Home Course Advantage

dataw.jpgIt all starts with the land,” said Belfair General Manager David Porter. “Our developers acquired a site with great natural beauty, then brought in Tom Fazio, who built two amazing golf courses here.”

Fazio designed both the East and West Courses at Belfair in Bluffton, as well as Cotton Dike for Beaufort’s Dataw Island Club, which is also home to Arthur Hills’ Morgan River layout.

“When you combine two spectacular settings in a four-season climate with brilliant golf architecture,” said Dataw’s Director of Golf Dave Britton, “your members get courses where the look and even the playing strategies are constantly changing. That keeps the golf fresh.”

At Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island, the members have only one home course to play, but they’re OK with that since it’s almost unanimously ranked as the best private course in South Carolina.

“Pete Dye blessed us with one of his finest designs,” Long Cove Club Head Golf Professional Bob Patton said, “and our members appreciate what a truly great course they have.”

But if great locations and designs are a given in the equation, good planning and timely decision-making seem to be important variables that get these golf clubs to a happy bottom line. “

After our members took over in 2001,” said Belfair GM Porter, “they put in a $15,000 initiation fee—which I think was unique in the area at the time—to fund a capital improvements plan for the courses and golf facilities. That made it possible for us last year to redo all the greens and bunkers on the East Course and end the year with $6 million in the bank and no debt. This year we’ll upgrade all the bunkers on our West Course and, if the members approve, expand the clubhouse.”

Dataw also completely recontoured and regrassed the Cotton Dike greens last year, while similar renovations now underway on Morgan River are part of an overall $5.4 million investment in the home courses. “It’s a testament to the club’s commitment to maintaining our finest amenities and to our confidence in the future,” said Dataw General Manager Ted Bartlett.

Like Belfair, Long Cove is planning major clubhouse improvements this spring and architect Dye has made numerous tweaks to his layout over the years, as well as bigger changes like adding new championship tees on five holes and relocating bunkers. “He’s improved his own design to accommodate today’s player who hits 300-yard drives,” Patton said, “and at the same time made the course even more playable for our higherhandicap members and their guests.”

And play they do: Long Cove hosted about 34,000 rounds in 2011, a figure that has remained steady for years. Belfair booked just over 46,000 rounds, even with the East Course on the sidelines, and Dataw recorded similar totals with Cotton Dike out of play for six months. Both of the 36-hole clubs may see up to 60,000 annual rounds when their respective renovation projects are completed.

So having the resources available and the willingness to use them seems to be a common thread that connects these busy Lowcountry golf clubs, but is there another important element in their formulas for success?

“It’s all about the people—members and staff,” said Porter, noting that both groups at Belfair are always discussing creative program ideas and that new Director of Golf James Swift brings a fresh perspective to that brainstorming. The Belfair GM also cited the club’s top-rated practice facilities and three full-time instructors on staff as major contributors to keeping the members and their games sharp.

Long Cove also has a new key staff member, highly regarded golf instructor Tim Cooke, while head pro Bob Patton and driving-force members like former PGA TOUR professional Jim Ferree and his wife Karen, an accomplished amateur player in her own right, have been with the club since its inception. “What our members brought with them was a genuine passion for golf—the historic traditions and values that the game represents,” Long Cove Club General Manager David Loan said. “And they’ve got an experienced and energetic staff here that strives to meet their high expectations.”

The ubiquitous Feree is also a founding member of the Belfair Golf Club and the Jim Ferree Learning Center there is named in his honor.

Whether it’s hitting balls on the range to improve their individual scores, playing in a team tournament for the club, creating an event to promote the game or giving something back to the community, the members at Dataw, Long Cove and Belfair seem to consistently find new ways to express their love of golf.

All three clubs feature special member events, from Belfair’s monthly “Men’s Night Out” (a nine-hole twilight tournament and a big steak dinner with all the trimmings) to Long Cove’s recent “Mystery on the Orient Express” themed event (36 holes of ladies member-guest play and some fun-filled sleuthing around the clubhouse). All participate in competitive events with other local clubs, like the home-andaway rivalry that Dataw members have developed with their peers at Fripp Island, Callawassie and Moss Creek. And each club invites guest speakers, from sports psychologists and nutritional experts to authors and touring pros, who invigorate members with new ideas or provide a shared evening’s entertainment.

Also enhancing club camaraderie are the annual trips to high-profile golf destinations: Belfair members went to Bandon Dunes in Oregon last year and Long Cove members made a tour of Scotland to play historic courses like St. Andrews, Royal Aberdeen and Carnoustie.

Back on the home courses, Dataw, Belfair and Long Cove host visiting players for a variety of golf tournaments that keep member-volunteers and double-duty staffs on their toes, from the Heritage Players-Am that Belfair hosted for the past 12 years to the new Darius Rucker Intercollegiate (Ladies Invitational) that debuts this March at Long Cove (see “Local Golf Events” on p. 3).

And each of the clubs’ representatives cited their very active women’s programs, with independent golf associations run by elected boards, as vital factors in enhancing overall club enthusiasm and success. While the men certainly do their part in community-outreach efforts, women members often seem to be in the forefront. The Long Cove Club Community Endowment Fund has raised more than $500,000 since 2003 to benefit Lowcountry nonprofit programs from improving health care and child nutrition to supporting military service members and their families.

Likewise, Porter noted a recent weeklong fundraiser at Belfair, including a golf tournament, silent auction and other activities that collected more than $46,000 for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. He could have been speaking for Dataw and Long Cove as well when he said, “We’re very proud of our women’s golf association.”

Those ladies also are key participants in each club’s “Ambassador” program in which members host prospective residents that come from the same geographical area, have similar professional backgrounds or share specific interests. Visitors get unfiltered answers to their questions and have a jump-start on establishing new social networks when they decide to join the club.

“And what those new members bring to a golf club is often just as important as what they find here,” said Dataw’s golf director Britton, who offered a ready example: “A new member recently signed up for one of our match-play tournaments and asked if I could go over the match-play rules with her. So I decided to have a little seminar in case there were any others who thought a refresher might be helpful and I ended up with a room full of new and old members. She did everyone a favor and our teams played with confidence that they knew the rules inside-out and could concentrate on making shots.

“It was a little thing by itself,” Britton concluded, “but I think it represents something larger: Even if you have great facilities and resources, a golf club excels because of the positive interaction among members and with the staff. Sometimes it’s as simple as just having fun on the course, but I think the sum total of those kinds of interactions can really improve someone’s overall quality of life and that’s what a good golf club does.”

Special thanks to Dataw Island Club Director of Marketing David Warren, Long Cove Club Director of Communications Parker Harrington and Belfair General Manager David Porter for their assistance with this story.

What gives your golf club its “home course advantage”? Let us know with an email to Feedback@ GolfersGuide.com.


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