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March Madness Golf Gorges

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

MURRELLS INLET, S.C. - Patty McCarthy did what most guys only dare to dream last April - she bought a bar. While the Pittsburgh native doesn't label Bullfeathers Bar and Grill a "sports bar," per se, the rustic Inlet watering hole is the perfect place to catch a game on a warm spring afternoon or evening.

"We are getting ready," McCarthy says of both the peak spring golf season and March Madness. "We'll have the TVs out on the deck if the weather is nice."

After purchasing the once seedy Inlet bar, McCarthy expanded the back deck, put in new carpet and fixtures and bought some new TVs. She installed a new menu replete with a Grouper basket (any way you want it) and the Inlet's best Rueben.

"What else do you need, right?" McCarthy says laughing.

How about 110 golf courses and a legion of down-to-your-last-dollar sports bars, all situated along one 60-mile swath of semi-pristine Atlantic coastline? Myrtle Beach is but one of a handful of golf destinations around the U.S. that caters to duffers with a desire to golf by day and "bracket track" by night.

"Because our peak golf season is during the peak of the college basketball season it makes for some interesting, exciting times," says Chris King, a local hoops junkie and diehard Maryland Terrapins fan. "The tournament gives golfers who lose money on the course a chance to recoup their losses at night."

The undisputed Mecca of March Madness (and money changing hands because of it) is Las Vegas. Each March, tens of thousands of determined duffers arrive looking to parlay a long weekend into some extra scratch and a few birdies. While the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority doesn't have specific data for golfers, March is traditionally one of the city's busiest months.

"The weather is outstanding, major conventions are here and March Madness pulls them in," says Kevin Bagger, research director with the LVCA. "We run at about 85 percent occupancy throughout the region, close to our highest all year."

Perhaps the only destination to give Vegas a run for its money each March is the Final Four host city. Especially when that city is in the Sun Belt and boasts the golfing wares of San Antonio. The Alamo City is playing host to its second Final Four in seven years. Local golf packagers say chasing the white ball was popular with tournament goers in 1998, and preliminary indications are that 2004 will be equally as successful.

"We have a Final Four package that has been popular so far," says Rita Perez of Texas National Tour Company. "They come to play golf and shop and go to Sea World. We've had four really big groups, over 30 golfers, so far."

San Antonio is home to a handful of highly regarded hill country properties, including the Quarry Golf Club, the Westin La Cantera, the Hyatt Hill Country Golf Club and Resort, as well as some lesser known local gems like Cedar Creek and Pecan Valley. And then there's Brackenridge Municipal Course. The circa 1915 A.W. Tillinghast "muni" is considered one of the birthplaces of the PGA Tour. From high brow to low budget, San Antonio would appear to have it all.

San Antonio's rugged, rocky terrain once made golf course construction a dicey endeavor. But the city's course supply has burgeoned over the past decade with the advent of new design technology and better construction equipment. Heading into 2004, the number of golf courses in the Greater San Antonio area is nearing 60 - twice as many as in 1989.

"I'd put it up against any golf destination, period," Perez says.

Some other Maddening March golf destinations to consider:

Gulfport/Biloxi Mississippi - Good lineup of courses, cheap (compared to Vegas) accommodations, and most importantly to this yarn - gaming. That's right, gambling is not only legal along the shores of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it is encouraged. A dozen Vegas style casinos have sprung from the area's sugar sand beaches, as have top tier tracks like Grand Bear and Shell Landing.

Austin, Texas - Avoid the madness of San Antonio and head for the alt. country capital of the world. Little "A" is about half the size of the Alamo City, but a rocking nightlife and solid sampling of hill country layouts more than make up for its diminutive demeanor. For tunes and good times, head directly to 6th Street. For great golf, check out Barton Creek or Horseshoe Bay (about 50 miles west but worth it).

Mesquite, Nevada - Ibid. Mesquite is one of the most underrated golf pit stops in the desert Southwest. Sun starved golfers can still fly into Vegas, but this tumbleweed town is about a 77-mile haul northeast of Vegas. Six championship caliber courses amid a town of 15,000 full time residents makes for some open tee times. Don't miss Wolf Creek at Paradise Canyon (one of the most visually stunning courses in the U.S.) or the Oasis Golf Club.

Best March reads: Books for guys who like books

A March to Madness, John Feinstein - Before he was the non-fiction Mac Daddy of the epic golf book, Feinstein was the proud prince of the meaty hoops anthology.A March to Madness, is the prolific author's account of a tumultuous season in the ACC, culminating with the 1997 NCAA tournament.

Bud, Sweat, and Tees, Alan Shipnuck - The antithesis of Feinstein's glamorous portrait of the upper crust of the PGA Tour. B, S and T is a behind the scenes account of the mercurial rise (and fall(s)) of Rich Beem and his wanderlusting caddie Steve Duplantis.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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