"Mr. Golf of Myrtle Beach"

By Bill F. Hensley 

Cecil Brandon, "Mister Golf in Myrtle Beach, SC

Cecil Brandon is just another guy on Main Street in Blowing Rock as he stops to chat with local merchants, mails a package at the post office, and grabs a quick lunch at Knight’s restaurant.  

Cecil Brandon, "Mister Golf in Myrtle Beach, SC before getting in a round of golf at the Blowing Rock Country Club.

Golf is his strong point, but it’s not as a player.  A retired advertising whiz,  his game has seen better days, like the time in 1949 when his Davidson College team upset a nationally-ranked Wake Forest team and its star Arnold Palmer

The man, now 78,  was a genius as a golf promoter.  Because of his extraordinary skills, he took a small, little-known coastal  town in South Carolina and literally put it on the map.  That would be Myrtle Beach, of course, and the town has never forgotten his many contributions to its success.

“He is truly ‘ Mister Golf ‘ in Myrtle Beach,” once praised the late Ashby Ward, the long-time president of the Greater Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce.  “He was a driving force from the time he moved here, and he didn’t slow down after he retired.   Promoting things is his obsession, and he is one of the all-time greats in that department.”

It was in 1963 that Brandon, an often gruff but straight-to-the-point talker who owned a Myrtle Beach advertising agency, started telling friends that “our future is in golf.”  With that in mind, he suggested to the city’s business leaders the creation of a non-profit trade association that would create golf packages as an effective method of marketing the Grand Strand. His agency would handle the creative work based on Brandon’s unique marketing plan.  The plan was exciting and looked good on paper.

But there were naysayers galore who warned that such a project wouldn’t work. “They didn’t know Cecil Brandon,” said Ben Vernon of Charlotte, a college classmate and long-time friend.  “He is the most persistent person I know. Don’t ever tell him he can’t do something. That just motivates  him all the more. He wants to prove you were wrong.”

With the backing  of several friends and supporters, an enthusiastic Brandon went to work.  He enlisted eight of the 11 golf courses in the area and ten motels and Myrtle Beach Golf Holidays was formed.  The organization began promoting golf packages to the coastal paradise on a budget of $43,000.

“Our goal,”  he explained,  “was to make it easy  for the visitor.  By making one call, a person could book a room and a golf starting time, all at discounted prices.  It made sense to me.”

It made sense to the traveling public, too, because the campaign worked and visitors flocked to the beach in droves.  Soon the number of area golf courses and motels skyrocketed, and the attractively-priced packages became a huge marketing success.

Today, although the number of golf courses is down from a high of 117 to 102,  Myrtle Beach Golf Holidays continues to attract visitors from around the nation and abroad.  Currently there are 79 Grand Strand golf courses and 108 accommodations that offer packages through the promotional organization. The total budget now exceeds $8 million.

Last year more than 14 million visitors found their way to the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch from Southport, NC to Pawleys Island, and played 3.5 million rounds of golf.  Along with golf  packages, MBGH now sponsors a variety of tournaments for amateurs and professionals.  The PGA Super Store World Amateur tourney alone  brings in over four thousand players from every state in the nation and 26 foreign countries. This year is the silver anniversary of the event.

Innovative and versatile, Brandon helped lure many visitors from the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville by setting up a booth and proclaiming to fairgoers that Myrtle Beach was “the golf capital of the world.”  He also spearheaded a marketing plan that called for television ads, golf guides, free reservation calls,  and colorful brochures.

When the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual trek to the beach became too large for the Dunes Club to handle,  MBGH took over and enabled  the writers to play a number of area courses each year. The promotion created widespread national publicity and continued for more than forty years. It was a key factor in the steady growth of golf in Myrtle Beach.

“The writers were initially invited by the late Jimmy D’Angelo who was head professional at the Dunes Club, and club president Buster Bryan,”  Brandon offered. “All we did was help  keep the writers coming back year after year. It was a fine public relations gesture that paid off handsomely.”

“Why is Myrtle Beach such a popular destination?”, asked noted golf writer James Achenbach of Golfweek magazine. “Great golf and great promotions,” he answered.  “Cecil Brandon and his organization are the model for which all other golf promotional agencies are fashioned.”

Brandon was born in Oxford, NC but raised in Winston-Salem. After graduation from Davidson, where he played football and golf, he became an Army Infantry officer and saw duty in Korea. 

He began his business career as a sales agent for Security Life in Winston-Salem but two years later switched to banking and joined Wachovia in Charlotte.  In 1959,  he accepted a job offer from First Union in Myrtle Beach  but couldn’t go to work for six months because of a non-compete agreement.  Needing to do something, he took up photograph and began shooting pictures of the area’s many motels, turning them into postcards.

That lucrative venture was so successful, and local businesses so cooperative, that he forgot banking and formed Brandon Advertising. A new career was  born.

The personable and friendly Brandon has been honored with every award Myrtle Beach and the state of South Carolina had to offer, including Citizen of the Year, Tourism Ambassador of the Year, Order of the Palmetto, and the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame. His favorite accolade was Father of the Year at the Coastal Academy.

He sold his advertising agency to his son, Scott, in 1999 and gave up the busy schedule of an active promoter.   He is a part owner of  The Myrtle Beach  National Company where he hired his old friend Arnold Palmer to design the golf course.  He remains active in the Myrtle Beach golf scene as a member of the executive committee at the National.

But there is too much promoter and energy in Brandon for him to slow down. He finds time to be active in church, civic and charitable organizations and delights in aiding his  beloved alma mater. But mostly he enjoys a leisurely life with his wife, Evelyn, and enjoying the cool, scenic North Carolina mountains.

In the meantime, he is working to get his handicap down to what it was when he won the club championship at the Dunes Club and at Pine Lakes Country Club a few years back.

He is still persistent, too, and a bit feisty, so don’t tell him he can’t do something. He is anxious to prove that you are wrong.

(You may also enjoy reading this article by Jim Pettit.)