Story by Ian Guerin
LONGS, S.C. | One foursome went off the tee. And then another. And then another. Within two days, a few hundred had returned to Aberdeen Country Club, the anticipation of five-plus months without golf here. The impact of Hurricane Florence and its ensuing flooding had been felt in various forms around South Carolina’s norther coastline. But as far as golf courses went, none felt the hit of Mother Nature as much as this one. After 165 days, boat rides through flooded terrain and a nearly complete rebuild of the clubhouse and some on-course touch-ups, this was the moment Corey Bowers was waiting for.
“I’m breathing a lot easier, now,” said Bowers, Aberdeen’s Head Golf Professional and General Manager. People were so thankful they could come back out and get on the course. It made it all worth it.” The efforts to repair the course started with helping to rebuild the community around it. Most of the houses suffered at least partial damage, and many of the first-floor condos are still be renovated. There were fundraisers for property owners and employees along the way. And now, the anchor of the country club is back, too. Tee sheets opened again on February 23, a welcome sight for those who had been longing to play the ultra-popular 27-hole Tom Jackson design again.
“This has always been one of the courses that I like to play a lot,” said Bob Garcia, an Aberdeen regular and the golf director at a nearby hotel. “I like the layout and everything about this course. “With this course, all the problems it’s gone through, it’s absolutely beautiful. The rain, the storms, it affects the perception of Myrtle Beach. Even our hotel occupancy had gone down because of this. We see it starting to come back a little bit at a time.” If any course knows how to bounce back, it is this one. The course suffered through a month-long closure in 2015 due to the then-historic flooding that fall. A little over a year later, it was a five-and-a-half-month-long closure to repair the clubhouse due to damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. Despite each anomaly happening so close together, it was the conglomerate of weather-related occurrences, combined with Aberdeen’s proximity to Buck Creek, that has added up to some hard times.
“People think we were flooding and dying down here,” Garcia said. “That’s not the case. If it rains, it rains. We have floods because we have rivers and water flows down from the north. And then it goes down. It’s that simple. People don’t think that. They think ‘They’re flooding, they’re dying.’ No, we’re not.” Aberdeen is every bit the proof of that, and the next version of its product shows how worthwhile this course was to keep in business.
The president of course ownership, Steve Mays, said closing Aberdeen for good was never really an option, despite the hard conversations that had to happen between the initial flooding and the water eventually receding. “It’s an important part of the community here,” he said. “And actually, Aberdeen was having one of its best years ever last year. It really kind of turned the corner, so we were really excited about that. With all the momentum it had built the last few years, we never took it into serious consideration to shut it down. ‘How can we improve the place?’ We took it as an opportunity.” Ownership invested back into the property, most noticeably to the clubhouse. The inside was reconfigured to create an additional 400 square feet of usable space. The pro shop was altered to relieve many of the barriers between staff and golfers. The restaurant was changed to have more of a sports bar feel. The unit as a whole went from three televisions to nine, including a 65-inch flat screen. The goal was to make the clubhouse more of a community hangout, on top of the golf groups taking advantage after a round. Already, a resumed interest in the property has shown. And Bowers can breathe easy again. “I’ve seen the way our ownership and our upper management has handled our golf courses,” he said. “Their commitment has never wavered. Our spring was so strong. Aberdeen is such a big part of our business on the north end.”