Driving improvements

Editor's note: Michael Latta is executive director of YTMBA, a Myrtle Beach, S.C., research firm. He is also the associate dean, a professor of strategic marketing and the Colonel Lindsey H. Vereen Endowed Business Professor in the Wall College of Business Administration of Coastal Carolina University, Conway, S.C. Mark Mitchell is chairman and professor, department of marketing and resort tourism, Coastal Carolina University. Charles M. Thrash is director professional golf management at Coastal Carolina University. Albert J. Taylor is emeritus faculty, department of marketing and resort tourism at Coastal Carolina University.

Since the opening of America’s first golf course in Charleston in 1786, golf has played a significant role in the economy of South Carolina. A study by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism shows the economic activity from visiting golfers on and off golf courses in South Carolina created a $2.72 billion economic impact in 2007, with the Myrtle Beach area creating more than half of that impact.

In the tourism industry, golf creates more income than any single entertainment or other activity in South Carolina. In addition, it has been estimated that golf generates nearly 39 percent of the state’s tax revenues according to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Therefore, the effects of the estimated 785,000 trips to South Carolina including a round of golf are an important issue for the state, Horry County and Myrtle Beach itself.

The unique importance of golf and tourism to the area created an opportunity to study how a local affinity marketing program, Myrtle Beach Golf PassPort, impacts the large number of visitors to the area as well as those golfers who live in Myrtle Beach.

The program’s Web site (www.myrtlebeachgolfpassport.com) is sponsored by the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association (MBAGCOA) and offers two types of memberships: 1) local resident memberships, which are valid January through December; and 2) winter memberships, which are available to anyone and are valid only December of the current year through February of the next year.

The MBAGCOA first offered the Myrtle Beach Golf Passport in 1993, enabling eligible residents, as well as those who own second homes in Myrtle Beach and surrounding areas stretching from Charleston, S.C., to Wilmington, N.C., the opportunity to enjoy reduced golf fees all year round. This program has been favorably received by over 10,000 members and has enjoyed a 75 percent annual renewal.

Build on that success

Looking to build on that success, a marketing research study was undertaken to determine if PassPort should be expanded from simply reducing greens fees to include other areas of golf vacation activities such as attractions, restaurant types and retail shopping locations.

The MBAGCOA agreed to cooperate in the marketing research effort and helped to generate lists of attractions, restaurants and retail shopping locations that might become part of the PassPort affinity marketing program, as detailed below.


The 10 attractions cover events for adults and children and represent the main attractions in the Myrtle Beach area: Alabama Theatre, Carolina Opry, casino boat gambling, Comedy Cabana, Dixie Stampede, House of Blues, Legends in Concert, Medieval Times, Myrtle Waves and Ripley’s Aquarium.

Restaurant types

The seven restaurant types are varied in cost, social status and themes. Some are in natural groups because of ownership and they represent a cross-section of restaurants available in the Myrtle Beach area:

Theme restaurants (Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, etc.)

Italian restaurants (Olive Garden, Carrabba’s, etc.)

Steakhouse restaurants (Outback, Ruth’s Chris, Logan’s, etc.)

Seafood restaurants (Joe’s Crab Shack, Blue Crab, Divine Fish House, etc.)

Sandwich shops (Jersey Mike’s, Firehouse Subs, Quizno’s, etc.)

Sports bars (Handley’s, Overtime, Spencer’z, Beef ‘O’Brady’s, etc.)

Mexican restaurants (El Patio, El Cerro Grande, Burro Loco, etc.)

Retail shopping locations

The 10 retail shopping locations represent both golf specialty retail outlets and general merchandise retail locations: Barefoot Landing, Broadway at the Beach, Coastal Grand Mall, Colonial Mall, Golf Dimensions Superstore, Inlet Square Mall, MacFrugal’s Golf (Murrells Inlet), Martin’s PGA Tour Superstore, Old Golf Shop (North Myrtle Beach), Tanger Outlets.

The survey questionnaire was distributed by the Myrtle Beach Golf Owners’ Association using its e-mail facility and the PassPort membership list. In addition to a variety of demographic items, the survey participants were asked if they were an occasional visitor, seasonal visitor, part-time resident or full-time resident in the Myrtle Beach area. The participants were then grouped into visitor and resident segments. For each of the attractions, restaurant types and retail shopping locations, the participants indicated whether or not they never, rarely, sometimes or always visited each of the attractions, restaurant types and retail shopping locations.

The survey yielded responses from 529 residents, and 199 visitors for a total sample size of 728. These data were then analyzed for differences between the visitor and resident segments.

Low level of willingness

Overall, the attractions showed fewer participants willing to always visit them, ranging from 1.2 percent for Myrtle Waves to 8.5 percent for Carolina Opry. This low level of willingness to visit is in contrast to the restaurants, which showed a low of 2.3 percent for theme restaurants and a high of 33.7 percent for steakhouses as well as a low of 1 percent for Old Golf Shop and a high of 57.2 percent for Martin’s PGA Superstore in the retail shopping locations category.

Significant differences were found between residents and visitors in their willingness to always visit locations on the Grand Strand and Myrtle Beach. These results for attractions are summarized below.


