Episode #20: From The Frontline: How Myrtle Beach Golf Courses Are Handling COVID-19 05/21/2020
Meredith: Welcome to the Gimme Golf podcast. I'm your host Meredith Kirk. Thanks for tuning in. Don't forget to subscribe and rate our podcast. This is episode 20, and I was joined by two PGA professionals, Matt Daly, director of operations for 21 Myrtle Beach golf courses, and Justin Binke, who is the director of marketing and sales for Myrtle Beach Golf Trips.
Everyone, thanks for tuning in today. Today, we are going to talk about how Myrtle Beach golf courses are handling COVID-19. Matt and Justin, thanks for coming on the show today.
Matt: It's great being here. Thanks for having us.
Justin: Yeah. Absolutely, Meredith. Good to see you.
Meredith: So Matt, I'm going to start with you, given you're the operations guy of 21 courses here at Founders. Let's tell our listeners what are the current protocols right now? I mean, we are mid-May, coming into the end of May. What's it looking like at your courses?
Matt: Yeah, well, our staff's become a very well versed in sanitation protocols right now. We're cleaning as much as we can. Really the big focus is on cart sanitation because obviously most of our golfers are taking golf carts. And we have a good protocol in place. We're not currently loading golf bags, but instead of loading golf bags, the staff will re-sanitize a golf cart right before any guest gets on it. There's pretty strict sanitation protocols in place for after the round as well. And then just throughout the day, any high traffic touch point areas are being sanitized. And anytime we can keep doors open so that less people have to actually touch doors or any minimizing of touchpoints is areas that we try to focus on of course too.
Meredith: Right. What about the bunkers with rakes and the pins?
Matt: Yeah, the game of golf has obviously changed with this as well. So the flag sticks, we asked for them to stay in. One of the neat inventions that's come out of this is we put pool noodles in the bottom of all of our cups that still allows the golfer to see the ball go in the hole. Yet it's very easy to get it out with having to touch the flag stick or touch the bottom of the cup, which has been well received by all of our guests. And we did eliminate sand bottles and rakes from the golf course. So we just encourage people to play preferred lies and bunkers, and you can smooth the area if you need to. Actually, USJ is involved with that as well.
Meredith: It's weird not having the sand bottles because I have such a habit when I'm out there just repairing everything and fixing divots. It's strange. How does the maintenance crew deal with that? Do they have to spend extra time going out there and doing that in the mornings?
Matt: We keep the same maintenance protocols we've had in place when it comes to maintaining bunkers right now. So honestly, from a golfer standpoint, you may see some bunkers a little disturbed here or there based on when you play in the day, and how many people have been in that bunker. And that's why we do the preferred lies at this time. But for the most part, you're going to see very similar conditions in what you saw before.
Meredith: Okay. And when it comes to carts, a lot of people are asking me, when are they going to go back to two people in a cart? Do you have any set dates as the ban is lifted?
Matt: Right now, South Carolina, just we're in phase two of the recovery phase. Most of our golfers that have been playing are locals. And we're very mindful of the situation that we're in right now. So we allow people to ride in the same cart if they're from the same household or the same travel party. So if they ride to the course together, we'll let them ride together. Other than that, right now, we're still doing one rider per golf cart. Honestly, through June, I would see that being in play just for a safety standpoint, and we'll continue to monitor the situation and see where we go from there.
Meredith: What's it going to look like in the fall for golfers with these particular protocols? I mean, obviously it's going to be lifted a little bit, like you said, by the end of June. But I mean, when it comes to the bunker and the sand bottles and the flag sticks and checking in with the bags, do you think it will go back to what it was?
Matt: It will. I think so. And we are going to find a new normal. If you will, from this. So some things will change, but honestly I think from a visiting standpoint and playing standpoint, golfers will have the same conditions that they're used to seeing. The flag stick is tough for me. I'll be one, for somebody that's golfed all my life, I still want to go grab that flag stick. Obviously that rule changed last year, and we kind of laughed at it then. And now that it's in all the time, it is a little different, but you get used to it.
Justin: Matt, have you seen a lot of people walking too? Is that kind of come about as part of people now just kind of going out there and walking with a pull cart?
Matt: Definitely. We have seen an uptick in walking. And that's one good thing about the game of golf as it is a good recreational sport. And from a walking standpoint, it's very healthy to do that. And we definitely have seen more golfers walk at this time, and we encourage that too.
Meredith: Well, I have heard the sales of pushcarts have gone up because so many people are walking.
Justin: Oh, I can imagine.
