After a proposal was voted down to build a road that would connect a new development to its Myrtle Beach, S.C. property, the club has decided to begin accepting outside play through golf-package providers, starting in April of 2020. The change is hoped to generate combined annual rounds of 35,000. LStar Ventures, which owns the club, is also making $1 million in course improvements. The Members Club is managed by McConnell Golf.
The Members Club at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach, S.C. has been private since it opened in 2005, the Myrtle Beach Sun News reported. But that will change in April of 2020, when the club becomes semi-private and begins accepting outside play through golf-package providers.
“We are planning to bring package play to the Members Club and we’ll start seeing that as early as April of this year,” said Margaret LaCalle, Coastal North Division President of LStar Ventures, which owns the club.
LaCalle said LStar hopes to now play approximately 35,000 rounds on the Members Club per year, combining member and guest play, the Sun News reported.
The Members Club has a 7,029-yard par-71 golf course co-designed by Nick Price and Craig Schreiner. Its rounds will be priced in the mid-high-to-high range of the Myrtle Beach market, the Sun News reported.
The club has begun working with select package providers, including two of the largest in the market, Brittain Resorts & Hotels and Founders Group International, the Sun News reported.
LStar and McConnell Golf, which operates the golf course through a management contract, opted to open the course up to public play after a proposal to connect the Members Club and the former Waterway Hills Golf Club property was narrowly voted down in July by the Myrtle Beach City Council, the Sun News reported.
Three hundred residents signed a petition against the proposal to connect the Waterway Hills development, the Sun News reported.
Looking to increase membership at the Members Club by allowing future Waterway Hills residents the opportunity to join, the Sun News reported, LStar’s goal was to build a private road from a planned development called Waterway Hills Village, which will consist of nearly 900 homes, to the Members Club, through a connection that would be blocked by a gate that could be opened by members of the club.
But with that proposal voted down, LaCalle said, “To cover the shortfall coming from the residents we’re going to open [the course] up to the public, so hopefully those additional rounds that we secure from the public will help offset the financial loss we’ve experienced year over year.”
The more members the club gains, the fewer public rounds will likely be played, and vice versa, the Sun News reported. “If we can get it all from the members then we won’t have that many people coming in from the public,” LaCalle said.
Private members-only areas of the clubhouse for will remain, and only members will be able to use the club amenities after golfing hours, including the restaurant, the Sun News reported.
McConnell Golf began operating the Members Club in the summer of 2014 when the course was struggling with low membership, the Sun News reported. In July 2019, McConnell’s Chief Operating Officer, Christian Anastasiadis, said that The Members Club was losing money, with 415 members in various categories, including approximately 200 golf members. Only 29 percent of homeowners in Golf Village, the community around the club were members, with 16 percent of them golf members, Anastasiadis added.
In 2014, C+RB reported that McConnell Golf would move to eliminate a policy that had been established in 2011 to allow outside play from resort guests and hotel- and golf-package providers at the Members Club, as part of a goal “to restore the facility to the original intent” and return the club to its private roots “in a market that is oversaturated with public courses.” (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/members-club-grande-dunes-eliminates-public-play/)
The public will get an improved version of the Members Club course to play, as it has been undergoing renovations during the winter and will experience more as the year progresses, the Sun News reported. LaCalle said renovations this year will approach $1 million.
Public play could begin in late March if a bunker-rebuilding project concludes on time—and it is currently on schedule, the club’s head golf professional, Brian Vest, told the Sun News.
The course is undergoing bunker renovations this winter and will close for three months or more this summer to replace its original bentgrass greens with TifEagle Bermudagrass, the Sun News reported.
Schreiner, an area resident, is overseeing the reshaping of the bunkers and plans to spend about 40 hours per week at the course over a couple of months, the Sun News reported. The bunker work is expected to take three months and be completed by mid-March. The back nine has been completed and the front nine is now closed for the work.
The rebuilding of the bunkers includes improving drainage and replacing sand, while also eliminating 11 bunkers entirely and decreasing the course’s total bunkering by about 40 percent, the Sun News reported.
“When you step up to the tee you’ll notice there’s really not much difference,” said Schreiner, who added a forward tee to all 18 holes three years ago to give women and seniors more options. “What we’ve done is just shrink the bunkers, but the portions of the bunkers close to the strategic angles, it’s still intact in its entirety. We’ve just eliminated more of the aesthetic.”
The greens will be expanded back to their original size, regaining space that will create more pin-placement options, and some fairways will be reshaped and/or narrowed with added drainage, the Sun News reported.
“The sustained heat in July and August with the humidity just becomes so difficult,” Schreiner said of the change from bent to Bermuda greens. “If you look at the greens today they’re beautiful, but it comes at a price and it comes at [the cost of] a lot of labor in the summer months. The fact that they’re opening up play now, they want it to be good all year round, so they’ve made a good decision I think to go with a Bermuda.”
Only a handful of golf courses in Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand still feature bentgrass, which was prevalent prior to the 2000s, particularly on high-end layouts, the Sun News reported. Courses with bent include Man O’War Golf Club, The Wizard, Crow Creek and Sea Trail’s Maples Course.
Vest said the Members Club course is expected to close on May 26 and reopen around Labor Day weekend, the Sun News reported. With the improvements, he added, the Members Club will likely be more willing to host summer state and regional amateur events and Carolina PGA Section events with the new Bermuda greens.
As it goes semi-private, the public will not be able to call the club’s pro shop for a tee time or book a time on its website. In that way, the Sun News reported, the Members Club will essentially follow the semi-private model used for decades by The Dunes Golf and Beach Club.
Members will keep their preferred tee time hours on specific days, but Vest told the Sun News that the club will differentiate itself in the market by starting off a single tee. That will open late-morning and mid-to-late afternoon times that aren’t available at courses that send golfers off both the first and 10th tees, the Sun News noted.