Golfweek Program Challenge provides early opportunity
PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. - College golf kickoff weekend is here, and I am onsite at the Golfweek Program Challenge in Myrtle Beach. Twenty-four teams - 12 men's teams and 12 women's teams - each from the same school are starting their season with program pride on the line.
The Program Challenge offers a bit of uniqueness to college golf. While the men will compete for a trophy at True Blue, the women will compete at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, with scores being combined at the end to determine the program champion.
"This is an amazing way to start our college golf season. To have your men's and women's programs here together playing two different courses, but playing together. Not many times do you have an opportunity to do that and cheer each other on," said UNCW men's coach Matt Clark. "There is some excitement within our program, and there is a little bit of pressure too. Coach (Cindy) Ho and I have talked about it, and neither one of us want to be the one to let the other team down."
I am told True Blue and Caledonia Golf and Fish Club are two of the finest courses in Myrtle Beach, and I believe it. Mike Strantz is the architect, and after touring both layouts I am a big fan of his work. Each hole at Caledonia is framed like a painting on a canvas, and True Blue will have the players using every club in the bag.
The favorite here at the Program Challenge has to be East Carolina. Last year, the Pirates men finished the season ranked No. 40 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and the Pirate women were ranked No. 50. They both participated in NCAA regional play, but did not advance to the NCAA Championship.
The top individuals on the men's side both come from East Carolina. Seniors Harold Varner and David Watkins should contend this week for medalist honors. The East Carolina women also have one of the top players in sophomore Fanny Wolte, who won twice as a freshman.
The top player in the women's field, according to last year's rankings, is Shena Yang of South Forida. Yang, a senior, played in the NCAA East Regional last year as individual and finished the season ranked No. 71.
Looking for a sleeper this week? Campbell always seems to have competitive squads and should do well in this format. Also keep an eye on Jacksonville State. UNCW also could contend for the program title, along with Texas State and South Florida.