Gone with the waves

During the 19th century more than 25 hurricanes hit the South Carolina coast, eight of them between the years 1893-1911, which collectively took out the rice culture. If there's one thing rice can't abide it's saltwater, and no crop appreciates being totally submerged in any kind of water for an extended period of time.

In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel did to the newly developing Myrtle Beach community what the hurricanes before her did to the rice plantations. A category four storm, she struck during a full moon when the sea was already at its highest lunar tide, and she followed on the heels of two prior hurricanes that left the ground saturated and the inland waterways bloated. In the span of a couple days Hazel racked up a tab of $281 million in damages. Cherry Grove, Windy Hill and Crescent Beach lost 1,000 houses to the combination of wind and water. As the winds battered the structures the waters undermined their foundations, and some of the sturdiest construction never stood a chance. There were more hurricanes in the 1940s and '50s than there would be in the next 30 years.

No single force - not even the new corporate entity, Burroughs & Chapin - would have such a dramatic impact on the direction of the beach resort development. After the waters receded and the scrap lumber was hauled away, high-rise hotels with glitzy attractions and high-end amenities slowly but surely replaced the quaint cottages and boarding houses that were toppled during the storms.

The Golf Coast

In 1954 the Golf Writers of America started what would become an annual tournament at Myrtle Beach, and when it was all over the journalists returned to their mostly northern cities to write glowing reports about the courses they'd played. Almost overnight the area was discovered as a place with a flat terrain covered with an intricate maze of land and water, where a golfer could play pretty much year-round, usually in shirtsleeves.

The Woodside Brothers built the Pine Lakes course in 1927, and Myrtle Beach's second-oldest course, Dunes Golf & Beach Club, came along in 1948. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones, creator of the Augusta National, and its 13th hole is called Waterloo, one of the most challenging to confront foreign invaders.

Based on just these slim beginnings, free publicity from the golf writers spread across the northeast region and Myrtle Beach International Airport saw an increasing number of golf bags gliding along on its conveyor belts. New golf courses started sprouting like cordgrass to meet the growing demand.

In 1967 the hotels and golf courses came together on an ingenious scheme, a Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday that offered package plans. They put these very attractive offers in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, ESPN and the Golf Channel. Very few advertising campaigns ever see the rate of return that this one had.

People now call golf the game that built Myrtle Beach. At more than 120 golf courses an estimated four million rounds are played each year, spawning a fortune in tourist revenue and ancillary goods and services. Martin's Golf and Tennis Superstore is 85,000 square feet of clubs, shoes, bags and balls. Coastal Carolina Community College offers courses in golf course marketing, administration, food, beverage and turf management.

Following on the heels of the eruption in new golf course construction, miniature golf courses proliferated as well, about 20 or so themed putt-putt courses with erupting volcanoes, lush jungles, robotic dinosaurs and pirate ships.

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