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Golf column: Auction a valuable resource for research funding

Clearly, there's nothing in golf that's spent so much time under the microscope lately as Tiger Woods.

But year in, year out, the grass we play on does come close.

Scientists across the country - at universities, major corporations and benevolent interests such as the United States Golf Association - expend countless hours and brain cells on the stuff the average golfer takes for granted.

It's just that you don't hear about it much because for most of us, watching grass grow is about as exciting as, well, watching grass grow.

Yet as one Golf Digest survey found several years ago, nothing means more to a golfer's enjoyment of a course than the condition it's in.

What would it mean then to the Myrtle Beach economy if suddenly the fairways and greens were not what they should be.

You don't need to be Ben Bernanke to realize the impact could be devastating, even for an enormous number of businesses seemingly unrelated to golf.

And being a living, breathing organism that spends its entire life subjected to the elements, turfgrass does get sick, tired, abused, stressed, you name it.

It doesn't help that the turf is often mowed to mere fractions of an inch dramatically reducing its capacity to resist attack of any kind - drought, pests, disease.

Knowing things like just how low you can mow and how far you can go holding back on irrigation become critical decisions, not just for playing purposes but also plant survival.

Thankfully, South Carolina golf enjoys one of the most respected safety nets in all of golf with the turfgrass research department at Clemson University.

Researchers there work closely with golf course superintendents, individually and regionally with groups such as the Palmetto Golf Course Superintendents Association.

They're constantly troubleshooting with superintendents as turf ailments, like human viruses, have a habit of morphing and proving difficult to pin down.

Superintendents often set aside an area of their course for researchers to perform field studies.

That kind of collaboration has served South Carolina golf exceptionally well over the years and the rewards amount to something like $2.3-billion in golf's annual economic benefit.

Golf course superintendents have taken that relationship a step further with the creation of an annual online public auction of donated tee-times.

Money raised in the auction at benefits ongoing research work at Clemson and across the border at North Carolina State University.

Superintendents in the Carolinas devised and drive the auction to help offset cuts in state funding for those turfgrass research programs.

They raised some $55,000 in new funding through the auction of tee-times at 260 courses last year, including some of the most exclusive private facilities in the state.

Golf's effort to be part of the solution stood in stark contrast to the backdrop of big banks scoring major bailouts and everybody in the world of finance seemingly blaming the next guy.

"We were thrilled with the success of the auction's first year," said Palmetto GCSA president, Alan Jarvis, from Pine Lakes Country Club, which was among the list of donor facilities and is again this year.

"The beauty of this project is that for the first time golfers are contributing directly to the work they benefit so much from.

"And better still, they're doing so while getting themselves some golf for less than it would normally cost them. It really is a win for everybody."

This year's auction runs April 7 through April 21 and already more than 300 facilities have donated tee-times.

"The auction sold out completely last year and I expect it will do the same this year," Jarvis said.

Although you can probably bank on Tiger Woods not being among the bidders.

He's not playing much golf these days, is he.