Whispering Pines Golf Club, 14th hole

A view of the 14th fairway at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Myrtle Beach, one of few Grand Strand courses offering stroke play golf tournaments along the Strand.

My heart sank deeper than a fried egg in a bunker when I learned it was too late for me to join the Coastal Golf League.

The league is a nine-hole weekly league contested every Wednesday at The Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina University.

A flyer that’s still posted to the Hackler Course’s website as of press time proudly proclaims that the weekly league runs from March 11 to Aug. 12.

For only $17 a week and a modest initiation fee of $45, golfers can compete in a nine-hole stroke play competition. You even get a steak dinner at the end of the season.

Due to uncooperative weather and prior obligations earlier in the spring, I was unable to find free time to play until late April. Unfortunately, I was told, late April was too late to sign up.

Hackler staff did politely inform me that the summer golf league was about to start up. But regrettably, the format was a two-person better ball. Not the individual stroke play format I was looking for.

I tell this story not to beat up on the Hackler Course. On the contrary, it’s a fun course to walk and it’s in the best condition I’ve seen in years. I’ve been playing there frequently this spring.

My dilemma illustrates the larger problem in Grand Strand golf. There is a severe lack of affordable, quality stroke play events for local, accomplished golfers, who crave more than informal skins and 6, 6 and 6.

The vast majority of “golf tournaments” along the Strand aren’t really tournaments at all. They’re captain’s choice outings designed to rake in heaps of cash for the host course.

As a former bag drop worker, I can tell you these money makers for golf course owners are busts for hardworking front line employees who rely on gratuities to pay the bills. Captain’s choice golfers are notoriously bad about tipping.

Most people never have a chance to win in these outings because the winners mysteriously turn in ludicrous scores in the low to mid 50s after playing “the best rounds of their lives.”

In actuality, winning teams are often stacked with scratch golfers, cheat or a combination of both.

The rest of the field concedes after failing to birdie the first five holes, before seeking solace from the free beer on the beverage cart.

Most Grand Strand golfers aren’t aware that there is a South Carolina Golf Association, and this association does schedule quality, affordable stroke play events throughout the state.

The SCGA’s popular Regular One Day Series started Feb. 8 and concludes Dec. 6. I’ve played in about a half dozen such events, almost winning one in 2010.

One-day events cost only $14, plus the host club’s cart fee. So for $30 or less, golfers of all abilities can compete in stroke play format for prizes. It isn’t much, but it’s something.

But as with all things, there’s a catch—not one of the SCGA one-day events is held in Horry County.

The closest tournament on this year’s schedule is Sunday, May 31, at the Country Club of South Carolina in Florence. Several other events are in Sumter, Columbia and Santee.

Another catch is that the SCGA strongly discourages single players. Speaking from experience, they prefer you come with at least one other playing partner.

One time I asked an official with the SCGA why more events aren’t held in Horry County. The reason, he essentially said, is because local courses thumb their noses at giving away more affordable tee times to the SCGA when they can charge twice or three times the going rate to tourists willing to pay it.

Therein lies a great conundrum. Grand Strand courses continue to see a decline in rounds played, yet apparently turn away locals who would be willing to play if fees were more affordable.

There are stroke play tournaments along the Grand Strand, but I’ve not found any that are affordable. Whispering Pines Golf Course in Myrtle Beach traditionally hosts the annual Mayor’s Cup in the fall, but a flyer advertising last year’s tournament lists an entry fee of $165 for three rounds, an average of $55 per day.

Compare that to the Wilmington (N.C.) Amateur Golf Tournament held 100 miles to the north, which in 2014 charged $90 for a two-day tournament, an average of $45 per player.

Food and drinks were served in both tournaments, so it’s a “Titleist to Titleist” comparison, so to speak.

There’s also the Coastal Player’s Tour, which competes at Grand Strand courses, but the fees for amateurs are fairly high as well—$80 for one-day tournaments and $120 for two-day events. Plus fields are populated with pros capable of shooting in the mid 60s, without any fudging on the scorecard.

Golfweek runs an amateur golf tour, but entry fees range from $65 to $250, plus a $40 to $80 annual membership fee.

And then there’s Golf Holiday’s World Am, which costs a whopping $475 for four rounds of golf and other goodies, an event that’s more marketing than competition.

I understand that golf courses are businesses and that they need to be profitable.

But courses in the state’s 44 other counties (excluding Horry and Georgetown) aren’t exactly 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. In the golf capital of the world, it’s a shame there aren’t more affordable stroke play tournaments for discerning players.

If you’re a golf course operator and I overlooked your course’s golf league or scratch event, please let me know and I’ll showcase it in a future golf column.

If you’re a player and you compete in a golf league that you like, then let me know about that as well. I can be reached directly at (843) 488-7259. My email is Michael.smith@myhorrynews.com.

Until then, I guess I’ll be heading to Wilmington.

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