The Myrtle Beach area has long been a sports town. Myrtle Beach golf is legendary and it’s easy to understand why. Unlike many destinations, Myrtle Beach, with almost 100 golf courses, is able to host major amateur tournaments that utilize numerous courses while still having enough tee times to accommodate non-tournament visiting golfers. And with more than 70,000 available rooms, it’s clear why tournament organizers always consider the Myrtle Beach area.
August’s Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship, now in its 30th year, attracts 3,000 players for 72 holes of play, plus a final championship round. The 16th annual Golf Dimensions Father & Son Team Classic tees off in July with more than 900 players from 46 states and seven foreign countries. Although primarily an individual challenge, golf is also a team sport and the Myrtle Beach area has the welcome mat out.
The Palmetto High School Golf Championship is an open 54-hole tournament for any spring golf season high school team. Held over the Easter break, it attracts top competition. More than 100 high school teams from 26 states are expected for the 2014 event. The General Hackler Championship hosted by Coastal Carolina University is a two-day event featuring 11 top college and university golf teams.
It’s not just about golf. The area also hosts major baseball tournaments.
The Caravelle Resort Tournament followed by The Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach attracts major college baseball powers. The Coastal Carolina Invitational and Chanticleer Classic round out a spring of great college baseball. TicketReturn.com Field is the host venue for the Coastal Carolina events. The stadium is home to the minor league Myrtle Beach Pelicans and recognized throughout baseball as one of the top facilities.
Although the local college team has long been a mid-major power, team baseball at the beach may have gotten its start with the Hawaiian Tropic Tournament, now the Mingo Bay Classic. This year 10 Myrtle Beach-area high schools hosted more than 35 visiting high school teams for three days of competitive baseball action during early April. We cannot say this high school tournament was the springboard of team sports tourism, but it has made a significant contribution. Fast forward to today.
The Myrtle Beach area has combined its tourism expertise with its love for sports. In 2006 after due diligence to select a resort area that could accommodate their needs, the Ripken Baseball Experience in a joint partnership with local developer Burroughs & Chapin opened in Myrtle Beach. Modeled after historic baseball venues, Ripken Experience opened with seven fields − two regulation and five youth diamonds − each lighted for evening play. The first Ripken Experience opened in 2001 in Aberdeen, Md.
These are not your father’s baseball fields. Each Ripkin park features infield and outfield synthetic turf. It’s the same covering found on many professional and college diamonds and lends itself to reliable play and minimal rainouts. The reduction of injury risks may be the biggest benefit of turf. The work continues with more than $4.5 million invested in the venue over the past three years. Griffith Field was rebuilt and expanded to a 90-foot field, while Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds were also extended to 90 feet.
Although the diamonds are the star attraction, the entire Ripken Experience complex is designed for the enjoyment of players, families and fans. The Welcome Center houses concessions, a gift shop and restrooms. Additional concessions and restrooms are located throughout the complex. Three infield-training circles, 12 bullpen mounds and 17 batting cage tunnels are available for pre-game and practice sessions. Shuttles run continuously throughout the complex.
Come summer, teams from across the United States and as far away as Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Canada and Kuwait travel to Myrtle Beach. More than 500 teams participate in the 10-week tournament program at the Ripkin Experience. Teams compete in their appropriate age group and are guaranteed five games and an additional elimination bracket game. The Ripken Experience season kicks off with weekend events in May and concludes in October and November with additional weekend tournaments.
More than just tournaments, the Ripken Experience has become popular for high school and college baseball and girls fast pitch softball spring training. From the Northeast and Midwest 250 baseball teams and more than 50 softball teams made the journey in 2013. The Ripken Experience staff is very accommodating, helping coaches arrange and reserve practice times and scrimmages with live broadcasts.
For all visiting teams, both tournament and spring practice, the Ripken Experience can provide a complete package from lodging to meals to entertainment. It begins with free admission for all family, friends and locals to the complex and the games. Even before arrival Ripkenhotels.com provides descriptions and links to major accommodations partners. All players, coaches and families are welcomed with all-access passes and discounts to leading attractions, theaters, shopping and dining. The intent is to make the experience both enjoyable and affordable. Visit the Ripken Experience online at ripkentournaments.com/myrtlebeach.cfm.
The Ripken Experience, Myrtle Beach High School and the City of Myrtle Beach have a strong cooperating partnership. Ripken tournament teams will utilize as many as 18 of the latter’s fields during a summer week. In 2012 the Ripken Experience accounted for 18 percent of estimated sports tourism direct spending by venue. The dollar amount stood at an impressive $24 million.
