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Sandpiper Bay: Winning secrets to a successful club

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

If you visit Sandpiper Bay, you will find the course filled, the practice range active with golfers taking lessons or hitting balls. The course is in excellent shape, the membership is growing.
Other clubs are struggling, but Sandpiper Bay just keeps truckin’ along, winning awards, like being named 2010 Golf Course of the Year by the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association, rated Four Stars by Golf Digest Magazine.  
Success comes when both management and membership care about the club, and that is what has happened at Sandpiper Bay.
Four years ago, in the middle of the worst economy, the management at Sandpiper did the unthinkable: it spent a pile of money converting the bent grass greens to MiniVerde Bermuda, a hybrid that is heat and humidity tolerant. It took two years to convert all 27 holes, while adding ornamental trees, redoing bridges and performing other enhancements and repairs. Some people shook their heads and wondered whether it was a smart move.   
It was. Today the course is eminently playable and appreciated by both members and visitors.  
But it’s not enough to just have a nice golf course. Sandpiper Bay also gives back to the community.
Richard Kascsak, the director of golf, schedules a free Junior Golf Day each year wherein a famous golf pro (last year it was Curtis Strange) comes in and gives a clinic. After that, the area PGA pros give hands-on instruction to the kids. The event last year had clinics for both adults and juniors.   
This year, Richard has scheduled Tom Garber, famous long-drive champion, to do a demo and clinic on July 28.  
“Tom is a great guy, very funny, very talented, and he’s from Conway, so we’re sure to draw a big crowd,” Richard said. “We’re calling it Family Golf Day this year. At 10, Tom Garber will conduct a clinic for juniors. At 1, children, teens and adults will play the course for free (if they walk). Carts will cost $10 per person riding. Participants can elect to play three holes, five holes or nine holes.”
Richard is asking that folks call and let the staff know they are coming either to the clinic and/or the afternoon family golf. Each adult must have a child with him to play for free. Call (910) 579-9120.
“July is PGA Family Golf Month,” Richard explained. “It’s all part of Golf 2.0, an initiative to grow the game. To that end, we are building another set of forward tees, which will be helpful to new golfers of all ages. Forward family tees are a great way for kids and parents and seniors to learn the game or continue to play after they have lost yardage in their swing.”
Growing the game isn’t just Richard’s bailiwick. Many Sandpiper members are helping. I met with Joe Martere and Charlene Godfrey, two members active in promoting golf and social activities at Sandpiper Bay.  
“I run couples golf every Sunday, year round,” Joe explained. “Golfers sign up, they bring guests. You don’t have to be a member to play in our nine-hole Sunday couples golf. Couples golf brings in new people who get to know us and when they have a good time, they become members of Sandpiper Bay.
“We play different formats, we mix people up. No matter what the format, the foursome uses the longest drive on each hole, then each player uses their own ball after that. Each team has a good chance to score.
“We play Powerball. We give each team a range ball and they must come in with that ball or they are eliminated. In scoring, the high team score is eliminated and so is the low team score. It’s crazy, but it works and we have a good time. Afterwards, we come in for drinks, then meet at a local restaurant for dinner. At certain times of the year, we might have four or five couples. At other times, we have as many as 14.”   
Charlene Godfrey is involved with many social activities at Sandpiper Bay. On July 14, she is running a Murder Mystery Day at the course.
“There is no golf in this event,” she said. “One of the nines is closed to outside play. Clues are hidden all over those nine holes and the teams go out in carts for one hour and try to find them. It may be an axe in a bunker, or scarf dangling from a tree. Afterwards, they come back to the clubhouse to solve the crime. We have a whole committee that works on this and we send out several letters with clues in them prior to the event. Some of the clues are red herrings, so the teams really have to think things out and solve the crime. It’s a whole lot of fun.”
The prize for the winning team is donated by the club and may be tickets to Carolina Opry or something similar.    
“We also play the Newly Wed Game and couples have to answer questions truthfully. They each do it individually, just like on TV, and we have a million laughs each time we play,” Charlene said.
“Another fun event is Game Night. For example, in one of the games, we put cotton balls in a bucket. Contestants must put Vaseline on their noses and pick up the cotton balls without using their hands and transfer them to another bucket. It’s hilarious and everyone takes pictures, which are then posted around the clubhouse. I find new ideas for Game Night on the Minute to Win It website.”
“The dinner afterwards is simple. Spaghetti Night is popular, so is Wing Night and Taco Night. We send out notices to everyone. I keep a big email list that includes members and non-members. More and more people come. They have a good time and see that Sandpiper is not just golf, it’s a fun place to be.”
Each month the club runs a birthday party with free cake and ice cream for those who have a birthday that month.
In January, Richard runs the social event “Icicle.”
“Everyone comes in Hawaiian clothes and we play 18-holes of mini-golf around the clubhouse, up and down the stairwells, through the dining room, the pro shop the hallways,” Richard explained. “We have live entertainment and dinner and a pairings party the night before. We sell out to 96 players each year. In fact, when the announcement comes out, it fills up within hours.”
The secret of a club’s success, according to Richard, Joe and Charlene, is to have fun.
To that end, Golf Gab is asking for more ideas on how you have fun at your club. Tournaments, fun nights, game nights, chili cook-offs? Send me an email (elanbon@atmc.net) and let me know what you are doing at your course. If I get enough ideas, I’ll run a quarterly column on how others are having fun and growing the game.    
Golf Gab groaner
Punny jokes: I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.  
They told me I had Type-A blood, but it was a Type-O.
I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.    

Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for The Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.