Meredith: Yeah. I mean, so it's great for those companies right now, get out there and walk-
Justin: It's good exercise, right? I mean, it's just getting out there and walking nine holes or 18, I mean, it's fun.
Meredith: It is. And you know what, I think I play better.
Matt: Have you done it?
Meredith: Justin's like, I'm too busy with all of this, trying to these golf courses up and running.
Matt: I have walked a few times, and I think you were just about to say that. It's actually, I think the games more enjoyable when you walk. And I think you play a little bit better when you walk. You can see more.
Justin: Didn't you walk this past Friday?
Matt: We did, yeah. A group of us walked Myrtlewood last Friday. It was great. And you talk more. I mean, you can still practice social distancing, have good conversations, and play some golf.
Meredith: Yeah. And you don't have the stop and go with the cart. And it's, like you said, I mean, you do play better. When I'm walking, I can visualize my shots better. I can see the undulations and the green better. I see everything better because it just slows me down. And I'm high energy anyway. So if I'm on a cart here, there, I can get through fast to where I make mistakes in my game. So it's nice to get out there and just have a slower pace, walking, even though obviously it doesn't affect pace of play per se. But just that slower mindset of moving through each and every shot, enjoying company. Right?
Meredith: So I want to ask you Justin, when it comes to fall golf, how has COVID-19 affected golf here in Myrtle Beach with our spring visitors and the ones coming in the fall?
Justin: Yeah. No, I mean, we've seen, obviously our spring customers, a lot of them canceled. But a good majority of them have actually moved to the fall. Instead of playing the spring, they just moved to the fall, which has been good for us to kind of see and keep those customers come in the fall and see our courses, and come down and play.
In the fall, business in general has been actually pretty strong. From this past couple of weeks, we're getting a lot more inquiries to fall golf packages, see what we have available. I think the interest in fall golf is definitely there. The demand for fall golf is there, and we're seeing it from our agents too, right? Our return customers are already emailing us and wanting to get back to golf package.
I think people in general are looking at golf, and especially now through the summer and the fall as a way of getting out of the house, kind of getting their life back kind of a little bit so that they can go and experience something fun and something they enjoy to do. And I think this fall, we're going to see that, even more of that. The traveling golfers who come down here to Myrtle Beach and play golf. And so it's good signs all around from what we're seeing from our angle here.
Meredith: Right. I mean, fall golf is our second golf season, if not one of my favorites too. I love fall golf. I mean, I love spring golf. It's great to get out there after a cooler winter. But fall golf is great because you don't necessarily have sometimes the crowds that you get in summer, although summer's great to come with finding really good deals on vacations and whatnot, especially with family. But when school gets back into session, it's really nice, isn't it, to get out there on the golf course and just-
Justin: Oh, it is. I mean, it's one of my favorite times to play too. It's a little bit cooler, like you said. And the summer crowd's gone, and it's just basically golfers now. Your locals and your golfers. So your vacation golfers, you see a lot of that. You see them pull up in the hotels with their minivans, all golf bags stacked the high to the ceiling of the car. So I mean, it's cool.
It's an interesting time because I think that with kind of October looking really good right now, I think it's just going to continue to grow. I think we're going to see a lot more people starting to come down. In Myrtle Beach, with the destination we have and the golf courses and the products we have for our courses. What better time to come to the now? Right? And we're seeing that kind of demand pan out, like I said, kind of to our call center agents. People are wanting to come.
Meredith: Now let's talk a little bit about the park and play program. This is great. And it's perfect timing, right, with COVID-19 that you have this program. Let's tell our listeners a little bit about this.
Justin: Yeah. No, I mean the park and play program is a great program we have in place here and it's across all of our websites from our golf course sites to myrtlebeachgolftrips.com. Basically what you can book online, prepay for your round of golf. Okay? And then by doing that, select your rounds, select when you want to play. Book online, prepay, and then you're all set to go. Once you arrive at the golf course, the golf course knows you're on the tee sheet. So you don't have to go into the golf shop and check in. The golf course knows that you're going to be there by booking through our myrtlebeachgolftrips.com online engines.
Meredith: It's like valet. It's like valet golf.
Justin: Yeah. You just got to tell them you're last name, and that you're here, your party's here, and you're off and running.
Meredith: I love that. Now, what if somebody's books and then needs to cancel.
Justin: Yep. So if they want to cancel, then they always have the option to take rain checks. And if they do cancel outside of 48 hours, they do get a cancellation fee. We'll refund them minus the cancellation fee.