The City of Myrtle Beach has always been a destination that valued and appreciated both sports and tourism. For years the Ned Donkle Complex hosted visiting softball teams for tournament and spring training, as well as providing a great recreational opportunity for local kids.
The newest City of Myrtle Beach sports complex is Grand Park in The Market Common area. Located on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, The Market Common is a destination within a destination. Shopping, dining and entertainment are located a short walk from the sports venue.
There are nine turf fields now in play at the new complex − seven 300’ multi- purpose for baseball/soccer/lacrosse and two 200’ youth and softball. Concessions and restrooms are brand new. Baseball is the major play, but the complex is hosting soccer events through local organizers and beginning to build its reputation as a lacrosse destination.
Although lacrosse events and even soccer tournaments are growth areas for the city, baseball is still king. Every summer major organizers like USSSA Sports and Triple Crown Sports tournaments are represented. The city’s two sports complexes generated more than $35 million in estimated sport tourism expenditures in 2012.
After considerable renovations, including a new digital scoreboard, Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium is poised to make a significant contribution to the city’s sports tourism offerings. Over Labor Day weekend eight high school football teams will compete in the 2nd annual Carolina Kick-Off Classic. Six of the teams along with fans and families will overnight in the city. Regional and national track competitions and training regularly use the first-rate facility.
Although the city’s fields, stadiums, beaches, pools, gyms, roads and attractions contribute to sports tourism direct spending, none have the impact of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. Accounting for 42 percent of the 2012 direct spending, the center hosts a wide variety of events.
The annual Beach Ball Classic happens the week following Christmas and attracts powerhouse high school basketball teams from across the country. High schools with household basketball names such as Maryland’s Dematha Catholic and Dunbar High, New York’s Archbishop Molloy, Nevada’s Bishop Gorman, Pennsylvania’s Simon Gratz and many more have walked away proud winners of the championship trophy over the tournament’s 32-year history.
The CRESCOM Bank Holiday Invitational assures the girls are not forgotten as top high school teams meet the week prior to Christmas. One of the highlights of the tournament is the Carolina Challenge. The high school girls take Wednesday evening off and watch as six women’s college teams take center stage for a triple-header.
National dance and cheer competitions contribute a whopping $51 million to sports tourism, while regional volleyball and wrestling tournaments add to the center’s more than $54 million sports tourism spending in 2012. With a major addition to the convention center underway, expect that spending to grow significantly.
The City of Myrtle Beach city manager has been directed by City Council to enter into various agreements for professional services relating to the construction and management of an indoor sports facility of approximately 100,000 square feet. To be located behind the existing Myrtle Beach Convention Center, the facility is expected to open by spring 2015.
Helping resolve the area’s demand for fields exceeding its supply challenge, the City of North Myrtle Beach is on schedule to open the North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex on March 1, 2014. With more than $15 million in direct expenditures on the books for 2014, it is exceeding projections by almost double. With the expected impact on its lodging, dining and amusement options, it’s easy to see why the City of North Myrtle Beach is excited.
The complex is a gem and has everything a planner needs, with 14 fields for competition, all featuring natural grass. There will be six baseball/softball fields − four 225’ youth/college softball fields and two 400/330’ regulation high school and college fields. Eight batting tunnels round out the baseball needs. The eight additional fields will be dual-purpose regulation and much needed soccer and lacrosse fields.
Plans also include umpire/officials rooms, a seven-acre water park, a world-class zip line and amphitheater. The park’s added amenities are not only for visiting teams and families; they are for the full enjoyment of residents.
Tournament overflow will easily be handled at the J. Bryan Floyd Community Center/Central Park. In addition to being the hub of major youth basketball summer events, the facility provides three regulation youth/softball fields, eight batting tunnels and a regulation soccer/lacrosse field. For further information, visit online at northmyrtlebeachchamber.com/sports_tourism.
The glue that holds the Myrtle Beach area sports tourism product together is cooperation. Although the area is comprised of two major municipalities and a private entity, they all work together for a common purpose. That purpose is to provide a fun-filled, memorable experience for every visitor.
To learn more about the area’s sports tourism product, contact Mark Beale, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber/Convention & Visitor Bureau sports manager. Mark can be reached at 843-916-7264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
−By Dave Bodle