Vanderbilt Legends Club ready for primetime

Team flags fly at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn.

Team flags fly at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn.

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.59 
2Annie ParkUSC  69.73 
3Yu LiuDuke  69.81 
4Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.00 
5Gaby LopezArkansas  70.01 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.32 
2UCLA 70.60 
3Duke 70.79 
4Stanford 71.49  10 
5Arkansas 71.52 

FRANKLIN, Tenn. – As Vanderbilt players arrived one by one at the 18th green to end the first round of the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview on Sept. 23, family and friends drifted in from the nearby parking lot at Vanderbilt Legends Club. The excitement for the home team was so high that at times it didn’t even feel like a golf course – Vanderbilt head coach Greg Allen had to gently quiet the crowd as his players capped their rounds at a par 5 where a front left pin made for hard-earned birdies.

It’s the kind of scene that creates a positive outlook for the coming NCAA Women’s Championship.

The Legends Club’s North Course has several tournament-friendly aspects, including that on the majority of the holes, spectators (and journalists) can stand in one place, turn a circle and see no fewer than four holes. With Nos. 9 and 18 finishing just a few yards from each other, it’s also easy for crowds to build at the final holes.

Teams aren’t unfamiliar with this layout, either. The Mason Rudolph Championship is a popular stop for top-10 teams every year, and this year’s field included every one of Golfweek’s preseason top-10 picks. It was the first year Allen has been able to combine the golfing legend’s name with the prestigious Fall Preview, but also the first year Rudolph didn’t make an appearance. Rudolph died in April, and wife Carol died shortly after in August. The flags at each hole displayed a scrawled MR, as did many volunteers’ shirts.

“I saw somebody driving a cart today, an older couple that was out there watching their granddaughter, and it kind of reminded me of Mason,” Allen said after the first round. “He lived in Tuscaloosa but he always came out for this event. It’s kind of sad not seeing him and Carol out here.”

Aside from the Mason Rudolph, the Legends Club hosted the 1997 U.S. Girls’ Junior and the LPGA Tour’s Franklin American Mortgage Classic from 2004-06 (named the Electrolux USA Championship from 2000-02).

“I just think this is a great golf course for women’s golf,” Allen said. “The LPGA had some success here. This is where Lorena (Ochoa) won her first LPGA tournament so a lot of sentimental value for me knowing she did that.”

Historically, Vanderbilt has not blown away the field at the Mason Rudolph, but Allen hopes the new greens will change that. The biggest story of the week was that the bentgrass greens at the North Course were replaced over the summer with Bermudagrass. They no longer accept the darts players used to throw in close to pins, which helped drive UCLA’s winning score up to 9 over. LSU won the 2010 Mason Rudolph with a 21-under total.

“We’ve had a chance to play a lot of rounds out here,” Allen explained. “I do think finally we have a little bit of a home-course advantage because of the new greens.”

Of course, those same greens might cause him to lose some sleep during the winter months, when the new Bermuda will grow dormant and will have to be covered. Allen knows they could be firm in the spring.

The course was lengthened by roughly 200 yards for the Preview, weighing in now at 6,426 yards. The changes include yardage additions at Nos. 1, 3, 8, 15 and 18. Allen says he is still open to suggestion from the NCAA and fellow coaches about setup for the national championship.

The national championship can benefit from Allen’s history running tournaments with the AJGA, where he was a Director of Tournament Operations for five years. NCAA officials were in Franklin for the final round of the Preview to do a site inspection, and will stay an extra day for meetings. Allen will meet with the Franklin Chamber of Commerce to try to drum up interest in this spring’s championship. Walking scorers accompanied each group at the Preview, giving the tournament a professional touch.

“I love running golf tournaments, it’s what got me involved with the AJGA,” Allen said. “So this is in my blood and if I’m going to have my name on it, then I want it to be first class from start to finish.”

And as for Vanderbilt, No. 18 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, it seems likely they’ll follow Texas A&M’s lead from last year and give the home crowd a reason to cheer. As the first team since 2003 to qualify for a national championship at its home course, the Aggies finished seventh at the NCAA Championship.

Vanderbilt finished ninth at the Preview after climbing as high as third midway through Round 1. Lauren Stratton (T-3) and Marina Alex (T-14) led the Commodores.

For senior Alex, hosting NCAAAs will be the final hurrah for her college golf career. As a local, she’s looking forward to the crowds – hopefully, she notes, some juniors from nearby Golf House Tennessee headquarters will find their way over – and playing the course. A very different course than years past, as proved at the Preview.

“It’s completely reversed itself from the past couples years to now, and it’s a good thing.”

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