Meredith: Right. Well, this is so efficient. And everything with the current protocols, and I know many of these will be lifted, but things are running very efficiently here in Myrtle Beach. I mean, I have heard from probably two dozen people, what a great experience they're having at all the courses. Even pace of play has picked up a little bit right now with these protocols. And I have heard nothing but positive things.
And then now with the park and play, as the restrictions are lifted, we have the park and play option now. And I think that it's only going to speed up the process of checking in, checking out. And I think everybody's going to love that because this has been such a hot topic in golf. How do we speed the pace up from start to finish? I'm not just talking about the round of golf, but just that spending a half a day at the golf course, I think that this will pick up the pace a little.
Justin: Yeah. I mean the park and play option is a great way for customers who come in. Efficient booking, right? It's a safe and secure method of doing so. And it's just easy. The ease and efficiency of it just makes sense right now. So by booking online, have everything done, prepaid and ready to go, you're all set. That's it. You're ready to go. So now, instead of focusing on paying the golf course, and who's paid for what, all you got to do is just show up and you start-
Meredith: Love it.
Justin: ... get on the cart and go, and start playing golf.
Meredith: That's awesome.
Matt: You don't even have to go inside, and that's the best part about it. So with all the concerns with social distancing and everything, and then you just show up, just let them know your name outside, and you can go right to the first tee. It's great.
Meredith: Now, if somebody wants to take this option, where do they go? Where on the website should they go right now?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, they just visit myrtlebeachgolftrips.com. We do have a banner at the top that kind of explains a lot of golf course's protocols going on right now, and our cancellation policy, worry-free cancellation. So look at the top of the banner, click on it. It has a little button that says learn more, and that page will explain all the details of our park and play program, and kind of what our cancellation policies are going through, and booking through myrtlebeachgolftrips.com.
Meredith: I love it. All right. This is good stuff. Now let's talk about restaurants because everybody's coming back, the golfers are back in town. And just the other day I'm driving down the road. I'm like, did we even have COVID-19? Because it seems like back to normal in my opinion. But restaurants are back open, which is really nice.
So I want our listeners to know that. So when they come down here to play golf, they can go out and they can enjoy a meal. And we also have a great to go options at our courses that have become very popular during COVID-19. I mean, people were playing their rounds and then placing an order to go. And then they had dinner when they got home. So that's becoming more popular, and that's always an option for golfers coming down, especially those that may be taking more precautions or need to take more precautions.
But let me ask you guys, have you all gone out to eat since COVID-19? I mean, have you actually had a dining experience yet or not? Or have you guys been so busy working, getting these courses up, you haven't taken that time to do that?
Justin: I actually went to a pizzeria the other night. So it was good to kind of sit down and go inside and enjoy the meal. But now that I'm so used to kind of take out, curbside pick up, it's okay too. I don't mind that any more. It's just picking up and go, and come back home and eat, fine.
Matt: Yeah. It seems like a lot of restaurants have perfected the curbside pickup. Our group has done that as well. I mean, Pine Lakes did a great job during the entire month of April and May with some of our curbside dining options. I went to Logan's Steakhouse recently, and was very impressed with their protocols they had in place. And I mean, it felt very sanitized in there. And the experience was very good.
Meredith: Yeah. I recently went to my favorite restaurant, which is actually, I think it's on 22nd or 23rd Avenue. It's just an old Brazilian local restaurant.
Nate: I thought it was Jerusalem.
Meredith: Well, it's right next door to Jerusalem.
Nate: [crosstalk 00:00:14:17].
Meredith: Okay. So those are my two.
Nate: Got you.
Meredith: Yeah. And coincidentally, they're next door to each other. They have this buffet. It's 10.99 and it's all authentic Brazilian food. And I'm telling you, it is the best food ever. I go there all the time. It's my favorite. But it's not, again, I don't want to say it's a hole in the wall, but it's a little bit-
Nate: Pronounce it.
Meredith: Oh gosh, you're going to make me pronounce this.
Nate: See, you know I was going to ask you that.
Nate: Got you.
Meredith: I think it's Ipanema email. Anyway, that was my first dining experience. But like you said, Matt, I mean, they had great protocols. I mean, people had masks on, the tables were six feet apart and whatnot. They still had their buffet, but it was a little different. You had to walk up there, and you couldn't touch anything. You just tell them what you want, and then they put it on your plate for you. But I was still happy though. Because I still had my favorite food. I didn't care.
Nate: I was wondering how buffets are going to come back if they're going to come back.
Meredith: Yeah, it was weird because I was like, "Okay, I have some chicken." And then she was scooping the chicken out, and it's not the actual chicken I wanted. Because in a buffet you can kind of pick and choose what you want, right? That's the benefit. I'm like, aw man, it's not quite the chicken I wanted. It was still delicious though.
