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August 2020

The Sea Pines Resort

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Guarding and Guiding Golf for Today and Tomorrow
By Sally J. Sportsman

The Sea Pines Resort, on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, long a choice golf destination, did not sit on its laurels during the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, the resort struck a delicate but highly important balance to protect the health and well-being of both its guests and employees, while making judicious decisions to enhance the property during the down time.

“I’ve been a golf pro for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Cary Corbitt, PGA, vice president of sports and operations at The Sea Pines Resort. “Nobody is immune to what we are going through.

“We want our employees back to work, but our first and foremost concern is their health.”

The RBC Heritage, an annual PGA Tour event held at Harbour Town Golf Links, originally was slated to be played April 13-19 this year, the week after the Masters, but was rescheduled for June 18-21, with no spectators on site for the event. Harbour Town, one of three golf courses at the resort, has been closed since April 1, with a planned reopening date of June 23.

“We took this opportunity to transition from being over seeded to Bermuda grass,” said Corbitt, who is also the president of the Lowcountry Chapter of the NGCOA as well as vice president of the South Carolina Chapter. “We started with Harbour Town, followed by Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point.

“So we aerified a month early.”

Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point were rotated to close every two days. Under 500 employees were furloughed, Corbitt says; with minimal staff, management wanted to be sure everyone was safe. Overflow play was allowed on the closed golf courses on weekends if demand dictated it.

Additional work done on Harbour Town during its closure included tree trimming on the fairway shot lines, select removal of damaged trees and others that affect shot values, and replacement of all the golf cart paths. Other projects along some fairway lines were completed, too.
“We looked at golf for our tournament players but also for our property owners and resort guests,” Corbitt says.

While the golf courses were closed or alternating for play, tennis operations were shut down, although the Sea Pines marina was operational. Beach club and food-and-beverage operations were closed except for takeout and delivery.

During the time Sea Pines employees were furloughed, the resort prepared meals for them six days a week at no charge. From their cars, furloughed employees could pick up their meal for the day from 3:00–5:00 p.m.

Another way the resort was dedicated to supporting its furloughed staff was the initiation in April of The Sea Pines Care package program. With a cost of $250 for each gift card, $125 per purchase was directed to affected employees and $50 to the Heritage Classic Foundation, which relies on ticket sales from the RBC Heritage tournament to fund most of its giving programs. Purchasers of the card received: a $100 Sea Pines Resort gift card redeemable for dining, golf and accommodations; and an amenity card worth 20% off food purchases (excluding alcohol), retail purchases and select activities. The care-package card was designed with no expiration date, and no limit was placed on the number of cards that could be purchased. Amenity cards are valid through March 31, 2021. Nearly 500 Care Cards had been purchased near the end of April.

“Every little bit helps,” Corbitt says. “This program will continue; people have a good heart.”

As for golf operations, modifications were made to comply with federal guidelines and regulations. Rakes, sand containers, towels, ball washers, coolers and ice machines were removed; inserts were placed in the cups; one person is allowed per cart, family members notwithstanding; staff members wear gloves; golf carts and push carts are sanitized. Tee times were scheduled and plans were enacted to support social distancing throughout the property.

“We’ve always had a pretty large contingent of walkers,” says Corbitt, “as all three courses are walkable. The number has increased somewhat now.”

Corbitt notes that everyone seemed appreciative of the efforts by The Sea Pines Resort to comply with regulations while preserving the spirit of golf and of the iconic destination. Emails were sent regularly to resort guests, members and staff. Managers called furloughed employees frequently. Guests were notified if a particular golf course was not available for their desired tee times, due to aerification or any other reason, so as to avoid surprises.

Although the novel coronavirus is bound to have a noticeable effect on revenues for The Sea Pines Resort, Corbitt looks to the future.
“2019 was the best year we’ve had,” he says; “all aspects were strong, and we were improving year over year. We were forecasting another great year in 2020.

“Now we are 25-30% down, maybe more for 2020 – that’s a conservative estimate. But we think the economy will rebound once the virus is behind us.

“This is somewhat of a recession, but the economy was pretty robust before. Golf will be vibrant again.”

 

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