Wednesday, April 8, 2009
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Anyone remotely familiar with golf knows how rare and special a double eagle is.
With that in mind, go ahead and score a double eagle for the U.S. Collegiate Championship held this week at the Golf Club of Georgia.
Despite some inclement weather in the final two rounds – it even snowed on Tuesday, the last day – the tournament showed why it is considered one of college golf’s best.
The 15-team field by itself was a major power play. Sure, there was some luck involved, because tournaments typically send out invitations the previous summer and things can change drastically from the end of one season to the spring of the next season.
Clemson rallied in the final round Tuesday, shaving four strokes from par to finish at 12-over 876 and edge Stanford by two shots. Alabama’s Bud Cauley and UCLA’s Erik Flores shared the individual title at 4-under 212.
Things fell in the right place for the USCC, producing arguably the strongest field of any regular-season tournament.
The top nine teams and 11 of the top 13 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings headed the list. All 15 teams entered with a top-30 ranking.
Of course, when you have that many quality teams, you’re usually going to have an equally strong group of individual players.
The field featured the top 5 individuals in the rankings, nine of the top 10, 13 of the top 15 and 20 of the top 30.
“I know I’m prejudiced, but I truly believe it’s the best tournament of the year,” said Bruce Heppler, head coach of host team Georgia Tech. “We’ve played in some very good tournaments this year, against some very strong fields, but I’d say this is as good as we’ve faced all year.
“The idea for this tournament is that if you win, it really means a lot. “We haven’t arranged this field so that it makes us look good. For us to win this tournament would be one of the best (wins) the program has ever had.”
Strength of field and a demanding, well-conditioned golf course – such as the Golf Club of Georgia – are two of the major ingredients that make up of a successful tournament.
But the USCC always has taken it a few steps beyond. That was again the case this year, even with the sluggish economy.
Yes, the tournament lost some major sponsors, but managed to latch on to a larger number of smaller sponsors. Trust me, no one really noticed the difference.
Siemens remained a sponsor for the fourth consecutive year, and the tournament also picked up Atlanta Classic Cars/Mercedes-Benz.
So instead of each team receiving a Cadillac Escalade as a courtesy car for the week, they all got Mercedes SUVs. And for the second consecutive year, teams that flew into Atlanta were picked up and returned to the airport in stretch limos courtesy of Shoreline Executive Transportation.
Also, just as the USCC has done since the inaugural event four years ago, each player was provided a caddie for the three days of competition. The caddies – many of them Golf Club of Georgia members – were decked out in white coveralls with their players’ names on their backs (kind of like they do at that “other tournament” down the road in Augusta).
Also, the pace of play was very impressive, a rarity for college events. With more than 20 rules officials on the course, rounds were completed in five hours or less, even with the cold and windy weather the last two days. (Most college events have rounds that last six hours or more, even in perfect weather.
Another unique feature of the USCC is the taping of a television highlights show by Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast, which reaches 12 states and almost 6 million households. The initial airing on CSS will be April 21 at 10:30 p.m. EDT.
Another noteworthy aspect about the USCC, however, is its charity involvement, something almost unheard of for a college tournament.
The USCC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit event, with proceeds supporting the scholarship programs of the Georgia State Golf Foundation.
The bottom line: For college teams that want to compete against the best and enjoy red-carpet treatment, the U.S. Collegiate Championship is the place to be.
Even if you have to put up with a few snow flurries.