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      Masters week, mild winter prop up local golf industry

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - Masters week means big business for the Midlands even though the most prestigious golf tournament is being played miles away and across the state border.

      Local hotels, restaurants, and golf courses are crowded by an influx of out-of-towners in the area for event. But, it's also an important time for the local recreational golfers looking to live their own Augusta National dreams and the businesses opening their doors to them.

      Eugene Creech knows he isn't ready for the PGA Tour just yet, but that won't stop him from trying.

      The Midlands man hits the Northwoods Golf Club as often as possible.

      "I feel like I'm in the Masters right now so I'm going to be playing Thursday to Sunday," said Creech.

      Creech and his brother Ken picked up the game about two years ago and they haven't looked back since.

      "It was love at first play," said Creech. "I played it and I ain't stopped."

      "Once you get started it's almost impossible to stop playing," said his brother Ken. "It's almost impossible not to come out here every day that it's nice."

      This past winter's mild temperatures brought in spring conditions early making for plenty of nice days, and provided a much needed shot in the arm for South Carolina's multi-million dollar golf industry.

      Masters week is traditionally the unofficial start to the season, but, clubs like Northwoods were happy to get an early start after the golf business across the Southeast wasn't up to par the last two years.

      Northwoods' total revenue was down some 50 percent from their very best years. Hard winters and the down economy were factors, but this year's mild winter is exactly what they needed to get things back on course, especially during Masters week when many from around the country flood the region looking for a course after that ticket allotment at Augusta runs out.

      "We do expect a lot of phone calls," said Northwoods golf pro Greg McBride. "But, it sure is nice to have the good weather so when they get here we have a nice product to offer them."

      Locals like Eugene and Ken Creech will keep coming for that product regardless of the season and are happy to keep feeding the golf business all the green they can to get their game on track.

      "This is one of the most addictive sports ever," said Ken.