Nate: You get a normal helping instead of a massive helping.
Meredith: So you're a to-go options. What was your favorite?
Justin: Well, I think Pine Lakes, what was their last one, and they're still doing them. I mean, I think they're still having good success. And going to Pawleys Plantation. It was a prime rib pickup. It was a prime rib dinner that I think they had. I didn't try it.
Matt: Yeah, I've done the prime-
Meredith: It's really good.
Justin: I looked at it and I was like that sounds good right now. I'm all for that.
Matt: Yeah. The prime rib at Pine Lakes was good. I know Pawleys has done that as well. I have not had a chance to try that. My favorite at Pine Lakes was the fried shrimp dinner they did which was great.
Meredith: Oh yeah. Sounds good.
Justin: Fried shrimp dinner. They're typically doing one a week or two a week?
Matt: We have four properties doing them. River Hills, Pine Lakes, Litchfield, and Pawleys Plantation. And they're doing two a week on average right now.
Meredith: Okay. Are they going to continue that?
Matt: Yeah, I think so right now.
Matt: I mean it's demand driven, so we'll track it and see how it goes. But the response from our guests have been very positive. And I see us continuing them for the long run.
Meredith: Yeah. Sounds good.
Nate: I have a question for probably you and Matt, just thinking about summer, so summer's family time in Myrtle Beach. So you've been quarantine with your family for how long. Are you going to want to take a summer vacation with your family?
Nate: [crosstalk 00:16:46].
Matt: We actually have one planned right now.
Nate: Okay. I'm just curious.
Meredith: Yeah. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid to take a vacation. I'm not afraid to really fly right now. I mean, you've got to wear a mask when you fly and stuff.
Nate: No, I mean, because you've been with them for so long.
Meredith: Yeah. Okay. Yeah.
Nate: No, not [crosstalk 00:17:03].
Meredith: Oh, you meant just the togetherness. Oh, you're talking togetherness. No, I mean I've gotten used to it. It's good.
Matt: Yeah. My goal is to get an extra round of two of golf out of it. Say, hey, maybe I can play an extra round since we've had so much quality time.
Meredith: There you go.
Matt: But we'll bring some of the juniors out to play with us too.
Nate: Because I wonder we see families in Myrtle Beach in the summertime, kids, and it's like, are you going to really want to travel when you've been with them all this time and months.
Matt: I think it's the change of scenery. And I think people will still want to do it.
Meredith: Yeah, I think so, too. So any golf courses that you guys have been playing during the shutdown?
Justin: Yeah, I played Caledonia two weeks ago. That was in good shape. And that was fun. And this Sunday I'm actually playing Man O'War, which I haven't played that in years.
Meredith: Wow. I haven't played that course in a while either.
Justin: So get up there and give it a go. My golf game is not where it needs to be, but we'll get there one day.
Meredith: Yeah. Matt, what about you?
Matt: I've played both Myrtlewood courses, which are in phenomenal shape. And the redesign on Palmetto is fantastic. And the playing conditions at both courses is great. I've been in two courses in Myrtle Beach National recently. I've played the North course in the West course, which were also in great shape.
Meredith: Great. So you guys are somewhat working on your games?
Justin: Yeah, a little bit. I was trying to get out there this past week. But Caledonia two weeks ago. I mean, that's a great golf course. I mean-
Meredith: It's beautiful.
Justin: ... it's beautiful.
Meredith: When you drive into Caledonia, it's just almost like you just want to go five miles per hour.
Justin: This is nice.
Meredith: Just take it in. It's really pretty.
Justin: I never play well there though. I mean, I think I shot like 82. Which is it's good for me, but I can do a lot better. It's just the holes are so pretty. You just get lost in it, and your game kind of goes.
Meredith: Yeah. You're just like, whatever.
Justin: For me, it's my putting. I can't put. I need a lesson in putting.
Meredith: Yeah. Who were we talking about, Nate, that is a really good putter. Was it Wolff? Was it? We were talking about-
Nate: Yeah. Stat was amazing. 91% inside of 10 feet.
Meredith: Isn't that crazy?
Nate: 428 attempts.
Matt: That Matt Wolff?
Meredith: I mean-
Nate: His stats are not good anywhere else, other than driving distance, but his inside-
Matt: Really, 91%?
Meredith: It's crazy.
Nate: 91&. And it was like 420 some attempts. So it's not a small sampling size. It's like, wow.
Matt: Yeah. I'll take that percentage any day. It makes the game a lot simpler.
