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How the Golf Industry Drives South Carolina's Economy

File photo, close-up of golf ball and golf club head.
File photo: HeungSoon/Pixabay

The golf industry is big business for the state of South Carolina, generating $2.59 billion in sales for the state in 2018.

The sport generated 31,434 jobs, $857 million in wages and income, and $309 million in federal, state, and local taxes, according to an economic impact study created by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.

One problem that saddled the golf business, though, was winterkill, a rare phenomenon that often kills turf grass. With effects typically seen between months of April and August, winterkill plagued many Palmetto State courses last year, particularly in the state's top golf destination: The Myrtle Beach area. An estimated 30% of the area's 90 golf courses were impacted, and for the courses that it did, it often meant temporary summer closures.

The issue wasn't unique to Myrtle Beach, confirmed Biff Lathrop, who is director of the South Carolina Golf Commission. "The coast all the way from Hilton Head to Myrtle Beach took the brunt of it," he said.

Fortunately for golfers, winterkill isn't expected to be a long-term issue in South Carolina, Lathrop reassured. "And no, it's not a normal occurrence. In January of '18, we had a few days where we didn't get over ten degrees," he said.

This is good news for the continued growth of golf in the state, directly impacting the growth of a very important state industry: tourism. Approximately 5% of all domestic tourists visiting the state will play golf during their stay, with 37% of those tourists coming from three states: Ohio (17%), North Carolina (11%), and Pennsylvania (9%).

Kiawah Island's signature golf course, home to the 2021 PGA Championship
Credit Bill Showalter via Wikimedia Commons
Kiawah Island's signature golf course, home to the 2021 PGA Championship

South Carolina's national audience for the sport professionally is strong as well: the RBC Heritage, an annual PGA Tour event in Hilton Head, showcases the state's beautiful coast to millions of fans watching at home. Additionally, the PGA Championship is scheduled for Kiawah Island in 2021.

A recent tour stop was made by the LPGA U.S Women's Open at the Charleston Country Club during the last weekend of May, perhaps a sign of the times for a sport that has been trending upwards with women in recent years.

Lathrop said earning a women's college golf scholarship is more challenging than ever: “I would’ve told you a few years ago, if a young girl could shoot 80 or better, they could get a full scholarship to college. Well, that’s not quite the case now, you got to be a little better than that.”

Last but not least, the state's amateur golf program is strong, too, Lathrop confirmed. "Our junior events are continuing to be oversubscribed and that’s good news. If you’ve got oversubscription for events at the ages 8-18 years old, that bodes well for your future of your golf."