Fewer golfers at S.C. courses due to hurricane scares

True Blue Golf PlantationMYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- From the bustling Grand Strand to the scenic Lowcountry, the people who live, work and play on the South Carolina Coast have breathed a collective sigh of relief after avoiding the brunt of one of the worst hurricane seasons in recent memory.

While Florida has endured four major hurricanes over the past six weeks, the Carolina coast has been left largely unblemished. Golf courses in Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island - the state's two premier golf destinations - have remained relatively undamaged and, to some extent, unplayed.

"There's been concern about the size and the frequency of the hurricanes," said Dave Genevro, director of golf at Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach, which features 72 holes by designers Greg Norman, Pete Dye, Tom Fazio and Davis Love III. "The bookings in September and our walk-ins are down. I can use my parents as an example. They live in Pennsylvania and were planning a trip down, but the forecast called for tornadoes and all kinds of rain."

At Hilton Head Island, play at Harbour Town Golf Links has remained steady, compared to this time last year. While numbers in July and August were up, September rounds are about the same or "a percentage point or two lower" than 2003.

"We've had a pretty good run here," said Harbour Town head professional John Farrell, who attributes September's slight decline to the uncertainty surrounding the string of hurricanes that pounded Florida. "The thing we've seen dip is corporate travel. The social golfers have remained steadfast and still come."

Farrell also said a few displaced golfers either made their way up from Florida or changed their plans, opting to take their chances on Hilton Head rather than continuing southward down I-95 to Florida, but that others, including organizers of corporate outings, are scouting other dates or other locations far away from the storms.

"It makes sense. If I'm a marketer for a corporate golf outing, I don't want to put a bunch of people in 30 rental cars on I-16 or someplace not knowing where a storm is going to hit," said Farrell.

Harbour TownThe biggest enemy of golf on the South Carolina coast may not be the weather, but The Weather Channel, which has predicted severe weather for the area that has yet to arrive.

"The Weather Channel has been reporting that we were going to get bad weather, but it's been fine," said Kent Chisnarr, head professional at Eagle Nest in North Myrtle Beach. "The courses have been in good shape, probably better than last year, and we expected to be doing a lot better."

Like Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head has avoided the torrential rains that caused severe flooding and landslides in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, but, according to Farrell, has received just enough rain to deliver some very good course conditions for fall as Hurricane Season for the East Coast of the U.S. comes to a merciful close.

On Sunday, Hurricane Jeanne slammed into Florida and on Tuesday made its way into the Carolinas and Georgia. While inland areas received large amounts of rain and heavy winds, the coast was unscathed. Barefoot Resort played 300 golfers on Monday. That number would have been much larger under normal circumstances, but Devro understands why it wasn't.

"People are looking seven to 10 days out and don't want to take a chance on driving six to eight hours or flying in and not knowing what's going to happen," he said.

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