You know the feeling you have when you finish a good old-fashioned, home-cooked meal? Perhaps even after a visit to the Cracker Barrel for dinner? That’s the type of feeling I get strolling the grounds here at the Vanderbilt Legends Club – happy and comfortable.
From the moment I parked my car Sunday night on the grounds at the Legends Club, I have felt welcomed. I can only imagine the 24 teams participating this week in the NCAA Championship feel similarly.
So, now it’s that time at the NCAA Championship when I place this year’s event on the “Ringler Championship Feel Test” chart. This is my 13th consecutive trip to the NCAA finals. There are no exact criteria or guidelines that are followed. It’s simply a feel test – sort of like that 55-yard wedge shot over water to a tucked pin.
Last year, following the championship hosted by Texas A&M, Vanderbilt head coach Greg Allen said it would be a goal to put this year’s championship at the top of the list. Before we get to that, let me share some of the things that are considered.
The golf course itself is the first thing to examine. The Legends Club’s North Course is in spectacular shape, and the putting surfaces are fantastic. It is extremely fair and enjoyable to play. But should a championship course be fun to play? Should we see a front-nine 29, such as what Virginia’s Portland Rosen posted in the first round? The course seems to have been toughened up for the third round, but that is largely due to harder hole locations.
Another important factor: Is the course gallery-friendly? Without question, yes. There are more places than you can count where fans can see multiple holes, and many vantage points for gallery members to clearly see the action.
With the golf course and the surroundings getting great marks, there are still other categories to consider on my Feel Test Chart. Things such as weather, lunch menu for players and of course media comforts such as speed of the Internet connection, media parking, the media room’s proximity to the course and evening entertainment.
There’s no doubt the evening entertainment for participants was possibly the best ever with Vince Gill, winner of 27 Grammys, performing a private show. And the Franklin, Tenn., area just outside Nashville is a pleasant area that has many food and lodging options.
The host did a good job of making sure it felt like an NCAA Championship and not a hyped-up Mason Rudolph event – despite the fact that all of the volunteers were wearing polo shirts in Vanderbilt colors. You still feel like you are at an NCAA Championship.
The little things such as parking, media room comforts and the proximity of need-to-get-to areas all grade out with positive marks.
However, the Vanderbilt Legends Club has a tough recent act to follow. Two years ago, UNC-Wilmington hosted the NCAA Championship at Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., by far the best venue we have seen – at least in my 13 years. And, though this week is good – very good – I am sticking with the 2010 event at the top of the list.
It was extremely close, and I even consulted with my colleagues from Golfweek before making a final choice, but the deciding factors came down to the size and intensity of the galleries, to Landfall being a bit more demanding as a golf course and, of course, the food.
A total of 5,034 tickets were sold at Landfall, and there were probably more fans than that at the course. The homes surrounding the course that week are what made the championship a spectacle. There were numerous “tailgate” parties, complete with school flags waving and people cheering the players on as they came by. Also, the fried chicken and sweet tea in Wilmington will be hard to top by any future venue.
The past few years, it seems that there has been an increased interest in making this event more memorable, making it more than just a nice course hosting an event with the best teams in the country. Two of the past three NCAA finals have been big hits. Now is the time to adopt the three-course championship rotation that has been discussed in passing conversations.
You have Landfall in North Carolina and now Vanderbilt’s Legends Club. All that is needed is a site on the West Coast. Then it will be time to make a few small format changes, such as having a cut at regionals and possibly at NCAA finals. With those improvements, the women’s game will continue to grow and have quality NCAA Championships for years to come.
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Ringler’s “Championship Feel Test” Rankings
- 2010 at Landfall Tradition (UNCW)
- 2012 at Vanderbilt Legends Club
- 2004 at Auburn (Grand National)
- 2003 at Purdue’s Kampen Course
- 2008 at University of New Mexico GC
- 2002 at Washington National GC
- 2011 at Traditions Club at Texas A&M
- 2006 at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course
- 2001 at Mission Inn Resort, Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.
- 2009 at Caves Valley Golf Club (Georgetown)
- 2000 at Sun River Crosswater GC
- 2005 at Sun River Meadows GC
- 2007 at LPGA International
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Up next in 2013: University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga.