After the Dunes Golf & Beach Club closed for business on Monday, course superintendent Steve Hamilton had his staff move the golf carts from under the clubhouse and park heavy machinery on the 14th fairway, where he figured it would be safe from flooding and falling trees.
Then Hamilton shut down the Myrtle Beach course, which looks out over the Atlantic Ocean, and told his workers that he’d call them back when Hurricane Florence dies down. At that point, they’ll rush to get the course playable in time to take advantage of a time of year when area courses are usually bustling.
“Unfortunately, when storms hit is during our fall season,” he said. “There’s not many drawbacks to living at the beach, but that’s one of them.”
Florence, now a Category 2 storm, is lumbering toward the North Carolina coast northeast of Myrtle Beach, bringing 105 miles-per-hour winds. While most golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area were open within two weeks of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Florence could be different because it’s forecast to deliver a 13-foot (4-meter) ocean surge and flooding rains.
Myrtle Beach’s courses accounted for half of the $2.7 billion in economic output that golf generated for the South Carolina economy in 2015, according to a report from the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. If storm cleanup keeps courses closed, it will likely have a heavy impact on hotels, restaurants and the rest of the area’s tourist economy. That would be especially painful because cooler temperatures make October prime golfing season.
Hurricanes carry an array of hazards for coastal courses, said Tim Kreger, executive director of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendent Association trade group. Storm surges can leave courses awash in saltwater, killing grass or covering courses with silt. Fallen trees and freshwater flooding may require extensive cleanup, even if they don’t damage clubhouses, equipment sheds or other infrastructure.
“It’s a wait-and-see moment” for the area’s courses, said Biff Lathrop, executive director of the South Carolina Golf Association. “If it comes through and closes them down for a couple weeks, that’s going to be huge.”