Feb. 26, 2018
By Brad Muller | More Features
The greatest show in women’s collegiate golf returns to Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island as South Carolina hosts the seventh annual Darius Rucker Intercollegiate March 2-4. Those close to the tournament note that there is a combination of reasons why it is recognized as one of the top women’s college tournaments in the nation.
“It’s a very strong field,” said Bob Patton, head golf professional at Long Cove. “Short of the NCAA Championships, we’ve probably got one of the strongest fields in women’s collegiate golf. Our golf course is probably one of the better golf courses that they have the opportunity to play, and the elements of having the concert with Darius and putting the players up in homes that are at or near the beach make it unique. What young lady doesn’t like going to the beach?”
“It’s a special tournament for us,” said South Carolina senior Ainhoa Olarra. “We have the concert. We stay in houses at the beach. It’s such a great tournament. The golf is so good.”
“Everybody wants to play in it,” added South Carolina Director of Golf and Associate Head Coach Puggy Blackmon. “It is unbelievably organized. They’re playing one of the best venues in the country, and it’s just a first-class event that rivals any women’s golf event, whether it’s amateur or professional.”
Another key element is that the local golf club members enjoy working the tournament as well.
“We have well over 100 members who volunteer for this event, and they love it,” Patton said. “Their attitude really shows toward the players. I think they feel welcomed when they’re here.”
“We have as many fans as you’ll see at any college golf event,” Blackmon said. “We have crowds come out. They have the starters from the Heritage come out in their kilts to start the players on their first tees. From start to finish, it’s just a well-oiled machine. We’re so thankful to Darius for his commitment and enthusiasm, and the tremendous commitment from the staff and members at Long Cove. They really take ownership of the event. It has raised the bar for women’s college golf events.”
Everywhere I go, I see someone who has either been here or wants to come.
Building that well-oiled machine doesn’t just happen. The genesis for the tournament came after Blackmon previously helped coordinate a similar men’s tournament, Hootie at Bulls Bay, with Darius and fellow members of the Grammy Award-winning rock band Hootie & the Blowfish. Members of the South Carolina’s women’s team played a round of golf with Rucker several years ago, and Blackmon pitched the idea to the South Carolina alumnus.
“He had a blast playing with our team, and that’s when I asked him if he’d be willing to host a tournament for the women,” Blackmon recalled. “He said that he was 'all in.' My whole focus is that the emphasis be put on the teams and the coaches. The whole motivation behind the event is that we want to create an experience for the kids and coaches that they’ve never seen before, and Darius is a huge part of that.”
Finding a top-notch venue was next on the list, and having a premiere facility in Long Cove was the perfect fit.
“I’m a big believer in women’s golf because these young women have proven to me that it’s a very high level of play,” Patton said. “We’ve always felt that, as a club, we should give back and host significant national field events. When Puggy and I first discussed this, it just fit the bill and our members embraced it. I hope it continues a lot longer.”
In addition to a great tournament field with numerous nationally ranked programs, including South Carolina as well as defending national champion Arizona State, the event kicks off with a concert from Rucker in a private setting.
“When I talk with Darius, he and his band love doing this every year,” Blackmon said. “It’s quite an experience to have one of the top recording artists in the world in a venue of 300-400 people.”
“Everywhere I go, I see someone who has either been here or wants to come,” Rucker said. “They’re talking about how cool the tournament is, and that’s nice to know the people running it are doing a nice job. We’re putting on a classy event.”
“To be associated with such a first-class event is a great reflection on us,” said South Carolina head coach Kalen Anderson. “Darius and Long Cove Club do such a wonderful job, and they certainly make us look good.”
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