Brian Vest brought a "Tee It Forward" mentality to the Members Club at Grande Dunes when he became PGA director of golf at the facility in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, several years ago. He modernized club policy for male golfers, allowing members and guests with higher handicaps to play from a shorter set of tees in big events such as the member-guest tournament and Thursday shootouts. But there were no additional options available for the club's women, who often complained that the most forwards set of tees - roughly 5,100 yards - was just too long.
Vest spearheaded a two-year project to solve the problem. He was part of a team with Ryan Gamble, the club's superintendent, McConnel Golf Vice President and Director of Agronomy Michael Shoun and Craig Schreiner, the Myrtle Beach-based golf course architect who designed hte Members Club course with Nick Price in 2005.
The project came to fruition this past summer, when Schreiner built 16 forward tee boxes in June. The new additions debuted Labor Day weekend, adding a new option at 4,400 yards. They were an instant hit - now more than half of the women's club plays from the new green tees.
"It's been a much-needed and welcome addition for our club," Vest says. "It helps us with growing the game. This is a big boost. They (the ladies) feel more adequate. They can hit shots, and they have the chance to reach greens in regulation."
The Members Club is available to the general public as part of the McConnell Golf Trail, a collection of 11 private clubs in the Carolinas that can be packaged together as a stay-and-play for golfers who don't live within 100 miles.
"The new tee box locations will build confidence in the tee game for both new and mature golfers," Schreiner says. "Novice golfers will be less intimidated and this should in turn build their confidence and speed up play for everyone."
The surrounding community at Grande Dunes is mostly "empty nesters," says Vest, so the tees aren't used much by junior golfers yet.
"We try to incorporate those tees into introductory golf, like a 'Sip and Swing' program we run," Vest explains. "We try to introduce golfers through food & beverage and golf instruction. A lot of them are social members or non-members. The whole goal is to capture them for a full membership."
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