News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Dawn Bryant, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 30--Clashes over shifting Sands Resorts from an affordable golf package hotel to one that caters to upscale golfers led the long time manager to resign last week.
Frans Mustert, who helped grow Sands Resorts for 26 years, disagreed with owner Larry Young's strategy to focus on luring upscale golfers.
Young's plan breaks away from the discount vacation packages Sands helped define along the Grand Strand.
Premier Resorts, which manages Barefoot Golf Resort in North Myrtle Beach and ski resorts in the West, is expected to take over at Sands next week, Young said.
"It is sad for Myrtle Beach," said Mustert, who resigned as Sands president Friday but plans to stay in the area. "I think it is going to hurt us. Can he change Myrtle Beach? I don't think he can." For years, Young has worked to bring the upscale market to the Grand Strand, criticizing the cheap golf packages that are heavily promoted. He owns the Legends golf courses off U.S.
501 and bought into Sands in September 1999.
Young owns about 85 percent of Sands, and Mustert is a minority owner.
Premier Resorts will offer an expertise in upscale resort management that will help revive Sands, Young said.
"We've been doing the same thing for 25 or 27 years," he said. "I think [Premier] will bring fresh ideas to get new business to Myrtle Beach." While the upscale market has grown in the last few years, some on the Grand Strand say golfers seeking an affordable outing always will be the area's bread and butter.
Tapping that market with $40 golf packages helped Mustert build Sands into one of the largest accommodations providers on the Grand Strand, with 2,000 rooms at seven properties.
Mustert will stay on the Sands payroll for six months and continue serving on community and state groups.
Then he plans to find another tourism job, preferably in the Myrtle Beach area.
The cheap promotions send the wrong image of Myrtle Beach, Young said, citing a Sands ad for a $40 weekend sitting on his desk awaiting approval.
"If you've never been to Myrtle Beach, what would you think? My first impression is not going to be much," Young said. "[The new strategy] breaks from Frans' longtime approach of having to have the lowest prices." A pioneer of the golf package, Sands had about 25 percent of the market and sold as many as 400,000 golf rounds annually.
That has dwindled to about 280,000 rounds, a decline Mustert blames on a lack of focus since Young arrived.
As higher-end courses such as Grande Dunes and Barefoot Golf Resort opened in the last few years, the more affluent business has grown. Some accommodations have adjusted
By crafting a higher-end pack age for those golfers, who are willing to pay as much as $150 greens fees.
The Breakers, managed by Myrtle Beach National, has eight different vacation pack ages.
The middle-income options continue to dominate, said Vernon Brake, the Breakers' general manager.
"You can't forget what got us here," he said. "I can't see [upscale golf] ever being our primary business." Targeting upscale golfers will help the Grand Strand reverse the trend of having an under valued product, said Mickey McCamish, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, a market ing cooperative of golf courses and accommodations.
Courses have lowered prices as competition grew but the number of golfers didn't, he said.
"No doubt [targeting upscale golfers] is a good strategy," McCamish said. "It will broaden our market base." Change isn't unusual when new owners buy a property, said John Crotts, professor of hospitality and tourism management at the College of Charleston.
"They've got to take it to another level of profitability," he said. "It's OK to occasionally reposition yourself to go after a more lucrative market." More lavish golfers don't return as often as middle-income golfers, opting to try other destinations, Mustert said. The Grand Strand never will compete with the pricier Kiawah or Hilton Head islands, he said.
Golf along the Grand Strand has gotten more expensive through the years as costs for land, architects and construc tion increased, said Cecil Bran don, one of the founders of Golf Holiday.
But the area remains diverse in attracting a range of golfers, from those searching for bargain play to those wanting a mix of courses, he said.
"I think it is wise to be in all of it," Brandon said.
Myrtle Beach would need four-star hotels to support premier golf courses, an offer ing that has been slow in coming, Brandon said.
"Larry was probably one of the premier developers of premier golf courses," he said.
"He has always wanted to elev ate the play in Myrtle Beach." fuend
-----To see more of The Sun News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.MyrtleBeachOnline.com
(c) 2002, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.