Ready to rock. The Darius Rucker Intercollegiate draws top teams to Long Cove Club, brightening the spotlight on women’s golf.
Story By Lisa Allen + Photos Courtesy of Long Cove Club
Hilton Head Island is synonymous with golf, starting with that first PGA Tour Heritage tournament back in 1969.
Today it’s also earning a reputation as the premier place for women’s collegiate golf, thanks to the 11th Annual Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. The event, hosted by the Pete Dye-designed Long Cove Club and the University of South Carolina, will be covered by the Golf Channel for the second year. Yep, that’s a lot of name-dropping.
The three-day tournament is February 27-March 1, where more than 150 volunteers will welcome over 2,000 spectators to the event. No tickets are necessary.
Joining the University of South Carolina will be Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Duke, Furman, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Northwestern, Oregon, Texas, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Wake Forest. The teams will be housed in private, ocean-oriented homes on Hilton Head Island.
The idea for rock-star treatment for female golfers started with Puggy Blackmon, then director of golf operations at the University of South Carolina.
Celebrity tournaments were nothing new for men’s collegiate golf, Blackmon pointed out. “Puggy said, ‘I want these women players to be treated like royalty, just like the men players are,” Kalen Anderson, USC head coach, recalls of that conversation, shortly after she took over as head coach in 2008.
Rucker, a USC alumnus, “Hootie” of Hootie and the Blowfish, and winner of many group and solo Grammy awards, already turned up on occasion to play with the members of the women’s team. Blackmon mentioned the idea of a celebrity-touting women’s tournament, and Rucker was all-in. As for location they wanted a premier course that would be known for this specific tournament. Blackmon was friends with Bob Patton, director of golf at Long Cove Club, and knew the club would be a perfect fit. Eventually, all those elements came together, along with very enthusiastic support from the club’s members to create the now prestigious tournament.
“Thanks to the work of the club and its members and the number of people who come every year to watch the tournament, it feels like an LPGA event,” Anderson said. “The club does a great job promoting it. It’s my favorite tournament of the year.”
Players and coaches get VIP treatment at a private concert with Rucker on the eve of the competition.
And now with start-to-finish live Golf Channel coverage, the tournament is only going to grow. Last year was the first time the Golf Channel covered an all-women’s regular season collegiate golf event live.
“But we want to make sure it remains a quality event, not just a bigger event,” Anderson said. And with greater exposure come more tournament sponsors and support for the teams, Anderson said.
Each year the top 12 of 17 teams competing are invited back the following year. Thus more and more teams ask to fill one of the five open spots, Anderson said. Now teams come from all over the country, from every conference. This year two players from Howard University, one of the country’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), will be playing. Anderson hopes to include players from the military academies in the future.
“We want to stretch golf,” Anderson said. “We want to keep expanding it and making it more inclusive.”
Over 30 women who competed in the tournament over the years have gone on to play for the LPGA. It seems to be working.
Watch it live
Darius Rucker Intercollegiate
When: Feb. 27-March 1
Where: Long Cove Club
Details: Spectators are welcome at no charge. longcoveclub.com
Watch it on TV: 2:30-5:30 p.m. Feb. 28-March 1, The Golf Channel
Q&A with Glenn Grimshaw
Golf Channel keeps lens focused on Hilton Head
Glenn Grimshaw, vice president of programming and partnerships at NBC Sports, elaborated on why Hilton Head and women’s golf draw Golf Channel’s viewers.
[LOCAL Life] What about this tournament captured Golf Channel’s interest? What factored into your decision to cover it a second year? [Glenn Grimshaw] An all-women’s event was of major interest for us to add to our growing college golf portfolio. The field has historically been very competitive and features the best collegiate women playing in the spring, which is a desirable part of the season, ahead of the NCAA Women’s Championships in May, which are also presented on Golf Channel. Pair that with Darius Rucker as tournament host, who shares our passion for growing the women’s game of golf, and you have the makings of a very compelling and entertaining event.
[LL] Does Golf Channel cover other collegiate tournaments, either male or female? [GG] Golf Channel provides live coverage of nine college events throughout the year, culminating each season with the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Championships. We also cover the East Lake Cup (men and women), Blessings Collegiate Invitational (men and women), Southwestern Invitational (men), Western Intercollegiate (men), and Jackson T. Stephens Cup (men and women). In November the inaugural Showcase at Cedar Crest will feature the top Black collegiate men and women golfers.
[LL] Is it a different audience that watches college golfers compared to professional golfers? Did viewership last year meet expectations? [GG] As Golf Channel is the home for college golf, we are always looking for ways to grow the college game and introduce the sport to new viewers and, specifically, with the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate to young, female fans. One of the neatest elements of college golf is that you can watch the game’s brightest young stars compete at the highest stage, continue to follow their careers as professionals and see some of them become major champions like Scottie Scheffler or Jennifer Kupcho, who were featured on our air during their collegiate careers.
[LL] Did the fact that the tournament is on Hilton Head influence your decision to cover it? [GG] Long Cove Club is a renowned golf course, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with everyone associated with the tournament – from the volunteer staff, event organizers and field of players from all competing teams last year — and cannot wait to return to Hilton Head again for this year’s event.