By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
On the day The Greenbrier Classic, a PGA TOUR stop that is the state’s premier golf event, began on the course that the legendary Sam Snead called home, the state’s flagship university, WVU, announced it was bringing back its men’s golf team after an absence of 33 years.
The program will go into operation for the 2015-16 school year with a fall and spring program.
“I had a chance over the last year or two to meet a number of very passionate, successful business people including federal judges, doctors, lawyers, developers who really got us excited about bringing back the sport of men’s golf,” Luck said.
Also considered was men’s track and field and cross country and men’s tennis, but Luck had been leaning toward golf for some time.
“A lot of thought, time and effort went into this decision as far as cost, travel and infrastructure goes,” Luck said, “and I believe the strong tradition and history of Big 12 golf will only enhance our chances of building a championship program.”
One key item that swayed Luck toward adding golf over those sports is that he already has raised more than $1.5 million in commitments to defray the costs.
True, the way money is spent these days, that may not sound like much, especially considering that the winner of The Greenbrier Classic will take down $1,098,000 of the total purse of $6.3 million.
The program will be phased in slowly, just as was the case with soccer and rowing.
Although the school can give 4.5 scholarships, it will begin with 1.5 and up it until the program is fully implemented in 2017-18. At that time they estimate the cost of the program to be $257,162.
“Ramping the program up eases the financial burden on us just a little bit,” Luck said. “I talked to golf coaches around the country and they indicated we probably had a number of good golfers enrolled here at the university. We have a very strong club program for men’s golf.
“The advice I got was it would make some sense to ramp up and in the 2014-15 academic year do some open men’s tournaments for students because we think there may very well be some students capable of playing on the golf team.
“We are absolutely committed to offering the full allotment of scholarships just as we did in rifle and baseball. We saw with those two sports how important it is to fully fund any sport because you don’t want a coach going into a season with a hand tied behind his or her back,” Luck added.
Associate athletic director Terri Howes offered this view.
“In the past, when we added rowing, when we added women’s soccer, this was the process we did. It gives the coach an opportunity to identify both quality walk-on athletes as well as scholarship athletes to build the program to the point that it is fully funded,” she said.
Luck is in no hurry to name a coach, expecting to begin advertising for one after the first of the year.
While he says he’s heard from a few potential candidates, he has no one in mind and plans to throw it open.
“I’d like to find someone with experience in college golf, who understands this part of the world and the legacy of golf in this state and the great courses we have here,” he said. “We want someone who can build a program and put us in a position to be competitive in the conference.”
The Big 12 is a strong golf conference, dominated by Oklahoma State, which has won 10 of the 14 national championships won by the Big 12. Texas has three titles and Oklahoma, one.
Among the former Big 12 golfers who have performed on the PGA TOUR are the likes of Bob Tway, Charles Howell III, Hunter Mahan, Jeff Maggert, Bo Van Pelt and Scott Verplank from Oklahoma State, Hunter Hass of Oklahoma, Ben Crenshaw Bob Estes, Tom Kite, Justin Leonard of Texas and Jimmy Walker of Baylor.
West Virginia will not play a conference schedule, which allows them to play around the Mid-Atlantic area in tournaments and possibly on some of the finer courses around the state. They do take part in the conference tournament, however, held at some of the most prestigious courses in the Big 12 area.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.