When the late Frank Tourville bought Orangeburg (S.C.) Country Club in 2009, saving it from impending bankruptcy, the club’s board decided to affiliate with two golf-package groups in order to generate additional revenue. “We make sure members have their access; we work around the times when they usually play and try to shift [guests] to another day,” says Director of Golf David Lackey.
Orangeburg (S.C.) Country Club has blurred the lines between public and private—paving the way for placement on various top-ranked lists, The Times and Democrat reported. The latest payoff comes via the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel, a group of 120-plus media, golf business people and avid players, who each year compile rankings of the state’s top courses. For 2023, the Panel rates OCC in its “Top 30 You Can Play,” along with such famed resort courses as Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, Hilton Head’s Harbour Town Golf Links and Myrtle Beach’s Caledonia Golf & Fish Club.
Oddly, OCC is a private club that is also regularly rated in the panel’s “Top 50 Courses In South Carolina,” The Times and Democrat reported. Longtime Director of Golf David Lackey cited economics when discussing the reasoning for partially opening to public play.
In 2009, the club – founded in 1921 and located on its present site since 1963 – faced bankruptcy due to declining and/or aging membership, The Times and Democrat reported. That year, as the club was being bought/rescued by the late Frank Tourville, a club member and founder of Zeus Industrial Products Inc., the club’s board decided to affiliate with two golf-package groups, Golf Santee and Santee Cooper Golf, allowing their customers to play OCC as part of their vacation golf lineups.
“Back then, some courses were facing a downturn in the private-club business,” Lackey said. “As we changed ownership, we knew we needed new revenue streams, and we knew those [Santee golf package] groups were well-managed.
“I can’t remember who made the first move, but we’d been in conversations with them for a while, and we decided to pull the trigger,” he continued. “We were playing about half the rounds [needed for a profit] and the course was under-utilized, so it wasn’t going to cause a problem with the members.”
Far from a problem, the pact with Golf Santee and Santee Cooper Golf proved a lifesaver for Orangeburg Country Club. “[Tourville] knew revenue was the key, and he was fine with [the arrangement],” Lackey said.
Currently, Santee accounts for roughly 20% of OCC’s rounds, Lackey told The Times and Democrat, having occasionally peaked at 22-24%. That, and an upfront infusion of cash from Tourville, enabled the club to renovate its grounds and clubhouse in 2009, lifting it to its current position among the state’s top courses.
Mixing outsiders and members is, Lackey said, a balancing act, if a necessary one, The Times and Democrat reported.
“We make sure members have their access; we work around the times when they usually play, and try to shift [guests] to another day,” he said.
Visitors also pay a higher rate than members, which drives up income, too, The Times and Democrat reported.
“Any time you go from a quiet course that’s exclusive because there are so few rounds, there’s an adjustment period,” Lackey said. “But the members knew we were going bankrupt, and a lot of eyes were opened that this was a ‘necessary evil.’”
Many would question the “evil” part, since play by outsiders also has resulted in increased “word of mouth” praise for the course following its 2009 renovation by Pinehurst, N.C., architect Richard Mandell, The Times and Democrat reported.
“Folks who ventured [from Santee] to OCC, if they were dining out over there, they would ask others, ‘Have you played Orangeburg? You need to go,’” Lackey said. “That’s the best advertising. We get a lot of recommendations [saying] that it’s worth the 30-minute drive.”
While fees to play Orangeburg run higher than at the dozen-plus other courses in the Santee packages, “no one is complaining,” Lackey told The Times and Democrat.
“People enjoy having a premium product, and we solicit feedback from them,” he said. “We want to know what we’re doing well, or if we do something poorly. Everyone’s out for each other’s best interests.”
Brock Hannay, Director of Operations for Golf Santee, concurs. “We get a lot of return customers who come back year after year, and they like that feeling of exclusivity [at OCC],” Hannay told The Times and Democrat. “It gives us some variety in our lineup of courses.
“Orangeburg is beautiful, and David and his crew do an excellent job in keeping it that way,” Hannay said. “We have confidence that they’re going to treat our customers like they were members, from [providing] range balls to loading bags [onto carts] and the food services there.”
While the Santee arrangement was born of necessity – the golf business nationally has enjoyed a resurgence the past couple of years, in part due to COVID-19 restrictions that suited golf’s outdoor play – Lackey said the chances of going back to members-only is unlikely, for Orangeburg or most other clubs, The Times and Democrat reported. The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, also ranked in the “Top 30 You Can Play,” has outsider play for guests at partner hotels in Myrtle Beach.
“I think any club that’s not completely self-sustaining will have to open its eyes, and doors, in the future,” he told The Times and Democrat. And the Santee groups are happy about that, too.
“We have such a good relationship [with OCC], and it’s mutually beneficial,” Hannay said. “We’re glad to be a part of it.”
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