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July 11, 2014

City of Myrtle Beach misses opportunity with Whispering Pines

With its handling of the Whispering Pines Golf Club situation, I believe the city of Myrtle Beach passed on a rare opportunity to better the community, particularly with The First Tee.
 
The First Tee of Brunswick County founder Rusty Petrea met with both city leaders and Will Mann, who along with fellow past PGA of America president Gary Schaal formed a group that was vying for the management contract at the course, in the hopes Whispering Pines could become the home of The First Tee of the Grand Strand, which is now still seeking a headquarters. Mann and Schaal had a plan to make Whispering Pines a national game development center for juniors, though they were going to require an investment from the city.
 
If city leaders didn't like their plan, the city could have continued operating the course while implementing The First Tee. Any losses the course would incur -- and it's possible the course could be on its way to breaking even or turning a small profit -- could be justified by the benefit to the community. The city funds other recreational facilities because of their benefit to residents.
 
The First Tee program focuses on character building through nine core values as well as teaching golf skills, and it would give youth in Myrtle Beach an activity and place to go after school and in the summer while they are learning to be better citizens. It would also help build the next generation of golfers that Myrtle Beach and the entire industry desperately needs.
 
Based on the success of The First Tee program in Brunswick County, it would reach and impact thousands of children in a short time. The program is also self-sustaining through donations and volunteers, and wouldn't require funding from the city or the operator of the course.
 
After all, city-owned recreation property is supposed to benefit the city's citizens. I don't believe Myrtle Beach needs a 90th public course to compete with resident-owned courses in the area. But it does need a youth-developing golf program, and it had a perfect opportunity to give The First Tee the home it needs.
 
Hopefully new Whispering Pines operator Chip Smith will work with The First Tee, or implement a junior program that will similarly benefit the community. But as a golf course operator he has no choice but to try to earn a profit, and a program like The First Tee will likely not be his first priority, whereas the city could have made the program and the city and county's children it's first priority.

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