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Opportunities for public play on the increase

The makeshift banner greeting golfers outside the clubhouse tells the story at Pinecrest Golf Club. It's also another sign of the changing landscape of golf in the Lowcountry, as the industry continues to catch up to the shift in demand for the game.

For the first several years of its relatively brief existence, Pinecrest was reserved only for members, and then subsequently for students of the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy. Recent changes in ownership and management, however, have brought a change in status that now allows public play at the underrated Bluffton course.

The banner outside the clubhouse declares a welcome invitation to public play -- a sentiment several area private clubs are turning to as golf continues its slow recovery from economic and participation woes that have stymied growth during the past several years.

Earlier this year, The Golf Club at Hilton Head Lakes (formerly Tradition National Golf Club) reopened for a second time, allowing public play after its original debut several years ago as a private course. The most recent facility to open in the region, the once-private course has roiled in financial struggles brought on by the decline in real estate and a slowing demand for high-end private golf. Today, the Tommy Fazio-designed course is open for public play at a value that should bring regional players to the quality facility in strong numbers.

It's a relatively new reality that opening doors to the public is both a necessary and prudent option as clubs such as Pinecrest and Hilton Head Lakes struggle with sagging membership rolls. The move brings much needed revenue to the club and exposes the course and facilities to players who might someday decide to become members. While some traditional members might not agree, economically it is a win-win solution.

Pinecrest opened as an "affordable" private club with enrollment fees under $1,000, monthly dues at $100 and play with cart running around $20. Built by Rocky Roquemore, the layout is a strong mixture of short and long par 4s, risk/reward par 5s and some of the best par 3s this side of the bridge to Hilton Head Island.

Several years after its opening, the club became the home of the IJGA and remains so today, a testament to its quality. The semi-private course still maintains a membership, but with public play now very much a reality, the hope is the club's solid layout, typically-reliable conditioning and strong value will resonate with a Lowcountry golfing public and resort visitors that need a good deal as much today as ever.

Just as Pinecrest, by some measure, is starting anew, so too is its new ownership group. Until a couple months ago, the club was managed by Canongate Golf out of Atlanta. In March, the newly-formed Brown Golf Management took control of the club's operations and soon after closed on its ownership of the club.

While the new ownership group has opened play to the public, it is also working to elevate its membership program. As one of its first efforts, the club has instituted free instruction to its members led by teaching professional Patrick Politan. The Brown Golf Complimentary Academy includes video swing analysis and an online teaching profile that will allow players to continuously work on their game.

That mix of quality public golf and value-added membership opportunities is a good step in today's golf environment. As by-and-large a trunk-slamming member of the public golf brigade, I applaud opportunities for facilities such as Pinecrest to serve the entire golf public, whether they choose private membership amenities or quality public opportunities. At quality clubs, there is room for both to shack up together.

We all need to play more golf. We all need quality courses to do it on. With the addition of Pinecrest and The Golf Club at Hilton Head Lakes, the region now boasts a couple additional options for everyone to do so. Welcome to the party fellas.