So you've been dreaming for years about getting away with your favorite golf buddies for a trip to one of South Carolina's prime tourist destinations - trying out some of the world's finest golf, along with great restaurants, plush accommodations and all the rest.
But perhaps you're faced with typical first-timer questions: Where do I start? What do I need to find out? And what's this going to set us back?
Bill Golden understands. For years, the president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday and his staff have been assisting visiting players in finding their perfect package of golf, food, fun and room(s). If you're looking for expertise about the Grand Strand, you've come to the right place to start.
"We don't physically book packages," Golden says, "but if you go to our site, you can find listings of all the golf courses, but also the people who do provide golf packages. Then you begin to get into some of those websites and phone numbers, getting features you can take advantage of before you actually phone them."
"These folks are here virtually every day to answer those calls and steer you to all that information, broken down by categories - do you want oceanfront condos, or course-side accommodations, beach homes, etc.? You get a lot of options and can reach out and talk to people at those websites."
Of course, it helps to know what you don't know before arranging a golf package trip for a group, whether a foursome, 16, 20 or more. Before making that first call, Golden advises you to ponder these factors:
DATES - Are you looking to play in the fall or spring, during Myrtle's mild winter or the popular summertime? Availability and prices can vary widely depending on when you visit.
LOCATIONS - The Grand Strand stretches more than 50 miles from Georgetown to the North Carolina border, and each of several areas has its own lineup of courses. Where you want to stay, "whether in the middle of Myrtle Beach or Pawleys Island," can determine where you play, and vice versa, Golden says.
ACCOMMODATIONS - Depending on your group's numbers, "you've got hotel rooms, hotel rooms that are more like condos with multiple rooms, condos on the beach, beach houses - which, if you have, say, 20 guys, might be the way to do it - or if you want to play a particular course, maybe it has condos or houses at or near the course," Golden says. "You have a lot of options."
COURSES - Myrtle Beach has more than 90 courses, but some are more popular than others - Caledonia, True Blue, Tidewater, The Dunes Club, Pawleys Plantation to name a few - and some are more "hacker-friendly, while others offer more of a challenge. "It depends on what courses you want to play, or maybe have never played," Golden says. "Ultimately, you need to choose the level of course for your group."
NON-GOLF ATTRACTIONS - Whether yours is a guys' (or gals') group or several families, you won't spend 24 hours a day playing golf. Researching restaurants and bars - and perhaps family activities - will avoid long drives to these locations.
PRICE - Golf package costs can vary widely depending on all the above (courses, accommodations, time of year). Quiz members of the travel group about their comfort level monetarily - and let the local experts offer suggestions.
"Once you've done your research, narrowed things down some, it's time to reach out to some of the golf directors in town, based on where you stay, how far you want to drive," Golden says. "As you go down that road, you begin to be able to build a price based on the courses and accommodations you've selected. It's kind of a domino effect, just a matter of checking off boxes as you get to that package that you feel works for your group."
"(A package) is a unique transaction because you have the responsibility of other people, and they're counting on you. The firsthand knowledge of our people enables them to guide you. Maybe a course you want to play is aerating that week, so it's not a good idea to play there then. Talking to someone on the ground here is the best way to go."
"The people working at the hotel level, the provider level, that's what their full-time job is and they're dealing with consumers all day long. For someone who hasn't been here before, they're an excellent resource to help them walk through what your vacation needs to look like."
For Myrtle Beach, Golf Holiday (843.477.8833) serves as a clearing house for package providers. For other SC locations, here are some places to start your research:
HILTON HEAD ISLAND - The Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau (800.523.3373 or 843.785.3673) can offer information on 33-plus courses, and its website has a link, "Request a Golf Trip Quote" for entering dates, number of players, budget per person, number of rounds and lodging needs, then offers a variety of packages and prices.
For stay-and-play packages, also check out their website, or call 800.2.FIND.18 (234.6318).
CHARLESTON - The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau offers links to Where to Stay, Things to See and Do, where to eat and drink and a listing of 20-plus courses. Travelers also can request a visitors guide. The site also offers golf packages combined with brewery, distillery and winery tours or cruises around Charleston Harbor.
The Charleston Golf Guide (800.774.4444) will arrange tee times, hotels and course package links. One link invites you to "Build a Golf and Lodging Package," with a number of pre-set package deals at multiple courses.
Golf Zoo (800.929.7500) offers links to "Hot Deals," lodging, weather forecasts, attractions, etc., as well as links and phone numbers to three "vacation experts"/consultants who can handle trip quote requests.
SANTEE COOPER - While not as well-known nationally as the SC coast, this interior "lake coast" destination has two outlets offering packages of golf, accommodations and more: Golf Santee (803.854.2149 or 800.345.7888) and Santee Cooper Golf (800.344.6534). For golfers on a budget, or looking to play more rounds for the money, Santee is an attractive option that annually lures longtime players back again.