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Golf: Chinese investors spend $8.7M for 90 holes

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Chinese investors have purchased five Pawleys Island golf courses for $8.7 million, becoming one of Georgetown County’s biggest property taxpayers.

Purchasers of the Tradition Club, Litchfield Country Club, River Club, Willbrook and Pawleys Plantation all use the name Founders, reflecting entities established after a Chinese family bought the Founders Club of Pawleys Island, Indian Wells Golf Club and Burning Ridge Golf Club in 2014 for about $11 million – much more than anyone else in the market was willing, and in many cases able, to pay.

On Jan. 2, Founders Golf Management of New York City purchased the TPC golf course at Murrells Inlet from Fife Golf Management for $7.3 million. It had been rumored for weeks that Chinese buyers had made offers for the local courses. A planned expansion of the snack bar at Pawleys Plantation was put on hold by National Golf Management, and once Asians started visiting frequently the members figured a sale was in the works.

On April 17, The Tradition was sold by Willbrook Links Investment Group to Founders Tradition for $3 million.

On April 23, Litchfield Country Club, River Club and Willbrook were sold by National Golf Group to Founders National Golf for $3.62 million. And Pawleys Plantation was sold for $2.1 million. Kang Zou of Longs in Horry County is the registered agent for Founders Tradition and Founders National.

Frank D’Amato, president of the Tradition Property Owners Association, said residents are quietly optimistic the new owners will do some upgrades and repairs to the course. “The past owners have not been putting much money in the course,” D’Amato said. “We are looking forward to an infusion of cash.”

Members are concerned about tee times, D’Amato said, if large numbers of players book the course. Tradition members pay $1,900 a year and $20 a round for a cart fee for a husband and wife to play golf, he said. “The concern is we put out $1,900 and can’t get on the course.” Club leagues have blocks of starting times, but individuals have to schedule their own. D’Amato said the course is so heavily booked this Friday that his regular group of 12 will have to play at Founders Club.

A larger concern is that new investors would attempt to develop more home sites along the courses. D’Amato said members understand The Tradition is on a conservation easement. “If they would try to do that at Willbrook, Tradition or River Club the county would have to get a stadium for the meeting,” he said.

Brian Tucker, Georgetown County director of economic development, said the Chinese companies see potential in the market. “South Carolina spends significant resources in China trying to recruit businesses and investment,” he said. “ As far as I’m concerned, I don’t see a down side to that. It’s not as if they bought City Hall. They bought a for-profit venture. They believe they can make it more profitable than it has been.”

Tucker said international companies already have significant holdings in Georgetown County. The steel mill in Georgetown owned by ArcelorMittal is headquartered in Luxemboug; 3V Chemical is Italian and Argu-American is Austrian. “There are opportunities all over the place,” he said. “It’s just about making the most of them.”

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