Myrtle Beach adds the missing golf piece

South Carolina's Grand Strand finally adds a PGA Tour event, the Myrtle Beach Classic, to its extensive golf resume

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina — With a selection of more than 75 courses, miles and miles of beautiful beaches, top-notch resorts and restaurants, and great weather, Myrtle Beach seems to have it all when it comes to golf.

Looking from the outside in that would appear to be the case, but area leaders have felt for years that a big piece was missing from Grand Strand golf.

The Myrtle Beach area along the northern coast of South Carolina has hosted a myriad of significant pro and amateur tournaments, but never a PGA Tour event.

That fact caught the eye of Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO Karen Riordan coming out of the COVID-19 lockdown in the summer of 2022. She cornered Tracy Conner, the longtime head of the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association and chamber board member at the time, during a tourism-related press conference.

An aerial view of the Dunes Golf and Beach Club, which will host Myrtle Beach's first PGA Tour event, May 9-12.

Her ask of Conner seemed simple enough to her, but Conner knew better, or so he thought.

“She said, ‘Hey Tracy, aren't we the golf capital of the world?”’ Conner recalls Riordan saying. “And I said, ‘Yes, ma'am.’ And she said, ‘Well, why do we not have a Tour event here?’ And I whined a little bit, and she said to go get us a tour event and we'll figure out how to pay for it. She’s never been to a golf tournament, so I kind of walked away laughing and said ‘Yeah right.”’

But Conner began working the phones and initiated conversations with PGA Tour officials, discovering that the Tour was blowing up its schedule. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Myrtle Beach.

Soon, Riordan joined the negotiations and vowed the chamber’s financial support as the title sponsor through Visit Myrtle Beach.

So, against all odds, the inaugural Myrtle Beach Classic was born, and will be held at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club on May 9-12.

“The PGA Tour generally doesn’t do tournaments out of the ground, but yeah this one came completely out of the ground,” Conner says. “I think they had a passion for Myrtle Beach and they've been phenomenal to work with.”

Dennis Nicholl, the director of golf at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, and course superintendent Steve Hamilton, remember Conner breaking the news to them.

“Tracy kind of just nonchalant walks up to me and said ‘You kind of need to keep this under your hat but we're going to host a tour event,”’ Nicholl says. “My first thought was: ‘Is it Korn Ferry? Is it ladies? Is it senior? A made-for-television event?’ And he said ‘No, the Tour.’ I was like, ‘the real PGA Tour?’ And then my next thought was what year because they normally plan three years out. I was thinking it might be 2026 or 2027.”

Conner quickly informed Nicholl and Hamilton that it was happening in 2024. “Then there was just like this long silence — dead silence — as we’re trying to process this. So, we basically had 12 months to plan for the event,” Nicholl says.

Myrtle Beach is generally geared toward resort golf, so the choice of the venue and layout to host golf professionals was somewhat limited despite a hefty inventory of courses.

The host site eventually came down to two choices — The Dunes Golf and Beach Club and TPC Myrtle Beach.

A tour of the Dunes Club facilities — which includes a banquet room with oceanfront view — sealed the deal for PGA Tour officials.

The erection of greenside stands are just one part of the build-out for the inaugural Myrtle Beach Classic at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club.

“We were walking through the clubhouse and they said ‘Day One this will be a top 10 facility on Tour,”’ Conner says.

“You want a great golf course and a great clubhouse and this place is just amazing,” adds Darren Nelson, tournament director. “Add in the views and it is five stars out of five.” 

The tournament will be held the same week as the Wells Fargo Championship in neighboring North Carolina. That high-profile designated elevated event has a purse of at least $20 million and a limited field of 70 to 80 of the Tour’s top players.

The Myrtle Beach event will feature a full field, which is generally 144 players or more, of Tour members who don’t qualify for the elevated event, and it will have a purse of $3.9 million.

However, despite void of many of the game’s top names, the Myrtle Beach community is beyond engaged for the tournament. Volunteer registration was opened up at 2 p.m. one day and six hours later the portal was closed after 1,500 had signed up.

Early May can be a tricky time for course conditions in a place like Myrtle Beach, where Bermuda grass is king and needs consecutive days of warm days and nights to “pop.”

With that in mind, Hamilton and his crew overseeded wall-to-wall for the first time.

“It’s almost like insurance, trying to hedge your bets with the weather because if you didn’t overseed you wouldn’t know what’s going to be green or not,” Hamilton says. 

As one of the nation’s top golf resort destinations, Conner estimates the Myrtle Beach area logs more than 3 million rounds a year. What is even more eye-popping is the recent population increase as 44 people more to the area every day and the population has doubled in 20 years.

“And here’s a stat for you — we have as many or more hotel equivalent hotels rooms as Las Vegas,” he says.

Conner says the main goals of bringing a PGA Tour event were pretty simple.

“We want to elevate the brand of Myrtle Beach and to showcase our community,” he says. “We want to highlight that it’s a great place to vacation but it’s also a great place to live and work.

Local colleges Georgetown Tech and Coastal Carolina University have been contracted to provide the executive team with an economic impact statement following the early May tournament. 

“There is an event down the road in South Carolina that has been around for what, 50 years?” says Nelson, referring to the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island. “For starters, we would like to make a big splash in the state of South Carolina and then in the years to come beyond that. It’ll take some time, but we want to do things right. We’re not cutting corners in year one and the fan experience is very important to us.”

“I think Myrtle Beach is ready for a Tour event,” Conner says. “Twenty years ago it would have been difficult. We didn’t have the infrastructure or industry here that we have now.”