Recognizing the best of the best in South Carolina tourism

The Governor's Conference on Tourism & Travel is being held in Columbia, and today officials handed out awards for tourism.

The Governor's Cup was awarded to the World Amateur Handicap Championship, which is held in Myrtle Beach. The tournament is hosted by Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday and attracts players from around the world. It generates an estimated 20,000 room nights, 18,000 rounds of golf and $5 million annually in economic impact, according to a news release.

The South Carolina Hospitality Employee of the Year Award was presented to Ronald Bessant, a server at the Original Benjamin's Calabash Seafood restaurant in Myrtle Beach. Ronald has worked in the hospitality industry for 20 years and state tourism officials say he was recognized for his kind and generous spirit and extraordinary customer service. They say Ronald has even gone out to his car to get stuffed animals to keep customers' children entertained.

The Richard Mikell Scholarship award was given for the first time today. It recognizes a student's contributions to nature-based tourism. The first recipient is Colette Eshleman, who graduates in May from Horry-Georgetown Technical College. She submitted a proposal on how to improve nature-based tourism marketing in the state.

Other student awards were presented by the South Carolina Travel and Tourism Coalition through the Fred Brinkman Memorial Fund, and are given to students with high academic achievements in the study of a tourism-related field. This year's winners were:

· Jonathan Michael Brazeal of Clemson University

· Kara Yeomans of Coastal Carolina University

· Alexa Gibbons of the College of Charleston

· Joanna Pruett of Trident Technical College

· Sonya Smith of Spartanburg Community College

· Erik Gammon of the Culinary Institute of the Carolinas at Greenville Technical College

· Ashley Richburg of the University of South Carolina and

· Nicole Ramey of Horry-Georgetown Technical College