The tournament that is a labor of love
by Rob Daniels
UNCGSpartans.com staff writer
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Tommy Lee Jones couldn’t catch Terrence Stewart this week.
Stewart, UNCG’s men’s golf coach, isn’t a fugitive from justice, but he’s going to be in more places and dividing his time more than a movie star on a pre-release publicity tour. There are volunteers to get in place, food to be delivered, guests to be picked up and ultimately a competition to be played as the UNCG Bridgestone Golf Collegiate tees off for the sixth time this week.
Suffice it to say that this is a collaborative effort that keeps playing to positive reviews no matter how complex it gets. This weekend, UNCG and 13 out-of-town competitors will descend upon Forest Oaks Country Club for the sixth installment of an event that finds its place in the fall calendar amid considerable competition from other tournaments.
“There are 300 Division I golf tournaments each year, and various great national coaches have been very kind to us and have said this is one of the top five events in the country,” Stewart said. “That blows me away because we are not invited to play every top event. We have put a great product out each year and are thankful to so many people.”
Bridgestone is in its fifth year of association with the tournament, and it has been a major component to the Spartan program’s infrastructure. The world’s largest tire and rubber manufacturer bases its golf division in Covington, Ga., and has ties to around 20 Division I programs. It provides clubs, bags, golf balls, umbrellas and the other amenities to the university and serves as an obvious source of talent in the tournament. Two of its other schools, Toledo and Mississippi State, are on board.
But in putting together a nationally representative field, Stewart doesn’t rely exclusively on the title sponsor. When the event was getting off the ground, he recruited at a national coaches association convention. And then happenings in the rest of the golf world play their part.
Brent Geiberger won the 2004 Chrysler Classic of Greensboro, as it was then known, at Forest Oaks. He had played at Pepperdine University for his brother John Geiberger, who had an open spot on his team’s schedule and was aware of the family ties to the course and community. The trip will be the Waves’ only venture out of the Pacific time zone this fall.
The Michigan Wolverines are also on their way with local ties. Coach Andrew Sapp played and coached at North Carolina, and several of his current players competed at Forest Oaks in American Junior Golf Association events.
“At this time of the year, we’re trying to get out of Michigan and the Midwest to play a golf tournament,” Sapp said. “This is our fifth year in a row. A lot of guys had played that course in junior golf, so it’s a good fit for us.”
Another drawing card is future competition. UNCG and Forest Oaks will host an NCAA regional in 2012, and just as the Spartan men’s basketball team draws ACC schools eager to see the Greensboro Coliseum before the conference tournament, Stewart has used familiarity as a recruiting tool.
The Bridgestone has attracted six of the Top 50 teams in the 297-program Division I landscape: No. 12 Auburn, No. 29 Michigan, No. 31 Charlotte, 36th-ranked Northwestern and No. 38 Pepperdine.
The Spartans aren’t too far out of the Top 50, having checked in at 56th according to the most recent list. Playing one of the youngest lineups in the country, a group with one freshman, three sophomores and a junior, UNCG finished in the top half of three of its first five events of the fall.
“They’re very talented, but like most young athletes, they’re up and down,” Stewart said. “For this point, they’ve done a very nice job.”
Once a field is filled, it has to be serviced, and that’s where the Forest Oaks staff comes in. The club essentially serves as the home course for the Spartans, who have name-plated lockers in the members’ locker room and excellent access to the facility throughout the school year.
The course will approximate the look and feel of its final years as host of Greensboro’s PGA Tour stop. That means a 7,000-yard setup, live scoring from Forest Oaks members serving as volunteers; spectator-friendly scoreboards; the Bridgestone mobile PGA Tour van; and company representatives stationed on the driving range with demo clubs at the ready.
And for dinner? The players get to dine on Steak Diane and lobster tails on Friday.
“Yeah, we spoil ’em,” said Justin Holton, the club’s assistant food and beverage director and its director of membership.
“It’s like a little pro golf tournament,” Stewart said.
The tournament was conducted in the spring in its first two years, 2005 and ’06, but it moved to the fall in 2007 when the PGA Tour took its Greensboro event across town. Forest Oaks has proven to be an agile host. Its members make up a large portion of the volunteer pool needed to orchestrate the logistics.
“As soon as we put out an e-mail, we have people who jump all over it,” Holton said. “They do it just because they like to the support the club and because they’re as interested in this tournament as anybody else. The seniors love volunteering for tournaments. Even last year, when it was raining, they were still out there.”
General manager Geoff Dail and head pro Anthony Miller have been busily maintaining the course and preparing for, among other things, a spectator party on Saturday.
“I think the thing Forest Oaks has going for it is a 30-year history of hosting the PGA Tour,” Stewart said. “The members understand what it takes to put on a premier national golf tournament.”