By STEVE WILLIAMS
UNC Greensboro has been a great host to an outstanding collegiate tournament for the last six years. This year, the Spartans would like to keep the Bridgestone Collegiate hardware at home.
“Our goal is to win the golf tournament,” veteran UNCG coach Terrance Stewart said as he looked ahead to the 15-team, late October event that will close out the fall schedule for the Spartans and several of the other teams in the field.
“The guys are playing well and we’ve got a bunch of experience so we want to compete.”
Before returning home to Forest Oaks Country Club on Oct. 29-30, the Spartans will have had three tournaments on their ledger. They opened in September with a tie for seventh at the VCU Shootout and had October dates at N.C. State and Georgia State.
Team scores of 280, 297 and 286 at the VCU tournament were encouraging, especially since their top scorer from last season – junior Robert Hoadley – didn’t play up to his norm with 73-76-75. He averaged just a shade over 73 as a sophomore and notched five top-20 finishes.
Colin Chapman, who has emerged as the team’s senior leader after averaging 74.2 last season, led the way at Richmond with 71-72-70.
Andy Knox, last season’s prize freshman recruit, contributed a pair of 71s and this year’s newbies Alex Ehlert and Roy Dixon showed their potential. Ehlert posted a pair of 70s and Dixon had the team’s best single score as he opened his collegiate career with a 68.
That’s not to say that Stewart will be locked into that group all season. There’s a foursome on the practice tee with collegiate experience ready to step up: seniors Will Almand and Kyle Sonday, junior Matt Younts and sophomore Alex Simmons.
“We’ll see how the next couple of events go,” Stewart said.
The Spartans have managed two top-six finishes in Bridgestone Collegiate history (third in 2005 and sixth in 2008), but they had visions of doing better than that last fall.
“Last year was very disappointing,” Stewart said. “We had the lead through about 27 holes but then really stumbled coming in.”
A tie for 11th was the result of a final-round 309.
The Spartans rebounded in the spring and had several solid showings, including a second-place finish in the Southern Conference Championship – missing by five shots of qualifying for the NCAA regionals. Almand and Sonday both finished in the top 10 in the conference tourney to lead the team.
Playing tough competition has always been goal one when Stewart assembles the Spartans’ schedule. And the Bridgestone field is evidence of just that.
“Once again we’ve got a very good national field,” he said. “There’s excellent representation from the SEC (Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina), the ACC (North Carolina, N.C. State and Virginia Tech) and the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue). It’s a very good field this year and several of the teams have gotten off to solid starts.”
Stewart credited the community support for helping the tournament grow, naming the Greensboro Sports Commission, the Greensboro Visitors Bureau, The Bryan Foundation and the Wyndham Championship among others. “And obviously Bridgestone Golf, our title sponsor.”
“The tournament has just continued to grow year after year and we had to turn down some really good teams that wanted to come this time,” he said. “We’re absolutely thrilled with it.”