Golf fights for team, tradition

Elizabeth Putnam

David Morgan realized he wanted to play golf seriously after he participated in his first tournament at 13.

The Minnesota native graduated from high school in California with all-conference honors and invitations to play at Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA and the University.

Instead of choosing the sunny beaches of California or the nightlife of the Windy City, he chose the University.

“I wanted the best golf team possible combined with the best business school possible,” said Morgan, a Carlson School of Management junior. “I knew I’d like the people here too.”

But with golf’s uncertain future at the University, Morgan and fellow teammates said transferring might be an option in the future.

“I gave releases to every single one of them on the team,” said men’s golf coach Brad James. “They are all ready to move, if needed.”

University officials announced April 11 the future for the men’s and women’s golf teams looks grim and recommended cutting the teams along with men’s gymnastics.

Members of the golf teams were shocked and questioned why a sport seemingly embraced by the state of Minnesota would be on the chopping block.

After a week of phone calls from parents, coaches and athletes, and a letter signed by 86 state representatives arriving on the
administration’s doorstep, the teams’ fate changed.

University officials announced Friday the three teams would receive a year reprieve to raise funds.

But uncertainty remains with the golf teams as they try to raise $900,000 by June 30 and $1.8 million by February. At the same time, the teams struggle to have enough players to continue competing.

Tradition on the green

The men’s golf team was formed in 1921 and cranked out its first All-Big Ten champion, Les Bolstad, in the 1920s. Bolstad was also coach from 1947 to 76.

The program has produced nationally renowned golfers throughout its 81-year history, including Tom Lehman, John Harris and Bill Brask.

The team has also had NCAA Championship participants for the past four years.

James said he was naive to think golf would not be one of the teams possible for elimination.

“It was a total unexpected event,” James said. “When you look at college golf and our program, we sort of epitomize college athletics.”

James said he is glad the team will have another year to compete and raise funds but said recruiting will be a struggle.

“The kids have somewhere to play next year Ö but how do I recruit?” James said. “It is a wait and see approach.”

Women’s golf – one of the newest sports to join the University’s lineup – was formed in 1974.

Similar to the men’s program, women’s golf coach Melissa Arthur Ringler said, some women golfers are thinking about transferring.

She said the golfers had a look of devastation on their faces when they learned of a possible elimination.

Women’s golfer Karyn Stordahl said although the teams received another year to compete, the women’s golf program might not survive without new recruits.

“People are looking into their options and looking to get out,” Stordahl said. “We really can’t recruit with so much uncertainty.”

Arthur Ringler said she understands the administration’s viewpoint but said she is disappointed athletics has “turned into who makes the money.”

Struggle to break even

With few opportunities to significantly increase revenue, the golf teams do not financially break even.

According to the University’s first athletics financial report, unveiled in December, the men’s golf team spent nearly $333,000 but generated only $25,000 during fiscal year 2001.

Women’s golf had the smallest expense report that year, spending approximately $242,000 while bringing in $5,000.

Twenty non-revenue sports with combined expenses of more than $10 million generate nearly $728,000 in revenue, including the golf teams, men’s gymnastics and tennis.

However, increased participation in golf throughout Minnesota has some concerned eliminating golf could hurt the state.

Minnesota has more golfers per capita than any other state in the nation, and more than 20 percent of Minnesotans play the sport.

Rep. Bob Milbert, DFL-South St. Paul, who drafted the pro-golf letter sent to the administration, said the Legislature has invested public dollars in a golf facility located in Blaine through the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. The facility caters to the increased interest in youth golf. Milbert attributes the increased participation to the “Tiger Woods phenomenon.”

“We want the youth that we invest in to stay in this state and without a Division I school to play at, that’s impossible,” Milbert said.

Milbert said the solution isn’t to raise funds. He said eliminating tuition reciprocity between neighboring states could be the answer.

“Taxpayers lose $3.7 million to make up the tuition difference,” Milbert said. “That will take care of it.”

The fund raising to save men’s gymnastics and the golf teams is in the hands of coaches and booster clubs, which have begun contacting alumni and past donors.

“When you look at Tom Lehman, John Harris, Bill Brask and Les Bolstad, those guys created a history here,” James said. “Now it’s up to the community and myself to get behind golf in Minnesota to keep it here.”

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]