So what’s a well-traveled young woman like her doing in Myrtle Beach?
These days she’s spending time there practicing and acting as spokesperson for golf vacations on the Grand Strand. It’s a deal she credits to Bob Mauragas, president of Myrtle Beach’s National Golf Management and a board member with TaylorMade, Gulbis’ equipment company. “I was looking for someplace on the East Coast to practice between tournaments,” she says, “and Bob said, ‘Hey, want to come to Myrtle Beach?’ ”
“I’ve always lived near the water, and I love somewhere like that. I had a week off and spent it hanging out there, trying to get away, and it was nice and quiet … and all those golf courses, the variety of courses.” The decision was easy, she says.
But this isn’t Gulbis’ first acquaintance with the Grand Strand. A young golf protégé as a teenager before turning pro at 18, she traveled summers to golf destinations across the US, “and Myrtle Beach was one my dad liked,” she says. “I played those events after school was done, and there were big events in Aiken and Charleston.”
Gulbis used Pawleys Plantation as her home base — she praises the course and its practice facilities — and says of the area: “beautiful, relaxing, great food and the people are so friendly.” She also enjoys shopping in small, local places — and the fact she isn’t instantly recognized every time she goes out.
Now in her 13th season as a playing professional, Gulbis’ career peaked in 2005-07 when she won her lone LPGA tournament. Since then, illness (she dealt with a case of malaria in 2013) and injuries (most recently a torn hip suffered at the US Open) have her thinking long term, and her successful off-course enterprises, including this Myrtle Beach spokesperson gig, serve as both a financial and emotional cushion.
“It was something I wanted, a golf destination partnership, and Myrtle Beach was a natural fit,” she says. “I don’t know how I’ll be playing 10 years from now, but this works for me right now.
“I’ll spend quite a bit of time there, a week off at a time. It’s nice to be able to go relax, play a little golf; I love the beaches, and my caddie likes to fish.”
One week, she might be playing in France, Norway, Switzerland or Asia; the next week, at a photo shoot in New York City. But when it’s time to kick back, Natalie Gulbis says, she’s found a place to call home.
Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.
Bio: Played first LPGA tournament in 1997 at age 14; turned professional after one season (2001) at Arizona at age 18; finished third at LPGA Qualifying Tournament; in fourth season as a professional, won more than $1 million to finish sixth in LPGA standings; best stretch came from 2005-07 when she won more than $2.5 million and finished in the top 10 in four straight majors.
Highlights: Won the 2007 Evian Masters in a playoff over Jeong Jang; lost in her other playoff appearance at the 2006 Jamie Farr Owings-Corning Classic, falling to Mi-Hyun Kim; appeared in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2012 wearing only body paint.
Where I play: “I’ve played at TPC Myrtle Beach quite a few times. I’m sort of based out of Pawleys Plantation near Litchfield when in South Carolina, and I want to go back to Grande Dunes. With 100-plus golf courses plus the Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach is a great destination. I love going to the beach, and they have great practice facilities at TPC and Pawleys Plantation; I could get used to that. I like to work out in the morning, then practice when I’m there.”
Where I eat: “I like The Wicked Tuna, which is on the water and has a cool outside bar; that’s in Murrells Inlet. There’s also a place on US 17 called Bistro 217 near Pawleys Island. But the best thing about going to Myrtle Beach is I can cook there, and I like to cook. After all, I go out to eat for a living (when playing the LPGA Tour); I’m on the road nine months a year, so I want a place where I can kick back and relax — and cook.”
What I do for fun: “Paddleboard, I love to do that in the marsh areas. I love to go to the beach, run on the beach. And my next trip back there, I’ll be taking a boat out to go fishing, which I like to do, too. I also like to shop in all the little island shops, a lot of cute spots. The rest of the year, I live in Las Vegas, with all the designer outlets and big names, and they’re huge, monsters. In Myrtle Beach, I like the little places.”