Justin: I'm at 9% probably.
Meredith: 9%. All right guys, last question. What did you binge watch while you were at home?
Matt: So I would highly recommend Ozark, if people don't watch that.
Meredith: I've heard that.
Matt: It's great. If you liked Breaking Bad, I mean, it's very similar kind of theme. Bu it's phenomenal. I liked that a lot. And sitcom wise, I still will go to New Girl or That 70's Show.
Nate: New Girl, I've never-
Matt: New Girl. Yeah. It's great.
Meredith: I've heard of that. And I heard of Ozark. I saw on Twitter, our former governor, Nikki Haley posted about Ozark. She apparently got hooked to it during the shutdown. She's like, "All right, you guys have to watch this." And I'm thinking, wow, Nikki Haley's watching Ozark.
Nate: Is it about money laundering?
Matt: It is. Yeah. So I had never watched it until the pandemic. And there's three seasons, and we've seen all three and can't wait for season four.
Meredith: Now when you binge, everybody has a different definition of binge. Do you just do three or four in a row? Or are you one of those bingers that you could just sit on a couch all day and get through an entire season?
Matt: No, I'm a one a day.
Meredith: One a day.
Matt: Maybe two.
Nate: That's not a binge.
Matt: Well, that's binge for me. That's pretty good.
Meredith: Because no, I'm mean-
Matt: If you watch it every day.
Meredith: Right. That's almost a whole season in a week. That's pretty good.
Matt: We may have watched a couple in a row at a time. But I think two would be my max. I'd probably fall asleep.
Meredith: Justin, what about you?
Justin: I went kind of old school a bit. Some movies here and there, the Pirates of the Caribbean, I like those. But I went first couple of seasons of West Wing. You remember that show, West Wing?
Justin: One of my favorites. So I started with that through an app, and just kind of went season one, season two, just started going right back into it. Every night I just try and get through an episode or two. The Crown. I like history stuff. So anything that's like-
Meredith: Oh, The Crown is great.
Justin: The Crown's great.
Meredith: I love that.
Justin: I love that. I'm totally hooked.
Meredith: Yeah. I've seen every episode on that one.
Justin: Yep. Yep. So, I mean anything with history, like the documentaries and stuff like that I've been watching too.
Meredith: Were you one of those guys that was into Downton Abbey?
Justin: I have not seen it, but I heard it was good.
Meredith: If you like The Crown, you would like that.
Justin: I like The Crown.
Meredith: Oh yeah. You would like that.
Justin: Everyone says that.
Meredith: And Victoria. And so if you like The Crown, Victoria is another good one. And the actress that plays that, she is just stunning. The girl is just stunning who plays... I don't know her name. I think she's from the UK, but she does an excellent job with that. And it's the whole history of Queen Victoria. It's really cool.
Justin: See, that's right up my alley.
Meredith: Yeah. All right. Well, we had a little bit of fun during the shutdown. But again, we were very fortunate in that most of our golf courses were open using all these protocols. And so those of you that are listening, it's like Matt said, we're still using protocols. And over time they're going to be lifted, and golf will get back to our new normal as we see what that is here in the next few months. But golf is thriving, and it's good to see golfers back in town.
And like Justin mentioned, if you're interested in the park and play program, great program, you can go to myrtlebeachgolftrips.com. You can click on the banner, all the information is there. Is there anything you would like to add and let our listeners know about these programs?
Justin: No, I think-
Meredith: Fall golf. Booking fall golf.
Justin: Fall golf, we're off and running. So if you're looking to really get your group of guys together and go to myrtlebeachgolftrips.com, submit a quick quote, and we'll be glad to help you in any way.
Matt: Yeah. And last week we saw some visitors come back to the market, which was great. And the feedback from them was phenomenal. I mean, they were so happy to get out and play some golf. And we can't wait to see that return to our new normal here.
Meredith: Right. Right. Well, thanks guys, for taking the time out of your day to come on and Gimme Golf podcast. It's always great having you on. And don't forget to subscribe to this podcast on multiple platforms, share it with your family and friends. Until next week, be safe, and go have fun out on the course.
On episode #20 Meredith is joined by two PGA Professionals: Matt Daly, Director of Operations for 21 Myrtle Beach Golf Courses and Justin Binke, Director of Marketing and Sales for Myrtle Beach Golf Trips
Some of the topics discussed:
What Safety Precautions are in place?
How the game might be changed going forward
Are people starting to return to Myrtle Beach?
What is the status of my Summer or Fall Golf Vacation?
Are Myrtle Beach Restaurants Open?
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