Myrtle Beach, once the darling of the golf industry, has seen play drop for 13 straight years, and with it more than 20 golf courses have closed their doors.
But as the South Carolina destination approaches equilibrium between supply and demand, two of the companies that helped fuel the development in the boom time, are merging forces as operators.
Myrtle Beach National and Burroughs & Chapin announced the formation of a new company — National Golf Management — in early March. The joint venture will operate 23 of the region’s 95 golf courses, and operate MBN.com, the top online tee time source in the area.
Bob Mauragas, a golf operator with Reynolds Plantation for the past ten years, is president. He joined Myrtle Beach National in June 2011, and almost immediately jumped into the negotiations with Burroughs & Chapin over the merger.
“Our joined efforts and assets will be beneficial to our customers and to the Myrtle Beach area’s efforts to remain the leading golf vacation destination in the nation,” Mauragas said. “Our goal is to be better, not bigger.”
Clay Brittain, who founded Myrtle Beach National in 1971, pioneered the region’s cooperative marketing efforts in 1967 in an effort to fill hotel rooms with drive-in golfers from across the Eastern seaboard. Both Myrtle Beach National and Burroughs & Chapin, a 100-year-old regional land owner and developer, rode that wave of success, buying and developing golf courses. Myrtle Beach grew to 115 golf courses at its peak along its 60-mile South Carolina coast that became known as the Grand Strand.
It logged 4.2 million rounds of golf, and even had 23 courses under construction at one point in the 1990s. Around that time, Brittain discovered he could convert hotels into condos and make even more money.
But the strategy slowly shifted resort guests into residents, allowing them to pay less for golf. And soon thereafter, other destinations — including Hilton Head, S.C. and Jacksonville, Fla. — began to pull away golfers.
The result was a drop in rounds, down to 3.4 million in 2010. And thankfully a drop in the number courses — from 115 down to 95.
Mauragas feels the region needs to retract even further — down to 80 courses — in order for supply to match demand. That won’t be easy, but he feels the merger positions the new company to thrive in the challenging environment.
“When [golfers] have choice, the operator has to make a way to stand out,” Mauragas said. “We can’t let our amenities dilapidate. We need to stabilize prices so that we can reinvest.”
National Golf Management plans to invest $2 million annually into improving its courses. The company owns fifteen of the 23 courses under its management.
“We do look to expand — steady and slow,” he said. “We want to be poised to partner in the Myrtle Beach area if someone is looking for capital help. But more importantly, what we want to do is focus on what we do well — operational golf and online [tee time] transactions, all focused on resort destinations.”
Mauragas says the new company, which is 50 percent owned by each partner, is focused on the golfer and delivering exceptional golf and great customer service. He says the operational expertise of Myrtle Beach National combined with Burroughs & Chapin's great courses, will make a successful company.
Most of the leadership for the new entity comes from Myrtle Beach National. Mauragas, Jim Woodring, executive vice president of marketing and internet services, and Max Morgan, vice president of agronomy, come from Myrtle Beach National. Mike Turrise, director of human resources, was hired from Burroughs & Chapin. The board that Mauragas reports to is made up of four people from each company.