Significant chi squares were found for the six attractions listed below along with their p values: Alabama Theater (p < .0001), Carolina Opry (p < .0001), Dixie Stampede (p < .002), Legends in Concert (p < .0001), Medieval Times (p < .0001) and Ripley’s Aquarium (p < .003).

In all cases, residents were significantly more willing to visit these attractions compared to visitors. However, the percentages of PassPort members who always or sometimes visit any of the attractions was low, averaging only 19.8 percent and ranging from a low of 10.7 percent to 39.0 percent. The unwillingness of the majority of visitor PassPort members to visit attractions sometimes or always makes attractions a low priority for inclusion in a discount program for PassPort members who are visitors. The results for residents weren’t much better, showing an average of 26.1 percent and ranging from a low of 9.9 percent to 43.9 percent of residents who are sometimes or always visiting attractions.

Restaurant types

Significant chi squares were found for two restaurant types (listed along with their p values): Italian restaurants (p < .002) and seafood restaurants (p < .008).

A majority of visitors who are PassPort members either sometimes or always visit restaurants in high percentages for the following: steakhouses (79.2), seafood (77.8 percent), Italian (68.0 percent) and sports bars (51.1 percent).

Though residents and visitors showed no significant difference for steakhouses, the combined percentage for all PassPort members who say they either sometimes or always visit steakhouse restaurants was 83.6 percent, the highest for restaurants as a group. In addition, Italian restaurants had an all-PassPort member percentage of 76.3 percent and seafood restaurants had a combined percentage of 77.8 percent, followed by sports bars at 53.0 percent who either sometimes or always visit these restaurants. These three categories of restaurants are good candidates for inclusion in a discount program for all PassPort members.

Retail shopping locations

Significant chi squares were found for the five retail shopping locations listed here along with their p values: Coastal Grand Mall (p < .0001), Colonial Mall (p < .04), Golf Dimensions Superstore (p < .044), Inlet Square Mall (p < .0001) and MacFrugal’s Golf (Murrells Inlet) (p < .034).

A majority of visitors who are PassPort members either sometimes or always visit retail shopping locations in high percentages for the following: Martin’s PGA Superstore (89.7 percent), Golf Dimensions Superstore (78.8 percent), Broadway at the Beach (77.2 percent), Tanger Outlets (70.5 percent), Barefoot Landing (64.2 percent) and Coastal Grand Mall (55.7 percent).

The most frequently visited retail shopping locations are either golf specialty stores or diversified retail centers.

Recommendations were made

The study results were presented by the research team to the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association at a golf owners’ conference. The following recommendations were made.

  • The opportunities for offering discounts in the PassPort program are, in descending order of potential value: shopping, restaurants and attractions.
  • Since a majority of PassPort owners who were either residents or visitors did not indicate they either sometimes or always go to any of the attractions, this category was not recommended by the research team for discount offers. The lack of a broad appeal indicates no interest.
  • Discounts for steakhouses and seafood restaurants were highly recommended by the research team for both visitor and resident PassPort members. This recommendation was based on high percentages of both segments saying they would either sometimes or always visit a steakhouse or seafood restaurant. These discounts were offered through PassPort at the following restaurants: Aspen Grille (25 percent), Blue Crab (25 percent), Bovine’s Steak House (25 percent), Collectors Cafe (25 percent), Divine Fish House (25 percent), Divine Prime (25 percent), Ruth’s Chris (25 percent), T-Bones Steak House (25 percent), Parson’s Table (25 percent) and Thoroughbreds Restaurant (25 percent).
  • Discounts at retail shopping outlets were also recommended by the research team, but were confined to golf shops. Merchandise discounts were made available through PassPort for members and guests at most pro shops (10 percent), Golf Dimensions (10 percent) and Callaway Performance Center (10 percent). The size of the discounts and the specific offers for restaurants and retail golf shops were a function of the other discounts available through Web offers like CouponCrab.com and GolfHoliday.com as well as the willingness of the restaurants and retail outlets to add PassPort to their accepted discounts. The recommended goal was to have discounts as unique to PassPort as possible and to have them as large as possible. Since Pro Shops, Golf Dimensions and the Callaway Performance Center operate on a small margin, their discounts were less than restaurants.

Utilization has been high

All of these special discounts have been made available and marketed on the enhanced owners’ Web site, myrtlebeachgolfpassport.com. Utilization has been high on the 81 courses represented on the Web site and the program may be expanded to include more restaurants and golf retail outlets if partners can be found.

Any affinity marketing program that increases the likelihood of golf vacations in Myrtle Beach and matches the desires of golfers to eat at restaurants and shop in golf shops is a benefit to everyone. The economic benefit to the state and local community by visitors holding PassPort cards exceeds the cost of the affinity marketing program. The South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association estimates $1 billion was spent off-course by visitors who played golf on one or more of the 79 golf courses in Myrtle Beach. That off-course spending is evidence of the significant impact of improvements in the PassPort affinity marketing program and the marketing research that supports development of new discounts benefiting both visiting and resident golfers.