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June 2021

Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort Thriving Beyond Golf

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By Sally J. Sportsman

Situated on the most seaward of South Carolina’s barrier islands, Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort is a destination for golfers and non-golfers alike. Designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary, Fripp Island features more than 3,000 acres of natural beauty. The resort’s two golf courses, Ocean Point Golf Links and Ocean Creek, incorporate sweeping views and lush vegetation. Yet it is not only golf that attracts vacationers. As there are no other resorts on the island, visitors tend to find precisely what they seek at this private, gated resort community.

“We had a banner year in 2020,” said Glenn Byron, resort management for Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort. “Our revenue increased 20% over 2019, even with the pandemic.

“Our season was almost twice as long as usual, extending through 20 weeks. Normally our season is Memorial Day to Labor Day, but last year it kept going.”

There is no hotel or lodge at the resort. Rather, the accommodations are properties that are privately owned by locals, with rentals managed by the resort. In 2020, the number of events was down significantly; rather, most business was from families driving in from surrounding areas and states. In 2019, 15% of the resort’s revenue was derived from golf, with no change in 2020. Growth was from non-golf activities, which are plentiful.

“This year so far, we have already reached in lodging 72% of the business we realized last year,” Byron said.

At the nine swimming pools and decks, visitors are properly accommodated and spaced according to official pandemic guidelines. The same holds true at the five restaurants, including the boathouse, and two full bars, and for all other activities on property. While lodging revenue increased in 2020, food service revenue decreased 8%, but the 50% increase in take-out orders made up for it in great measure. Food and beverage prices did not increase in 2020, although this year there has been a slight increase, due to supply chain issues, according to Byron. The resort’s food and beverage costs rose about 4 ½ %, and consequently menu prices increased about 3 ½%.

“It depends on the month, but in general it costs us money to do business on the island,” said Byron. “The same is true in non-Covid years.

“Club dues help carry the load.”

Activities and events available to resort guests have been altered somewhat as a result of the pandemic, said Kathy Kluttz, director of sales for the property. The pool decks and outdoor spaces are put to good use.

“We have Dive and Dine, karaoke and yoga on the beach,” Kluttz said. “Kids can eat a burger and watch a movie at the pool.

“For weddings and other gatherings, we are limited to half of our occupancy space. Weddings now often have 75 guests instead of 150.

“We are trying to keep guest numbers to 200, in general, for outdoor events.”

Weddings usually take place outdoors or under a 50 by 90-foot tent. Wedding bookings were down 35% in 2020 compared to 2019. However, many are re-booking their weddings at the resort in 2021. 

Tennis and racquet sports are popular at Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort. The Racquet Club has eight fast-dry clay courts and two hard courts. There is a full schedule of seasonal activities and round-robin tournaments, not to mention pickleball. Tennis clinics as well as private and semi-private lessons are available. The resort charges guests to participate in racquet sport activities, an unwavering revenue source. In addition, beach and water activities, such as kayak rentals and fishing, draw guests, both new and repeat, to the island resort.

While golf has always been a major attraction at the property, in 2020 there was an understandable decrease in corporate and large golf outings, according to Kluttz; but there was a corresponding increase in social events, especially church groups and family reunions.

“These kinds of gatherings were limited last year to 50 people,” Kluttz said. “This year, we are booking a bigger number of groups, still at 50% capacity.

“Golfers tell their wives and families about all the other resort activities, such as nature walks and the full marina, resulting in the increase we’ve seen in non-golf family visits. Golfers discover many facilities at the resort that they never knew existed.

“It’s been a positive outcome.”

The increase in new visitors is reflected in the numbers. Traditionally nearly 80% of guests have been return visitors, Byron said, but last year, that figure was 60%.

Charity events are a tradition at the resort. Pledge the Pink, a three-day charity walk to benefit breast cancer research, may not happen in 2022 but will be booked again as soon as possible. And a Beaufort, South Carolina, charity three-day golf tournament may have to be a lot smaller if it proceeds this year.

“Losing some of the big charity events would be a revenue hit,” Kluttz said, “but we will make it up in other ways, by encouraging individuals and families to come enjoy the resort.”

Things are looking good at Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort. Despite a slight increase in prices across the board throughout the property, guest numbers remain healthy, with an expected 6-8% increase in overall revenue in 2021 over 2020.

“You can’t get fuller than full,” said Byron. “We can only hope that things continue to improve, that people stay healthy and enjoy life as it was meant to be.”

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