It is no mystery that South Carolina is in a very bad way with the budget this year. It is an understatement to say these are lean times. Cuts are occurring in just about every area. Most noticeably in education.

The spit really landed on the face of South Carolinians when lawmakers agreed to provide $10 million to the Heritage Golf Classic on Hilton Head because its main sponsor, Verizon, was backing out. The money was to come out of an emergency fund for things like natural disasters.

I have no idea how a Hilton Head golf tournament that rarely draws big names is synonymous with things like hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes, but the majority of members of the S.C. House can see the connection.

Furthermore, Heritage Tournament Director Steve Wilmot actually stated that the tournament was financially safe for 2011 without a sponsor; they didn’t need the Palmetto State’s money.

All this happened at the same time that word came out that our schools were going to have to endure another set of cutbacks. Teachers would be fired, contracts would not be renewed, and the school year would be shortened. Fortunately, the state Senate took the golf money out of the budget.

However, that still leaves us asking what kind of logic does a person employ in order to propose spending $10 million on a golf tourney when South Carolina struggles to graduate competent students in a state that ranks in the bottom 10 percent on national tests.

But, hey, let’s get real. Can you imagine a South Carolina without a PGA tour stop?

What would you do with all those “First in Golf” license plates? We’d be the laughing stock of every country club member outside of the Palmetto State who pretends they can swing a big driver. That’s definitely worth the future of our children, right?

Look, we’re talking about reducing books in schools, less testing, and even fewer school days. Quality teachers are being fired or not having their contracts renewed. Many are leaving the state altogether.

In Charleston, we’re dealing with the costly relocation of students who currently attend schools that are seismically unsafe. And in some Charleston-area schools, children who can barely read or do simple math are being pushed into high school.

What’s the solution? Not more education, but more golf.

I’ve heard the rhetoric that the Heritage Tournament supports hundreds of jobs and brings about $100 million into South Carolina, but here are the words of Hilton Head Mayor Tom Peeples in the town newsletter:

“Over $84 million in sales are generated by the tournament. Currently, that number can be reasonably revised to amount to nearly $100 million. Hilton Head Island businesses take in more than $52 million every year during the tournament. The tournament results in over $4 million in sales tax each year. Many of the businesses that benefit directly from the tournament are, in large part, operated and owned by Island residents.”

Right here we can see that the majority of the money goes to Hilton Head, an already affluent area. Furthermore, only $4 million in sales tax is generated.

Legislators in favor of the investment also argued that the tournament supports hundreds of jobs. However, according to The State, the S.C. Department of Education is estimating that about 2,500 teachers might be laid off before the 2010-2011 school year begins. How do the hundreds of Hilton Head golf jobs compare to the thousands of jobs that state schools might lose?

So here’s the plan: Let’s take a few of our public schools and disguise them on paper as PGA tour stops. If we can trick our legislators into believing public schools are actually golf courses, we might become first in “golf.” Wink, wink.

Maybe then we won’t have to use the First in Golf license plate profits to pay for the cleanup when one of our under-educated graduates makes a mistake on a new South Carolina oil rig.

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