This college event gives back

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – So often we hear about professional golf tournaments, PGA Tour events in particular, and the money they raise for charity. It’s a good thing, no doubt.

But how often do you hear about a college tournament that generates funds for a worthy cause?

Not very often, that’s for sure. Usually the host team at a college event uses what money it takes in to benefit its own program. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, in many cases, those funds help keep the program going.

This week, Arkansas-Little Rock hosted its 18th annual spring tournament at Chenal Country Club. For the past seven years, it has been called the UALR First Tee Classic, tying in with the First Tee of Central Arkansas, which is located in Little Rock.

Here’s the kicker: During that seven-year stretch, UALR has donated more than $100,000 to the First Tee of Central Arkansas chapter.

What a boost to those kids who take part in First Tee activities.

“We’re extremely proud of what we have been able to do to help the First Tee,” said UALR coach Wyn Norwood. “It’s one of the ways we can do something to give back to our community. We’ve been very fortunate to have a great deal of support from our sponsors.”

Arvest Bank is the tournament’s presenting sponsor, and a host of others also pony up money to enter a team in the college-am, held each year the day before the tournament.

Thanks to the college-am, UALR is able to make a financial contribution to the First Tee program. This year, 27 amateur teams competed, each joined by one college player.

But what this tournament does for the First Tee of Central Arkansas goes beyond the money.

Every year, each team finishes its Sunday morning practice round, then heads to the First Tee facility and spends a couple of hours with the children in the program.

“I think this speaks highly of the coaches and their players,” Norwood said. “The thing is, they all are happy to do it. It’s really been a great and rewarding thing for everyone.”

Typically, about 100 kids in the First Tee program turn out – there were 150 one year. This past Sunday, approximately 80 were on hand because of overcast skies and temperatures in the 40s.

Each college team was assigned a group of youngsters and performed a clinic with that group. Then, one player from each team plays with a selected youngster in a two-man scramble on the facility’s Par-3 course. Some of the other kids serve as caddies for the college players.

“It’s just a fun day for everyone involved,” Norwood said. “The college guys really get into it, and what a thrill it is for those young kids in the First Tee program.”

The UALR First Tee Classic is held for all the right reasons.

• • •

As in many places around the country these past few months, the weather in Columbia, Mo., has not been conducive to playing golf.

“We haven’t been able to get outdoors much since the start of the year,” said University of Missouri men’s coach Mark Leroux. “We’ve been able to work indoors on our short game, but we usually have to head farther south to get in some actual on-course playing time. It’s like we’re weekend golfers.”

Or how about weekend warriors? The situation hasn’t seemed to be a setback for the Tigers.

After a six-tournament fall campaign in which Missouri posted a second, third, three sevenths and an 11th, the Tigers have come out this spring as hot as a summer scorcher in the South.

Missouri has won its first three spring starts, including its most recent March 28-29 at the UALR First Tee Classic in Little Rock, Ark. In not-so-pleasent playing conditions, the Tigers fired a final-round-best 8-over 296 (the only sub-300 round of the day in the 17-team field) to finish at 18-over 882, eight strokes better than Louisville, Southern Miss and host Arkansas-Little Rock.

“We may not be ready to take on the world just yet, but I feel we are going in the right direction,” Leroux said. “This team is really coming along. We haven’t had the greatest weather lately and haven’t been able to get out and play much, so to start out with three wins is fantastic.”

• • •

Dominating victories seemed to be the theme at a number of tournaments early this week. You know the kind: where the drama is built on the battle for second, since first place was long decided.

For instance: Alabama, led by medalist Cory Whitsett (13-under 203) and runner-up Bud Cauley (12-under 204) blew away the field at the Linger Longer in Georgia. The Crimson Tide shot 18-under 846 to easily outdistance Chattanooga by 18 strokes and Georgia and Stanford by 20.

Purdue notched its second victory of the season in a big way, shooting 2-over 578 – 20 strokes better than IUPUI and Loyola of Chicago at the Butler Invitational.

The most lopsided of them all, however, came at the Santa Barbara Invitational in California. With co-medalists Daniel Miernicki and Jack Dukeminier leading the way, Oregon, a semifinalist at last season’s NCAA Championship, won by 27. The Ducks finished at 12-under 852, with host Santa Barbara next at 15-over 879, Fresno State at 885 and Pacific at 894.

OK, maybe it wasn’t college golf’s strongest field, but to me, the Ducks’ performance shows they are getting themselves back in a row and again will be a factor come the postseason.

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