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Grand Strand's bermudagrass courses ready for showcase

Here's a harsh truth. Most of the 3,000 golfers battling out the World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach this week will find the courses in better shape than their game.

The fact is that even the pros rarely play at the height of their abilities.

Sometimes, like Lucas Glover at the Wyndham Championship (29 front-38 back) and Luke Donald at The Barclays (28-40) in recent weeks, they can go from stellar highs to lackluster lows inside a single round.

Even when they do peak, they sometimes encounter a rival whose own best is better still on the day.

Just ask Phil Mickelson about his five runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open.

That's why there will be 2,999 or so golfers who don't get to hoist the main trophy this week.

Fortunately, the ratio of courses at their best - winners, if you like - compared to those off-peak will likely be the other way around.

No two ways about it, this has been a fine summer to grow bermudagrass along the Grand Strand.

Plenty of heat, regular rainfall, high humidity: All the key ingredients for vigorous growth have been there.

That's a far cry from the start of the year when temperatures were so unusually cold along the coast that those same golf course superintendents with bermudagrass were worried about winter kill.

Now it's the superintendents managing bentgrass greens who are sweating bullets.

The very elements that make this prime time for bermudagrass are like the Four (well, three) Horsemen of the Apocalypse to bentgrass, which much prefers cooler weather.

If they hang around long enough, the bentgrass checks out.

That is why this summer, with its record heat and intense humidity, has many people in golf wondering whether judgment day has finally arrived for bentgrass.

A number of those courses still growing bentgrass on their greens - maybe 10 percent - are taking another look at switching to bermudagrass.

Advances in the grasses themselves coupled with improved technology have greatly minimized many of the issues that made bentgrass such a superior putting surface to the older bermudagrass varieties.

Indeed, several bentgrass courses along the Grand Strand are testing the waters with different types of bermudagrass on test plots, nursery greens or chipping areas.

As one superintendent said this week, "We know we can grow it, but we have to be sure it will be as good as bentgrass in April or October."

Like pro golfers, the ultimate aim for golf course superintendents is to have the course peak when good form does the most good.

In Myrtle Beach, spring and fall are the golf industry equivalent of the Majors.

That's when bentgrass is generally at its best.

But right now, bermudagrass is king, and that is great news for those thousands of golfers in town.

Members of the Palmetto Golf Course Superintendents Association have been preparing the courses for the World Am since the event's inception in 1988.

They understand that the World Am is a showcase event in the true sense; that golfers come from far and wide and go home with stories to tell their golfing friends.

"If those stories are positive, then we know Myrtle Beach has a much better chance of attracting more visitors," Palmetto GCSA President Alan Jarvis said.

"That's what we want for golf and what we want for Myrtle Beach."

Jarvis is certified golf course superintendent at Pine Lakes International Country Club, which is unique in more than its standing as the oldest course in town.

It is also the only course in the area grassed with paspalum, which, like bermudagrass, does better in the heat and requires less water than bentgrass.

All that is not to say that every course is in perfect shape for the World Am.

But you will need to go a long way to find anything better than most of what's on show in Myrtle Beach this week.