Darius Rucker Intercollegiate draws top college teams to Long Cove Club

By Lance Hanlin

When University of South Carolina Director of Golf Puggy Blackmon started working with the women’s golf team at USC, he quickly realized a need for a premier tournament.

“You find a lot more extraordinary events on the men’s side,” said Blackmon, who grew up in Ridgeland. “We wanted to do something really extraordinary for the women.”

To turn the idea into a reality, Blackmon called a couple of longtime friends.

The first call was to chart-topping musician Darius Rucker, who teamed up with Blackmon for the successful Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate men’s tournament in Charleston.

“He’s just an absolute golf nut and Gamecock nut,” Blackmon said. “I knew it was right up his alley.”

After Rucker agreed to be involved, Blackmon’s second call was to Bob Patton, head golf professional at Long Cove Club.

“Because of their track record of doing top golf tournaments, Long Cove was the first place I thought of,” Blackmon said. “They don’t do anything unless they are going to do it 110 percent.”

Patton was interested but had one stipulation.

“I said, ‘Listen, Puggy. If we’re doing this, we only want to have the strongest possible field. We want to stand out,’” Patton recalled.

The inaugural Darius Rucker Intercollegiate did just that last year.

With many of its 15 teams nationally ranked, Golfweek magazine rated the tournament the sixth toughest women’s college golf field in 2012. Alabama, the eventual national champion, won the tournament by 11 strokes.
The Crimson Tide return to defend their crown against another loaded field when the 2013 Darius Rucker Intercollegiate takes place March 8-10 at Long Cove Club.

The University of South Carolina is the host team.

“We have another very impressive field,” South Carolina coach Kalen Harris said. “It’s going to be stacked with some very competitive teams. Our response from last year was amazing. Teams from all over the country wanted to get in. Obviously, Darius Rucker was a huge draw to that and so was Long Cove Club.”

Seven of the 15 teams coming to the tournament are ranked in the Golfweek Top 25 poll: (6) Alabama, (8) North Carolina,  (10) Arizona State, (13) Arkansas, (16) Vanderbilt, (17) Virginia and (21) Georgia.

Other teams in the field are Tennessee, Auburn, Louisiana State, Wake Forest, South Carolina, Central Florida, Texas Christian and Furman.

A familiar face led the Crimson Tide to victory last year. Former Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy student Stephanie Meadow was the low medalist, winning by three strokes.

Now a junior, the Jordanstown, Northern Ireland, native has earned medalist honors five times, most in Alabama’s storied history. Over the summer, she won the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship and helped clinch a Curtis Cup victory for Great Britain and Ireland. She is currently the No. 11 ranked women’s collegiate golfer in the Golfweek rankings. She has been awarded an amateur exemption to the upcoming LPGA Kraft Nabisco, the first major of the season.

“I am very excited about coming back to Hilton Head Island,” Meadow said. “It is a place that is very special to my heart. It was my home for several years and my parents still have a home there. It is still a home in my mind. … (The HHIJGA) was a great place for me. I definitely would not be in the same situation I am in today without them. The academy taught me so many things about golf and also life.”

Other high profile golfers in the field are Georgia’s Emilie Burger (ranked No. 10), Virginia’s Brittany Altomare (12), North Carolina’s Casey Grice (16) and Vanderbilt’s Kendall Martindale (19).

The tournament’s primary sponsors are Kroger and Reynolds Consumer Products. Admission is free and the public is welcome to attend.

“These are some of the best female players in the country,” Patton said. “These girls are just a step removed from the LPGA Tour.”

Instead of putting players and coaches up in hotel rooms, Long Cove members Bill Haley and Todd Brooks are providing five- and six-bedroom beach houses. Players, coaches and guests will also be treated to a private Darius Rucker concert on March 7 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the concert last year,” Meadow said. “It is unlike any other tournament in the country. It definitely makes it one of the best collegiate tournaments of the season.”

During the three days of play, golfers will tee it up on Long Cove Club’s nationally renowned golf course, widely hailed as one of Pete Dye’s finest works of art.

Rucker, USC and Long Cove Club have committed to hosting the tournament through 2016.

“Hilton Head is a very intriguing place that everybody wants to visit,” Blackmon said. “I can’t say enough about the people of Long Cove. They give up their world-class golf course, their time and their energy to make this a special event for these young ladies. They do the lion’s share of the work. We’re along for the ride and it’s a great ride.”

What: Darius Rucker Intercollegiate
When: March 8-10
Where: Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island
Teams: Auburn, Arizona, Furman, Louisiana State, Texas Christian, Alabama, Arkansas, Central Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest
Admission: Free. Public welcome.


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