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|Decked in knee-high socks and short skirts, Azalea Sands' Kilted Caddy girls serve drinks and chat up golfers. (Courtesy of Azalea Sands G.C.)|
NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- With Lorde's "Royals" playing in the background on the approach to the 18th green, it was clear Azalea Sands Golf Club wasn't your granddaddy's golf course.
The once-middling course has continued its revitalization by ignoring golf traditionalists. There's the music, some pink golf carts with more on the way and, of course, the Kilted Caddy girls.
Decked in knee-high socks, low-cut shirts and short skirts, the club's newest customer-service reps serve drinks and chat up golfers. For those so inclined, the Kilted Caddy girls can also be booked to fulfill their namesake for rounds.
The idea itself is unlike anything previously used locally. Conservative players have openly criticized the approach; others love Azalea Sands for trying something new.
Either way, the decision to make Kilted Caddy girls a part of this course didn't come without significant debate.
"At first there were some hesitations, as there are with any step away from the norm," Azalea Sands General Manager Jonathan Kiger said. "As the vision unfolded through the months and discussions revolved around facility renovations, food and beverage development, charitable cause initiatives and involvement of the established professional caddies from the Myrtle Beach Caddy Girls, those hesitations subsided."
Kiger said location, facility and the existing customer base prompted East Coast Golf Management (the club's parent organization) to choose Azalea Sands over one of its other options. Nestled along one of the busiest stretches of South Carolina's Grand Strand, it's turned out in the short term to be a great way for it to distinguish itself.
The trick was to keep it from being viewed as a strip club on the links.
"I thought (the Kilted Caddy girls) were not at all offensive," Myrtle Beach resident Tom Cecala said after a recent round. "The one or two we dealt with had very good customer-service skills. They seemed happy doing their job, making the golfers' experience more fun."
While Azalea Sands' newest attraction is maybe its most visible -- and talked about -- it's actually a small part of what has been done overall.
Not too long ago, Cecala, a single-digit handicap, said he noticed a change with many of the Myrtle Beach area's courses. Getting beat up by losing golf balls and seeing the scores rise on the card wasn't worth the top-dollar courses.
It's not a coincidence that Azalea has continued an upward swing that started earlier this decade.
About two years after a renovation that shortened greens and cleaned up bunkers, the course is still playing at a fantastically fast rate.
Between the walk-ins and some promotions, the tee sheet has continued to remain full much of the year. Still, sub-four-hour rounds remain standard.
"We are able to offer the best golf packages at the best prices and still provide an exceptional product, service and experience for our customers," Kiger said. "This has led to a solid increase in new and repeat business in both the advanced booking and quick booking turnaround categories."
Azalea Sands is still playing at 6,287 yards from the whites and dipping to 5,958 from the senior tees. Top-end players can stretch to the backs, which fall just short of 7,000 yards.
Regardless of starting point, Azalea Sands can be described as one of the more open golf courses on the Grand Strand. The few water hazards are clearly marked, and with those sand trap improvements, there's little on the course to slow you down.
The Kilted Caddy Club is, in many ways, similar to the feel of the bar and grills East Coast Golf Management has constructed at its other courses in the Myrtle Beach area. It features both indoor and outdoor seating. For the latter, Azalea Sands has even added a miniature beach scene with padded wicker chairs and umbrellas just off the 18th green.
Azalea Sands is home to the Shot Maker's Academy, a limited instruction program taught by Jeff Pianelli and Craig Kenley. The school offers playing and short-game lessons as the course itself does not have a driving range.
Some of Azalea Sands Golf Club's specials could get you on for about a buck a hole. But even at the highest possible rate, players are going to find an exceptional round for the money.
There aren't any gripes about the low-key Azalea Sands. And now, with some added entertainment and customer service options, it can continue to bridge the gap between the game and those looking for something just a bit different.
July 2, 2014
Ian Guerin is a freelance writer and DJ living in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He's decent with the driver and putter; it's everything else in the bag that gives him trouble. Follow Ian on Twitter at @iguerin.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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