The Business of Golf
Written by Joel Zuckerman
laude Pardue loves the game of golf, but loves the business of golf even more. He has parlayed his passion, business acumen and hands-on philosophy into ownership of a thriving triumvirate of Myrtle Beach-based courses, known as The Witch, The Wizard, and Man O'War. In a golf economy that remains stagnant due to economic malaise and player ennui, among other factors, Pardue's trio of courses continues to do steady business.
Before relocating and expanding his golf course business to Myrtle Beach, Pardue began in his home state of North Carolina, where in 1984 he purchased a Pinehurst-area course called Hyland Hills, operating it successfully for 15 years. In the meantime, he built and opened The Witch in 1989, and both Man O'War and The Wizard in 1996. All three of the Myrtle Beach properties were designed by well-known Pinehurst-based architect Dan Maples, and all three are among the best playing experiences in one of the most golf-intensive environments in the nation.
"Myrtle Beach has taken an economic hit like everywhere else in recent times," explains Pardue, whose background is in financial services. "The interesting thing about this latest downturn is that unlike previous economic downturns, this area would thrive when other areas were hurting. People would gravitate here when places like Hilton Head, Sea Island or the west coast of Florida were perceived as too expensive. But this time Myrtle Beach has gotten hit just like everywhere else." It's a testament to the quality of the courses and emphasis on customer service that rounds are off less than 10% overall, considering that many competing facilities have lost double or even triple that amount of business. In 2009 the three courses did between 41,000 and 45,000 rounds each.
The Witch is a 500-acre wonderland set in the midst of the 23,000-acre Waccamaw swamp. It's located some ten minutes drive from its sister courses, Wizard and Man O'War. Routed through the marshlands endemic to the area, winding wooden cartpaths transport golfers through spooky swamps and bogs, where Cypress knees (gnarly, visible roots of Cypress trees) are well in evidence between the previous green and succeeding tee. The opening nine of The Witch is in such relative isolation that there are virtually no parallel fairways, the only golf hole visible is the one being played. The Witch, which generally carries a 10% premium in price compared to its siblings, is full of epic shots over various hazards and vegetation, with tight, tree-lined fairways and some back nine elevation changes.
By contrast, the Wizard and Man O'War are located on the same property, though separated and each served by its own clubhouse. The Wizard offers a whimsical castle-themed clubhouse, grandiose from the exterior, but actually quite intimate inside. Man O'War has a fi sh-camp for a clubhouse theme, and parts of the low-slung building are actually hovering over the hundred-acre lake that was excavated to give each course its imprimatur. "I never considered building a single clubhouse to serve the two courses," explains Pardue. "If players come to a single clubhouse, they tend to feel as though they've played the whole facility, even if they've only actually experienced one of the two courses. But by building completely different clubhouses, visitors are more likely to make a return trip, and golf at the course they didn't visit the first time around."
The distinctions between the two courses are almost as notable as the architecture of the clubhouses. Man O'War, which is basically flat, has water either directly or indirectly affecting almost every hole. But the neighboring Wizard, with very little water in play other than the gauntlet of the final three holes, uses the million cubic yards of earth that were excavated to build the lake to afford the rarest of Myrtle Beach golf sensations---notable elevation changes. Despite differences in atmosphere, topography and turf, all three courses are maintained in meticulous fashion, and offer some of the most consistently excellent playing conditions on the Grand Strand. "I wanted to make each course distinct from the other two, so our customers would want to come back, and have a completely different playing experience at another facility," continues Pardue.
However it's more than the emphasis on pristine conditioning and varieties of ambience at the courses, it's also the customer service component that sets this trio of facilities apart from much of the competition. Pardue actually instructs his employees to let any call-in or walk-up golfer know where to pick up the latest discount coupons or internet specials, so no customer gets frustrated that they might end up paying an extra $10 or $15 per player in comparison to the group that teed off before or after. "I was told many years ago that you can shear a sheep forever, but you can only butcher him once," concludes the savvy, detail-oriented owner. "And that's the philosophy we use here. We want to keep our customers satisfi ed, and keep them coming back."
For more information about The Witch, Man-O'War and The Wizard, please visit www. mysticalgolf.com, or call 843.282.2977.