Story by Ian Guerin
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | Ask the scores of courses who’ve gone out of business in the past several years along South Carolina’s Grand Strand golfing mecca how they feel about Myrtle Beach’s International World Tour Golf Links.
Now ask the locals or tourists continuing to make its tee sheets look stout.
Nearly all of them will tell you the same thing: This concept, replicating the most famous holes from around the globe, is one that is clearly here to stay.
“It’s a great idea. It’s something different. In the land of golf courses in Myrtle Beach, it’s tough to find a unique concept,” nearby resident Stephen Grooms said after a recent round. “They’ve accomplished that here.”
In the early 1990s, Charlotte developer and real estate executive Melvin Graham went to work researching his favorite holes from the U.S. to British Isles and then back in North America. It took him eight years to execute, and in 1999, World Tour opened to rave reviews despite timing that may have pointed to the opposite.
Around that time, Myrtle Beach-area golf was exploding. Fifteen courses opened along the Strand in 1999-2000, many of the highest-dollar options we still see today. Still, World Tour never faded from players’ thoughts after a single visit.
Now, 19 years later, World Tour approximates half of its play is repeat customers. Take for instance, a Canadian group in town during February 2018 that elected to spend an entire month at the course, hopping back and forth across the proverbial Atlantic Ocean daily.
“It’s kind of a niche market. You have people who want that experience of playing the famous holes around the world, or at least the replicas of them,” head golf professional Brad Crumling said. “Once they get here and they see the course conditions and the customer service and how good the layout really is, that’s what brings them back to play multiple times.”
And what they are faced with throughout are the likenesses of the biggest sites in golf history. There’s the opener from St. Andrews and its Swilcan Burn, the famed par-5 No. 16 from Pinehurst and the 17th from TPC Sawgrass. That’s all within the first three holes at World Tour.
Augusta National makes multiple appearances. Winged Foot and Cypress Point lead into Royal Troon and Oakmont.
Granted, none of that would work if playability wasn’t maximized.
“I think it’s obvious that they put a lot of effort into keeping this course in great shape,” Grooms said. “The concept they’ve come up with makes sense with [the available grounds]. From the staff that greets you to the practice area to the course, it is no doubt a course where they want your business and they appreciate the [play].”
The impression is one that has been shared by thousands of players, year in and year out, for just shy of two decades. It proved, niche or not, that World Tour had found its clientele in an age where that’s easier said than done.
Discussions of scrapping the idea for a more traditional design are laughed immediately, when they are even brought up at all. Frankly, considering the alternative, it’s easy to see why.
“I loved the idea of the replica golf course when it came into the market in the late ‘90s,” Crumling said. “There’s a lot to like here; great driving range, great clubhouse, the course is always immaculate. There’s not much to dislike. It’s a niche in a market where you need a niche. It’s nice to have what we have here.”