The UT Golf Club has qualified for the NCCGA National Championship Tournament at Paiute Golf Resort in Las Vegas. This will be the third consecutive semester in which the club participates in the national championship. Last year, Tennessee finished 16th out of 27 teams that competed.
Captain Drew Howard, in his second half in the role, leads the team both on and off the course. He recorded the team’s best score in their recent tournament in the Birmingham area while managing the organisation’s finances.
Although the Tennessee team has made the national tournament in each of the past two seasons, this year is a bigger achievement for the team.
“This is definitely the first year we’ve done it for real,” Howard said. “Last year we were probably 30th to 40th in the country, and enough teams didn’t want to go, so we got the last spot in the tournament. This year was the first year that we received an offer immediately.
The trip to Las Vegas won’t come cheap for the club. Although they receive assistance from RecSports, the University of Tennessee organization that, among other roles, controls club sports in Tennessee, to defray the costs, much of the funding needed comes from fundraising. .
The trip will cost around $9,000 in total. This cost comes from flights, hotel, and registration fees, among other expenses.
A GoFundMe page started by the club was meant to be just a way for families to donate, but it eventually grew much bigger, raising more than $6,000 for the trip.
Connor Weir suffered a torn rotator cuff while playing golf at the University of California Santa Barbara in Division I. He did not play for two seasons before joining the club’s team at the Tennessee. Weir finished tied for fourth individually in the final tournament of the year, helping the team finish second, six shots ahead of Georgia Tech.
Michael Ray played at Gardner-Webb before coming to Tennessee to play club golf. Howard competed in Division II at the University of Montevallo. NCAA rules regarding COVID-19 eligibility haven’t made college golf as attractive as it used to be.
“When COVID came, everybody got a redshirt wanting it, but also high school grads still came to college,” Howard said. “At my old school, we ended up with 14 people on the roster, so two-thirds of the team didn’t see a tournament, and I was in those two-thirds.”
As a club sport, the team is open to whoever participates in each event while allowing anyone to participate.
“We hold qualifiers for each of our tournaments,” said club vice-chairman Hayden Ott. “Anyone at this university can have an equal opportunity to play in any tournament.”
Even allowing anyone to qualify to participate in tournaments, the team still forms a consistent roster throughout the season.
“(Howard) and I set up a table at RecSports, and it’s pretty easy to tell if people are coming to us with genuine interest,” Ott said. “We have a fixed list of players who take this more seriously.”
Tennessee is currently ranked 18th by the NCCGA, the highest ranking in team history. This year was also the first time Tennessee was ranked in the top 25, making it a historic year for the club.
While this may be the first time the Volunteer Club team has ranked this high and will face their toughest competition yet, the team still has high expectations for the national tournament.
“I think we can potentially finish in the top 10,” Howard said. “We’re not going to expect to win, but we’re not going to finish last.”