Fix it when it’s not broken. It’s a departure from the usual cliché, but it could be Bill Golden’s new motto. As the longtime president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, he’s led one of the golf industry’s most successful cooperative marketing efforts. Still, a changing marketplace inspired him to spearhead the company’s recent transformation into a new entity called Golf Tourism Solutions.
Originally formed in 1967 as a cooperative marketing trade association featuring nine courses, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday helped position and establish the region as one of the nation’s leading golf meccas. With 1,422 holes open to public play and a year-round population of 448,633 (in 2017), Myrtle Beach is unquestionably a tourist-driven destination that features the highest concentration of golf in the country.
As Golden looked to the future — and looked back on the dramatic changes over the past five decades within golf, technology and the golf travel marketplace in general — he realized the trade association model wasn’t necessarily one that would move the company forward.
“Any business wants to see a return on their investment and wants to point to where that return is coming from,” said Golden, who joined Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday in 1998. “That’s very difficult in a trade association environment, especially over the past four or five years. Plus, we weren’t connected with the technology side, which was inefficient.
“Everyone knew there needed to be a change,” he added. “Fortunately, our stakeholders trusted us to lead the way with a new model.”
The re-branded company retained all that Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday has done previously as it relates to destination marketing, event management and operations, and logistics such as strategically targeting airline partners to serve the market. But it also added the technology component by merging with the Grand Strand Tee Time Network, an integrated tee sheet for courses and a web-based portal that allows distributors to access the tee sheets in real time.
“It is the cornerstone of the golf package industry and essentially the cornerstone of golf in Myrtle Beach,” says Golden.
Golf Tourism Solutions caters to course properties throughout Myrtle Beach for website development, marketing planning and services, content development, database management and customer relationship management (CRM) tools, among many other elements.
“The downward pressure now on golf travel and participation is felt at the facility level,” Golden, who is a member of the NGF’s Board of Directors. “We see Golf Tourism Solutions as an answer to a need for help at that level. Courses need to optimize websites, look at SEO analytics, and handle database management. Those are tasks that most facilities don’t have the personnel or time to manage. They need a third party to do it, and we’re a trusted organization and local partner who are experts in the industry.”
A leader in the concept of co-opetition among area courses, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday set a high standard that remains unmatched around the country.
“It’s difficult to maintain an organization that naturally competes with each other,” said Golden. “That’s really the genius of Myrtle Beach. We may not always agree on every issue, but everyone understands we’re trying to move forward for all, not just individuals. That philosophy keeps the spirit of what we do from a cooperative standpoint alive.”
Golf Tourism Solutions will continue to conduct special events, like the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship (the 35th edition is being played this August 27th to 31st).
“People love tournaments and competition,” said Golden. “We have multiple events now, which brings people into town during time periods when we really need them. It’s a way to return value to our course and hotel partners.”
Events can also effectively leverage media coverage, like “Monday After the Masters,” a celebrity pro-am held since 1994, or the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship, when Golf Channel comes in and Morning Drive covers an event that brings in players (ages 13 to 18) from around the world in February for a “PGA Tour-like experience.”
Targeting younger consumers is the reason behind the company’s promotional agreement with golfer and social media sensation Paige Spiranac, who currently has 1.5 million Instagram followers.
“We’re seeing a large bump in our web traffic and email/consumer acquisition with the under age 35 market since we brought her on board, especially through video and digital content,” said Golden. “She’s also been very helpful with promotion of new air service markets (Frontier and Spirit Airlines introduced direct flights this year from Minneapolis). It’s a completely different media mix and message to build the foundation for that next generation of golfers. We can’t step back – we have to push forward harder and harder for new consumers as the golf industry gets more challenging every year.”
Six months after unveiling the new company, Golden is more than satisfied with the results.
“We easily exceeded our pro forma revenue targets, which tells me we’re on the right path and this model is sustainable for the long term,” he said. “We’re the agency of record for the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce for golf, and that’s important. We are anchored in this community as the authority on golf.”
For all the new technology and media content, Golden says golf tourism is still all about the experience. “That means the product, the customer service and the value. Those who can achieve a high level in those categories will always succeed. Access is critical, too.”
And courses or golf companies that overlook the value of integration are missing the boat. “Whether it’s a local round, membership round or a group coming in from Toronto, every round matters,” he said. “If we’re not all integrated and in sync, then it’s easy to get fragmented. And fragmentation is what will not work. That will bring down the industry.”
Two decades after he arrived in Myrtle Beach from his native Connecticut, Golden continues to look forward, searching out potential new paths for Golf Tourism Solutions.
“There may be ways we can assist other destinations in getting more people to talk about golf travel. We need to get golfers off the couch and also get traveling golfers to add to their groups. Golf travel is a wonderful thing. We need to grow that segment. The more that destinations market travel and talk about the experience of spending time with friends and family, we will benefit. It’s a lot easier to spend money as a community and work together as one force. We’d love to see more of that happen.”
Tom is an Arizona-based freelance writer and former Senior Editor at GOLF Magazine. He is a frequent contributor to multiple golf publications, including Troon Golf & Travel, The Met Golfer, Golf Monthly UK and the USGA’s website.