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Demand Grows as Darius Rucker Intercollegiate a Hit with Golf Teams

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Darius Rucker Intercollegiate - trophy.JPGIt's not every weekend you go to a golf tournament and get a concert from a famous chart-topping singer. Participants in this year's Darius Rucker Intercollegiate tournament got that and more. A concert by Darius Rucker at a college golf tournament bearing his name could have been enough on its own to launch the event as one of the best in the nation. But the tournament, put on in collaboration by Rucker, the University of South Carolina and the Long Cove Club in Hilton Head, earned that status all on its own.

"We are receiving rave reviews from all participating coaches and teams following the inaugural Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. Over 50 schools have requested consideration for a 2013 invitation," said South Carolina's Director of Golf, Puggy Blackmon. "In 30 years I have never seen a [club] membership so enthusiastic and excited about an event. It is very unusual to have one of the most prestigious clubs in the country take such a role."

The three-day, 54-hole event held in early March at Long Cove Club hosted one of the strongest tournament fields in collegiate golf this season, as 12 of the 15 participating teams were ranked in the Golfweek Top 50. Blackmon and Long Cove head professional Bob Patton came up with the idea with hopes of creating one of the top women's tournaments in the country and Blackmon reached out to Rucker for his involvement. Long Cove's commitment helped take the event to another level. Tournament chairman Staunton Oppenheimer (affectionately known as "Oppie"), took care of seemingly small details that enhanced the teams' experiences, such as housing. As opposed to staying in hotels, Oppie secured housing in private homes in the area. He helped create a red carpet atmosphere for Rucker's concert, enlisted tournament sponsors and got the club membership involved. Club members volunteered with scoring, set-up, hospitality - virtually every aspect of the tournament.

"They just did an incredible job. They have one of the best golf courses in the state. It's a high-end private club that we get to compete at, and then you've got the staff -  the food and beverage, the pro shop staff, Patton and his support staff, the grounds crew that makes the grounds pristine, that helps make things a little bit different than every event that we play," said South Carolina head women's golf coach Kalen Harris. "Oppie and the membership really pulled together and made it special; they were excited to have us."

Visiting coaches also shared Harris's sentiments.

"The Darius Rucker Intercollegiate is the best regular season collegiate golf tournament in the country.  My team was blown away by The Long Cove Club, the membership's hospitality, and most of all Darius Rucker's sponsorship and involvement with this event.  This is truly a first-class event and we can't wait to return next year.  My team is still talking about this amazing tournament and the memories that they created are moments of a lifetime." - Arkansas head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor

"Obviously you can't control the weather but everything that they could control was great. The golf course was in excellent shape. The whole aura of the tournament was amazing. Being able to stay as a team in one of the homes was good because I think it helped us bond a little bit. The students also really enjoyed the Darius Rucker concert. Being able to see what a fine person he is on top of being a great entertainer was a neat experience. You could see his personality and character come out in that concert and he's such a great role model for the athletes. Our host family was amazing and the members who volunteered during the tournament were phenomenal. They try to make it the best event of the year and they did a great job." --  Wake Forest head coach Dianne Dailey

Darius Rucker Intercollegiate - Concert.JPGRucker's involvement in the tournament was a huge attraction. He held a private concert for tournament players, coaches, sponsors, guests and Long Cove members the Thursday night before the Friday start of competition that quickly sold out.

"Darius loves the game of golf, he promotes golf, and he loves the Gamecocks. The neat thing during the concert was that he gave us a lot of shout outs and he's throwing his guitar picks and they all have Block C's on them with his signature on the back," said Harris. "A lot of the girls on our team said, 'I haven't had that much fun in a long time.'"

Rucker directs a lot of generosity towards supporting golf. His former band, Hootie and the Blowfish, already lends its name to a men's college tournament, the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate, and hosts the Hootie and the Blowfish Monday After The Masters Celebrity Pro-Am Golf Tournament. The Pro-Am has donated more than $4.5 million to the band's foundation, which supports education and the S.C. Junior Golf Foundation. Rucker also wanted to make a $5,000 donation to whichever school won the Darius Rucker event (No. 2-ranked Alabama took home first place in the rain-shortened tournament.)

Darius Rucker Intercollegiate - Gamecocks.JPG

"To have a first class event associated with South Carolina Women's Golf is great publicity for us and it's a great thing for the future of our program," said Harris. "To have really the best tournament in the country hosted by the University of South Carolina is something that's good for recruiting and good for our school."

As word spread about the great experience, demand for invitations to next year's event have grown, which also helps South Carolina with scheduling and being able to trade invitations with other prestigious, attractive tournaments.

Fortunately those excited teams are in luck. Rucker, Long Cove and South Carolina have agreed to host the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at least through 2016.

*Photos courtesy of Long Cove Club. View more photos from the tournament and concert here.

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