By STEVE HANF
The Bridgestone Golf Collegiate has grown into one of the top tournaments in the region over the past seven years.
UNC Greensboro’s marquee event should gain even greater stature this fall when the tournament brings back plenty of top talent to a new location: Grandover Resort & Conference Center’s East Course.
“Forest Oaks (Country Club) did a wonderful job with it and I’m still very appreciative of everything they did,” Spartans coach Terrance Stewart said of the switch. “Grandover presented us an opportunity to elevate the tournament even more and we simply could not pass on it. You’ve got the resort right there, so all the teams can stay on site, and it’s a championship golf course that will be a super test for all the players.”
A field of 13 teams and several individuals will descend upon Greensboro from Oct. 25-28. The three-round tournament features Atlantic Coast Conference squads Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Maryland and Boston College, Southeastern Conference schools Mississippi and Mississippi State, a couple of Midwestern teams from power conferences in Purdue and Iowa State, and reigning Southern Conference champion Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Iowa State took the team title a year ago, snapping a three-year run of ACC teams (UNC, Georgia Tech and Duke) claiming the crown. Last year’s individual winner, Albin Choi of the Wolfpack, will be back to defend his title. The field also contains Steven Fox of Chattanooga, who won the U.S. Amateur in August.
Why do so many top teams attend the event?
“I think it’s just the complete package in terms of the golf course, all the volunteer help, the organization of the tournament,” Stewart said. “We have always given the coaches a very well-organized event played on championship golf courses, and along with wonderful corporate sponsorship this event does not cost teams a lot. They basically just have to pay to get here.”
Stewart praised Grandover – a corporate sponsor of UNCG athletics – along with the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greensboro Sports Commission, the Bryan Foundation, Cooke Vending and of course Bridgestone for making the event a special one.
“It’s certainly the highlight of our schedule each year,” Stewart said. “This has been an outstanding golf tournament thanks to so many people.”
The hope for the Spartans is that they enjoy more success in this special event. After placing third in the inaugural tournament in 2005, UNCG hasn’t finished higher than fifth among the 12 to 15 teams that attend each year. Four years – including the last three – the host school has been outside the top 10.
Stewart said his goal for the entire fall schedule is to steadily improve at each event. The Spartans opened with a 13th-place finish at UNC and improved to ninth place at Virginia Commonwealth in their first two tournaments. Two other trips – to Georgia State and N.C. State – are on tap prior to the Bridgestone.
“Our goal in the fall is getting a little bit better each week,” Stewart said. “Hopefully through proper practice and getting better each week, by the time we get to Bridgestone we will be able to try to compete to win the golf tournament.”
The Spartans’ all-North Carolina roster includes familiar faces such as senior Robert Hoadley and freshmen Luke Haithcock and Taylor Coalson. Hoadley, out of Union Pines High School, led the team at the UNC tournament. Haithcock – a Burlington Williams product – and former North Surry star Coalson led UNCG in its second event.
“We have a young team – two of our top three players are freshmen,” Stewart said. “Very soon they will start competing in these events, and I think they will get it here very, very soon.”
The Bridgestone certainly would be a nice place to start.