The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 2, 2013

Men’s golf officially returning as a varsity sport at WVU

Program will begin play in 2015

It hasn’t exactly been a tight-lipped secret, but on Monday, it finally became official.

After a 33-year break, golf is returning to West Virginia University.

Athletic Director Oliver Luck officially announced the return of the program, which had a place at WVU from 1933 until 1982. The Mountaineers will begin play during the 2015 season.

“I am pleased to announce that men’s golf will be returning as an intercollegiate sport at West Virginia University,” said Luck in a statement released early Monday morning. “Golf had a strong tradition on this campus, and its statewide popularity makes it a perfect addition to our department. A lot of thought, time and effort went into this decision as far as cost, travel and infrastructure goes, and I believe the strong tradition and history of Big 12 golf will only enhance our chances of building a championship program.”

Luck said he plans to have a coach in place by next March, giving the coach more than a year to get the program on its feet. Discussions are still ongoing with a number of courses around the state to host competitions and practices.

“We were able to bring the baseball team to a number of different venues last year, and we hope to do that with other sports, including golf,” said Luck, pointing out some of the great courses around the state such as The Resort at Glade Springs, The Greenbrier and Pete Dye in Bridgeport. “We have so many great courses, and they’re so important to our economy. I can’t imagine we wouldn’t have a great opportunity to put together a great tournament at a place like Glade Springs, for example.”

The addition of golf allows WVU to meet the Big 12’s requirement of a minimum of six men’s sports and six women’s sports. WVU will have six men’s sports and 10 women’s sports sponsored by the Big 12 at the start of the 2015-16 academic year.

The move is also a welcome one for supporters of the sport around the Mountain State. This past season, 108 high schools in West Virginia fielded a golf program with more than 1,000 participants.

“The West Virginia Golf Association is delighted that WVU has decided to reintroduce golf at our flagship university,” said Ken Tackett, the executive director of the West Virginia Golf Association. “Golf has established itself as one of the main sports in West Virginia, with a thriving junior golf program, competitive amateur competitions and a PGA TOUR event. With the success of the game in our state, it is only fitting that our largest university provide an opportunity for our top junior golfers to stay in West Virginia and compete at a Division I level. We commend the leadership of Oliver Luck and those responsible for bringing back the greatest game to West Virginia University.”

When WVU’s program begins, all 10 Big 12 schools will field a golf team. Current conference schools have won 14 national championships, and pros like Rickie Fowler (Oklahoma State), Hunter Mahan (Oklahoma State), Ben Crenshaw (Texas), Tom Kite (Texas), Justin Leonard (Texas) and many others have played at Big 12 schools.

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Luck said during a Monday morning conference call that a number of other sports were considered — including track and field, cross country and tennis — but that a committee that was formed to look into those options agreed that golf was the best choice.

“Ultimately, we believed that men’s golf made the most sense for a number of reasons,” said Luck, mentioning financial considerations, Title IX compliance, fundraising and infrastructure as factors that were considered.

Luck also said that the travel will be eased, because the Big 12 Conference Championship at the end of the spring will be the only time the team will compete against conference schools. All other competitions will be more regionally located.

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Luck said he’s already received a “handful” of resumés for the head coaching position, but he said they’re a long way from even posting the job. WVU plans to hire a head coach and will also have a graduate assistant.

The program will eventually field the full allotment of 4.5 scholarships, but the program will slowly be phased in, with 1.5 scholarships provided the first year.

He explained that such a plan helps ease the financial burden, and he said there are already some strong golfers enrolled at WVU that play as a club sport.

When the team is fully implemented, Luck estimated it will cost a little more than $257,000 each year to fund.

He said WVU already has verbal commitments for more than $1.5 million to help fund the program.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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