Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand have more than 100 golf courses, but only one that is redesigned, renamed and kept in pristine shape by a squad of future golf professionals and superintendents.
Welcome to the Gen. James Hackler Golf Course at Coastal Carolina University- an old golf course with a new look and mission: to help train the golf industry leaders of tomorrow. And, in the process, provide a fun golf experience to visiting players, too.
Formerly Quail Creek, a 1968 design by Gene Hamm, the Gen. Hackler course reopened for business on Oct. 1 after a three-month redesign by Craig Schreiner, whose architectural resume includes the Members Club at Grande Dunes and who renovated the oldest course in Myrtle Beach, Pines Lakes Golf Club, aka "The Granddaddy." The course was renamed Nov. 12 for the late U.S. Air Force Gen. James F. Hackler Jr., a long-time supporter of Coastal Carolina's golf team. The school also stages an annual tournament in Hackler's honor.
Chuck Johns, the course's director of golf since 2009, says upgrades included totally renovated greens (cored out 12-15 inches and resurfaced with Mini Verde, a Bermuda hybrid) and the addition or reworking of 60 bunkers. The most prominent change: the green of the par-4 18th hole was moved 50 yards right, up against water that makes the approach a challenge.
"It's designed now to make it birdie hole, but also an easy double bogey," Johns says. "It's a good finishing hole. It's only 362 yards (back tees), but some of the kids say it's the most intimidating 120-yard (second) shot you'll find."
"The kids," as Johns refers to them, are students in CCU's Professional Golf Management (PGM) program and in Horry Georgetown Technical College's Turfgrass program. Currently, 17 students from the two schools work in golf shop operations or as the maintenance crew, putting in 10-12 hours a week under either Johns or the course's superintendent Allison Butler, formerly of Florence's Country Club of South Carolina and Columbia's Cobblestone Park.
"The students are very proud of the course, and they all have a strong sense of professionalism, because they all want to be (PGA of America) Class A professionals" or superintendents, Johns says. "They are dedicated, and they want to be here.
"In the golf profession, you sometimes have people who're just looking for free golf. These kids want to learn the ins and outs of the business, want their hands in every area of golf. And this is the ultimate hands-on job."
The Hackler Course is more than just the ultimate golf "laboratory," though. While about a third of its customers are students, roughly half of tee times are taken by tourists and the public. The course takes part in hotel package play, and has a group of regulars from Canada and the Northeast each year.
Course amenities include a fully stocked golf shop (selling CCU Chanticleers team gear), a grill and a practice facility with driving range, practice bunker and 3,000 square foot putting green. Members of the Coastal Carolina team that produced PGA Tour superstar Dustin Johnson use the practice areas and the course.
"It's in fantastic shape, very good conditioning," Johns says. "You look for consistency in any product, and while the older greens were nice, they're now much more consistent, rolling about 9 ½-10 ½" on a Stimpmeter. "It's a pretty good value."
Prices are competitive in the Myrtle Beach market, with walk-ins paying $38-$45. Locals pay $27, and special memberships for long-time visitors can be had for $28.
"We see a good bit of play, and when you're done (playing), you've had fun," Johns says. "It doesn't beat you up. It's got a modern feel, but still a classic feel, too."