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Good things are happening at The Pearl golf course complex. New A1/A4 bent grass greens have been installed on the West Course; trees and shrubs and pampas grass are being trimmed and cut back. Fertilizing, spraying, weeding and mulching are ongoing. Tees have been flattened and re-sodded.
Cart-path repair is coming soon; bunkers will be renovated. A membership is being established. An amateur tour is in the works.
This is good news for the golf community here. As owners refurbish their courses, more golfers will come to this area, and when these visitors enjoy the golf and ambiance of the area, they will come back again and again.
Last May, DeCarol Williamson, owner of The Pearl complex, decided it was time to renovate and update his facility. Robert Gamble, who had been the superintendent of Myrtlewood Golf Course in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was hired as golf course superintendent. Brian Thomas, from Crow Creek, came in as the new general manager.
Last week, I stopped by to visit The Pearl and met with both gentlemen.
“We are deeply into the process of starting over,” Robert said as he showed me the 18th green on the West Course. “These new A1/A4 greens came in beautifully.”
He rolled a couple of balls across the velvet green—smooth, no bumps or lumps, and a nice roll.
“These greens will roll at about a 9 to 10 on the stimpmeter. That’s plenty fast for our golfers. In addition, the East Course has MiniVerde Bermudagrass greens. They’re nice, too, but have a different feel to them. Our golfers can enjoy two very different golf experiences here on two side-by-side golf courses.
“There are only so many players and we need to provide a quality golf experience for them. If it’s bad, they will not come back and, worse, they’ll talk about the course and others won’t come here either. So much of this is word of mouth. Golfers go home to Ohio or Minnesota or Pennsylvania and talk about where they played and what it was like. We want people talking about us in a positive way. We want them to come back again and again.”
Robert told me he is a golfer-friendly superintendent.
“I see the economics of golf and I want to make this a great experience for the golfers. For example, I keep ‘cart path only’ at a minimum and will allow them to drive on the fairways after we’ve overseeded. With signs, I direct them into the fairways, so they’re not crisscrossing— and actually, having carts go down the fairways works well because the tires push the seed into the soil and it grows better.”
Robert checks the long-range forecasts daily to determine how much water he will put out on the course.
“If it’s going to rain in three days, I’ll cut back on the irrigation. Then, when it does rain, the water soaks right in and the golfers don’t have to use cart paths.”
In addition to installing new greens on the West Course, Robert is busy re-sodding and renovating his teeing areas. Some have new sod on them. In other cases, if the turf was good, his crew lifted the sod, leveled and expanded the tee, then replaced the turf.
Robert believes in the natural way of golf course maintenance. Because they have so many pine trees at the Pearl, he has bush-hogged the wooded areas and can now harvest his own pine straw.
The trees had gotten totally out of control in the past years, and he has been working with a 35-foot cherry picker to cut back limbs.
“Limbing up the trees does wonders for the course,” he said. “It allows for better air circulation and more sun. In addition, I believe in keeping the natural shapes of the trees whenever possible. Our live oaks are beautiful and by trimming them, we now see the natural twisted shapes.
“There were lots of overhanging limbs, many of them near the forward tees. Golfers could only aim at the right or left side of the green on some of our par 3s. We have worked on all the tees, because whether a golfer is playing from the tips or the forward tees, we want them to have a good experience.”
In several areas, Robert discovered dozens of natural dogwoods. With trimming and fertilizing, and cutting back surrounding trees, he expects a beautiful spring bloom on several holes.
“It’s going to look like Augusta National around here,” he quipped. “We are working with what we have and what we have here is some beautiful terrain and old trees. We have only taken out about a dozen trees; the rest we are trimming.”
“When we trim trees and cut down the scrub brush in the wooded areas near the fairways, we reduce playing time. Golfers can find their ball and they have more options, like hitting it out into the fairway. When the brush was thick, there were a lot of lost balls and no chance of hitting it out if you did find it.”
Next on the agenda are cart-paths and bunker renovations.
“We’re working hard to polish the pearl,” he said.
While Robert works with the course, Brian Thomas is working hard as the general manager.
“I’ve been going to golf shows in Philadelphia, New York, D.C. and all over, promoting Myrtle Beach golf,” he said. “When I get the chance, I talk about The Pearl and about what a great golf experience the North Strand provides.
“We have a cluster of great courses right here and we all try to help each other out. If I get someone here in the morning and they want to do a replay in the afternoon, I’ll call Richard Kascsak over at Sandpiper Bay to see if he can fit them in. Conversely, he’ll send golfers over here.”
Brian is going after local golfers too, establishing memberships and promoting group play.
“We have about 30 members now, 80 percent of them are full members, the others are pay-as-you-go members,” he said. “We had a ‘Getting to Know You’ party with our members and the green crew and pro shop staff and kitchen staff. It was a great event, a meet-and-greet for all of us.”
A new amateur tour is starting this spring, according to Brian. The Amateur Tour on the Shore will have six to eight events in our area in 2013. The entry fee is $75 per one-day tournament. The first event is March 2 at The Pearl.
“We’re excited about this and already have 50 players signed up,” Brian said. “We’ll take anywhere from 50 to 100 players each time and we’ll play different courses in the area. If it goes well, we may expand next year and run two-day events.”
Both Brian Thomas and Robert Gamble are excited and optimistic about The Pearl.
“We’re fixing up the golf course and making it ‘the place to play’ in this area,” Brian said.
“We have a lot of undeveloped land here. Plans are in the works to make this into a full-sized resort with homes, condos, pools and every amenity. People will come to play and stay here without having to go anywhere else.”
“We are 100 percent better, but nowhere near where we’re going,” Robert said. “We want people to drive past all the other courses to play here.”
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for The Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.