people booking really early are already on the tee sheets and we’re in the peak months of demand. Pacing’s up and revenue is up even more because of the rate increases so it’s a good time to be in the golf business after . . . years of decline.”

Golf packages provide increased business to hotels and other lodging properties predominantly in the tourism shoulder seasons of the spring and fall.

“Golf provides a critical part of the room rentals in March, April and May,” Smith said. “Golf can be a savior for those March and April dates where it’s not warm enough to be beach weather. The tournaments the [area has] help all the hotels, but golf is a big piece of the puzzle that we’re seeing on the room side, as well.”

Myrtle Beach Golf Rounds

Rounds played year by year on the 64 courses that are currently members of Golf Tourism Solutions.

YearRounds (in millions)
20192.242
20202.085
20212.460
20222.600
20232.760
* Statistics provided by the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association

Myrtle Beach Package Rounds

Package rounds played year by year on the 64 courses that are currently members of Golf Tourism Solutions

YearRounds
2019615,000
2020325,000
2021571,000
2022635,000
2023649,000
* Statistics provided by the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association

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