Round of golf and room for $25? It's par for course with Pifer

JOHN STEADMAN

November 27, 1991|By John Steadman

Just because it hasn't been tried before is no reason for Carroll Pifer to back away from what he believes will be a smart business deal for all concerned. Good for himself, the resort he represents and those willing to avail themselves of the opportunity to play a round of golf for $25 and then be awarded a free night of lodging in a nearby motel.

Pifer took an advertisement in The Sunday Sun, included his courtesy long-distance telephone number, and spelled out an unprecedented offer that has drawn overwhelming response even if the early reaction is one of anticipated doubt.

The price is so bare-bones the natural assumption is there must be something wrong with Pifer or the deal he's presenting. What manner of tease is this? Could it be to draw unsuspecting patrons and, after getting them there, attempt to pitch real estate?

He denies any such intent and hastens to explain the idea is to fill up the golf course with players and also the vacant motels. For the next 2 1/2 winter months, there's little activity at Lake Marion Golf Course in Santee, S.C., and it's a condition he wants to rectify. That's why you can play golf by day and have a double-occupancy room for $25.

The former Baltimore driving range operator, now the director of the golf course, is inviting golfers to play 18 holes, with use of a cart, for $25, which is an astounding price. Then at night he checks you into one of six different motels that are participating in this unusual marketing plan that has drawn the curiosity of the public.

Pifer says you can stay for as long as you want, the same daily rate, $25, from Dec. 1 to Feb. 14. The housing, offering a total of 1,000 rooms, is within walking distance of the club. How did such a seemingly incredulous proposition come about?

"I approached the motel managements," he explained, "and told them if we had people here, creating activity, during what is the normal 'down' time of the year, it could only help overall business. The golfers would be eating in our restaurants, buying in the gift shops and spending money on things that will prove generally productive for the area.

"I advertised in Baltimore and in three places in the Carolinas. Most callers want to know about the rooms and if they are in some second-rate facility. Absolutely not because we are using a Holiday Inn, Quality, Howard Johnson, Ashley, Tara and the Santee Country Inn. Only two motels didn't join in because their company headquarters wouldn't approve."

As Pifer sees it, the weather is generally 10 to 15 degrees warmer than in Baltimore. But, of course, he can't guarantee it. "There are days when you can play in your shirt sleeves or a sweater and then occasionally it's colder. It's about a day's drive here from Baltimore, a distance of 519 miles, and I've already booked 120 golfers planning to come in groups."

How Pifer got to Santee was because it is known as the "home of the land-locked bass." He went there with Ray Anseaume, who was in charge of the fishing operation at Loch Raven Reservoir. It soon evolved that a director of golf was needed and Pifer fitted the role.

Bob Hickman, a former general manager of the resort and for six years South Carolina Director of Parks and Tourism, says Pifer "comes up with things that are innovative; I've been watching his work for a long time." He praises him specifically for knowing the golf market and having the confidence of the Santee-Cooper motel industry.

Two courses, one at Lake Marion and the other, the Santee Country Club, are par-72 layouts. "If you get tired of golf, you can try one of the 10 best 'fishing holes' in the country with 450 miles of shoreline," Pifer promised. "What we're doing is an experiment. The motels will be able to keep their employees because the rooms, instead of empty, are going to be filled."

Pifer knows how to sell. He is confronted by skepticism and is asked what kind of a hidden "hook" is secreted in this golf/motel deal that sells for $25. He insists all is in order while admitting his personal reputation is on the line because of the scrutiny he's getting.

But he expresses confidence that drawing golfers from the winter winds of Maryland to often balmy South Carolina is going to evolve into a popular and profitable pastime for all involved. His only gamble is the weather. The overriding factor is he believes if the golfers visit once they'll want to make it an annual excursion, which will be good for the economy.

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