Devoted golfers face a problem whenever they hit the road on vacation: Despite there being hundreds of public-access courses - in South Carolina and across the country - there are always a few "bucket list" tracks that are closed to outside play.
It's with that frustration in mind that Tim Kreger, in 2008, came up with a unique solution: Rounds 4 Research.
Kreger, executive director of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association (CGCSA), conceived the idea to fix a bigger problem. As the recession struck in 2008-09, universities with turf-grass management majors, such as Clemson and NC State, faced shrinking government funds for their research programs.
Meanwhile, the golf courses that most benefit from such research had something to sell: rounds of golf. Why not use one to help the other?
Now, each year for a week (May 1-7, 2017), Rounds 4 Research allows avid golfers to bid online for those rounds. The upside is either a discount on most courses, or a shot at courses not normally available to the public.
In turn, the money bid is pumped back into research. Eighty cents out of each dollar bid on SC or North Carolina courses will go to Clemson or NC State, with the rest to Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) for national grants programs.
"From the golfer's standpoint, it's a win-win," Kreger says. "I can give back to the game by playing the game. How good is that?"
Apparently, golfers across the nation agree. Since Rounds 4 Research began in the Carolinas, $350,000 has gone to the turf-grass programs at Clemson and NC State alone. A recent grant topped $100,000. "That's more than the USGA and the GCSAA have given in grants," Kreger says.
The program has expanded from its Carolinas roots to courses to Texas, Virginia and Georgia, and bids come from all across the country.
For players headed to South Carolina on a vacation, how about this lineup:
Sage Valley, near Graniteville, an ultra-exclusive Tom Fazio course built to be SC's answer to Augusta National.
Chechessee Creek, a walking-only private design by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, near Beaufort.
Secession Club, also near Beaufort, with spectacular marsh views and Old South vibe.
Greenville Country Club's Chanticleer Course, a Robert Trent Jones classic renovated in recent years by son Rees Jones.
Aiken's Palmetto Golf Club, SC's oldest course and the nation's second-oldest course on its original location.
Rounds 4 Research isn't just about private golf for the public. Courses in SC resort areas Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Hilton Head are available. Among the biggest names: Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, and Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, home of the 1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 PGA Championship.
"It's a great opportunity to plan a destination trip," Kreger says. "We have many courses outside the normal golf packages, and you can pick up a big one, or a cheap one." For example, he says, last year a bid of $4,600 earned golf for four players, plus lunch, at Sage Valley. Other courses had rounds go for as little as $25.
The selection in 2017 will be large, with a minimum of 1,000 rounds, and as many as 1,500, available, Kreger says. Last year, more than 1,100 rounds were sold.
Live bidding starts in May, but interested golfers can go online anytime. "You can look now at all the available ones, set up a username and password, and can put in a maximum bid and walk away," Kreger says. "If your bid is the tops, you get it - very similar to eBay."