MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach is solidifying its foothold as a golf mecca, attracting golfers and tourists not only from across the country but across the globe.
Efforts to attract international golfers and tourists are happing now. Representatives with Golf Holiday are in Italy and
In Italy, Golf Holiday is trying to sell the city of Myrtle Beach and all the Grand Strand as a destination that provides high-end options at a very affordable price to international golfers. Representatives are meeting with vendors, buyers and booking agents from across Europe this week. Bill Golden, the president of Golf Holiday, tells WMBF News that sports tourism is becoming a much bigger global push than it ever used to be. And that means a lot of cities in the U.S. are making it easier to come to their golf courses. Golden says Myrtle Beach is setting itself apart from the others.
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“The options are what sells us,” says Golden. “And not only the options but the quality of options. We're not just a resort where you stay at a hotel and play one or two golf courses. You can stay here in Myrtle Beach and play ten or twelve golf courses over a period of a week or ten days, which is often times what an international traveler will do.”
That means they're playing on multiple courses, staying longer in hotels, and eating and shopping at different places across the Grand Strand. Which in turn means a stronger local economy with more stable jobs.
Golden says that once their representatives are back from Italy, they'll be in meetings to develop a strategy on attracting more international golfers. They're hoping this trip teaches them what international tourists are looking for so we can keep an eye on what the city might want to develop next. And experts say that's what keeps tourists coming back each year.
According to Brad Dean, the president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber Commerce, in 2007 fewer than 200,000 tourists were coming to the U.S. from China. But last year, there were 1.8 million visitors. That's an 800% growth. Dean as well as Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes are in China meeting with tour operators and travel agents to sell the city on how affordable it is for international travelers. And there are also efforts with the MYR International Airport right now to make getting here easier.
"Delta is doing a huge push right now, allowing overseas travelers to have free golf bags being brought with them," says Mike Anderson, the executive director of sports tourism for the chamber. "So there is a big push. And obviously the Chamber here in Myrtle Beach is trying to work with Delta as well. Hey, not only once you get into Atlanta, because Delta will fly into Atlanta, come to Myrtle Beach and again extend that free golf bag to allow them to come and play here in Myrtle Beach."
Golf is growing in popularity in China. But other big sellers are also deep-sea fishing, shopping, and hunting and shooting guns at local ranges. Mark Kruea, the spokesperson for the City of Myrtle Beach, says the city keeps developing so that there's something new to attract visitors each year.
Right now, Broadway at the Beach and the Wax Museum are still hot attractions.
There is also a new resort hotel being built that the city expects will attract big business.
And Kruea says there are plans in the works for developments along Highway 17 by Burroughs & Chapin.
Leaders with the Chamber say the city has plenty of TV commercials in China right now promoting all these activities. And once Dean and Mayor Rhodes are back they're hoping to make a larger social media push there to keep international tourists coming back to Myrtle Beach.
Local golf courses tell WMBF News that they're seeing a difference. This spring season was better than last spring. And this fall is much stronger than last fall.
Alex Hodgman, the Golf Pro at Wild Wing Plantation, says their rounds played per year are up and so are their profits. And he directly attributes that growth on the city's efforts to develop new attractions and a stronger local and global economy. They're seeing lots of golfers from Canada, as usual. But in the past five years or so they've seen an increase in golf tourists from Europe and Asia as well. Hodgman says that the city is gaining a reputation as the golf capital of the world.