Advance Golf sees its opportunity with Bear Creek

Pat Kelley figures he and his partners at Advance Golf have had their eye on the Hilton Head Island market for perhaps two decades, but the circumstances to get in weren't right.

For one thing, Advance Golf only has been around for about three years. "We were looking at it through other lenses," Kelley acknowledged.

Bear Creek Golf Club became the opportunity, where the new owners now seek to invigorate the operation via such offerings as "all-inclusive" packages and a points program that have gained traction at other Advance Golf courses in Myrtle Beach and Florida.

"The spirit of our approach is to grow participation through new programs in which folks can experience the course in different ways," Kelley said.

Bear Creek this week unveiled its all-inclusive package, where one flat $44 rate includes a cart, breakfast, lunch and a beer or fountain drink waiting once the final putt has dropped.

"That's a business model for us. It's not a promotional offering," Kelley said.

The course also is launching a loyalty program much like typical retailers, where each round builds up points that can be used in the golf shop or for a golf lesson. For those new to the game, a practice-and-play option offers free range balls and instructional clinics during a given week.

"We want to get people playing golf to the degree that they decide to maybe get a membership at some point," Kelley said. "It's about taking people from playing golf to being golfers."

Bear Creek, a Rees Jones design, had operated as a private facility since its 1980 opening. It becomes the 12th facility in the Advance Golf portfolio, including the three courses of Legends Golf Resort in Myrtle Beach. It also operates Heritage GC on Pawley's Island, two courses in North Carolina and two in Sarasota, Fla.

Also changing hands this week was Dolphin Head GC, acquired by Brown Golf Management as its 28th facility and sixth in the area.