By STEVE HANF
Terrance Stewart had no trouble attaching a grade to the performance of Grandover Resort & Conference Center in its first year playing host to the Bridgestone Golf Collegiate.
“Absolute A-plus,” Stewart raved.
As for the performance of his UNC Greensboro Spartans, perhaps a grade of “incomplete” remains in order. The host team was in seventh place after two strong rounds but ballooned on the final 18 to land 11th in the 13-team field.
“We did the exact same thing we’ve done the entire semester,” Stewart said. “The guys played a really good second round. We had a great chance to finish it with a top-five and just struggled on the last day.”
That was the only disappointment for Stewart as some of the region’s top teams arrived in Greensboro at the end of October for the eighth annual event. After being played at Forest Oaks Country Club, the Bridgestone shifted to Grandover’s East Course for the first time thanks to a new marketing partnership between the resort and UNCG.
“It was a fabulous four days. Grandover was a spectacular venue,” Stewart said. “All the coaches, players – everybody – stopped me and said, ‘Coach, this is a perfect college venue, from the hotel to the golf course to the way the tournament was run.’ It’s just a fabulous place to be – best year of our tournament.”
How good was the event? So good that North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State and Purdue already committed to return next year.
Mississippi State obviously enjoyed its stay, firing 286-286-289 to finish 3-under and win the tournament by four shots. Chattanooga carded the best effort in Round 2 with a 282, but added a dozen shots in the finale to place second. Defending champion Iowa State was third at 2-over.
The rest of the field failed to keep up that kind of pace. UNC, the Hokies and Mississippi tied for fourth at 22-over.
Chattanooga’s Chris Robb took individual medalist honors with a 72-66-69—207. That 9-under total bested Mississippi State’s Axel Boasson by one shot. Last year’s winner – Albin Choi of N.C. State – tied for sixth at 2-under. Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox, also of Chattanooga, tied for 10th at 3-over.
Jonathan York, the director of golf at Grandover, was impressed by the level of talent.
“It’s enjoyable for me as a golf professional to watch these young men go out there,” York said. “To see the way they play it was certainly intriguing. These guys are very, very good at their game.”
Grandover has had some college talent walking its fairways before. The Division III national championship was played at the Greensboro resort in 2011 – and is scheduled to return in 2014 and 2015 – and a Division I regional was held at the site in May.
“Grandover was built for this purpose, so we felt pretty comfortable with our experience,” York said. “I received a lot of compliments from the coaches here with how much they enjoyed our facilitation of the event.”
The next step for the tournament as far as UNCG is concerned is to get more competitive against the strong field. The Spartans finished outside the top 10 for the fourth straight year, and the culprit was once again that one bad round.
UNCG was ninth after an opening 297 and jumped to seventh place with its 290 in Round 2. What followed – a 311 – was the worst round of the tournament by six shots.
“Starting two freshmen and two sophomores, it’s such a young starting lineup,” Stewart said. “We need a little more mental toughness out there, and that will come shortly.”
Stewart was hoping it would come before the end of the fall season. Instead, he and his golfers must continue working this winter in preparation for the spring season, which opens Feb. 16. with the Carolina Cup, a match play event against High Point University with one round at Grandover and the other at Willow Creek.
Sophomore Alex Ehlert led UNCG at Grandover with a 19th-place tie, shooting 73-69-79 for a 5-over total. Sophomore Roy Dixon was tied for 35th at 8-over following rounds of 78-69-77. Freshman Luke Haithcock tied for 45th at 13-over, while freshman Taylor Coalson and senior Robert Hoadley each had scores in the low 70s that counted in Round 1.
“Unlike baseball, softball, everything we do (in the fall) counts,” Stewart said of what is typically viewed as the preseason for college golf. “But certainly we hope to develop enough to fare well in conference in the spring.”