By Rob Daniels
If you’re going to put together a nationally important college golf tournament, you need a nice course, sufficient hotel space, convenient airline schedules and decent weather, among other things. The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation can’t guarantee the last of those, but its imprint on virtually everything else helps explain why the Bryan National Collegiate, now in its 14th year, has become a highly sought destination for programs from the Piedmont Triad to the Puget Sound.
UNCG and Wake Forest co-host the event, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Champions Course at Greensboro’s Bryan Park. And the generosity of the foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that disbursed nearly $4.5 million to various groups in and around the region in 2009, helps everybody clear logistical hurdles.
Of the nearly 30 comprehensive events nationwide that have been played this spring, only three have had more top-50 teams than the Bryan’s 13. UNCG coach Emily Marron can’t pick up a club this week without thanking her silent partner, Jim Melvin, the former mayor of Greensboro and the chief executive officer of the foundation.
“It was the vision of Jim Melvin and the Bryan Foundation along with (coach) Dianne Dailey at Wake Forest,” Marron said, “that they wanted to do something for women’s college golf. It was Mr. Melvin’s vision. He keeps saying he wants to make this the best women’s golf tournament in the country, and he has continued to develop it. It’s amazing.”
The tournament is one of the foundation’s several beneficiaries, the most obvious of which is probably NewBridge Bank Park, the home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers baseball team. The financial support means UNCG and Wake don’t have to charge entry fees to participants, and it ensures a top-flight experience. Having the tournament also helps Marron fill out her schedule because it creates reciprocal relationships with the College of Charleston, Northwestern, Tennessee and UNC Wilmington. If you come to my event, I’ll play in yours, etc.
The championship has already produced a distinguished history:
• The Bryan winner has finished in the top 12 at the NCAA championships in each of the past 10 years.
• That stretch includes national championships by Duke (2002, 2005) and a second-place showing in the NCAAs by Purdue in 2007.
• In all, nine individuals have combined for the 10 best scores in the Bryan’s 12-year history. (Virada Nirapathpongporn of Duke owns two of the top five performances.) Of those nine, three are in the field this year: Cheyenne Woods of Wake Forest, Nathalie Mansson of Tennessee and Brittany Altomare of Virginia. The other six have played on the LPGA Tour and have made the cut in a major championship.
As for its present, the field is headlined by fourth-ranked Duke and includes eight of the top 50 individuals in the most recent rankings. The top seven finishers from 2010 are in the event this spring.
For UNCG, it represents a chance to compete against the best. Marron likened the challenge to that faced by the Spartan men’s basketball team. Four of the Spartans’ 2010-11 opponents made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
“Obviously, strong events help recruiting, and being able to co-host this event with Wake is a big selling point for us,” Marron said. “Not many programs can offer the opportunity to play against Duke and Tennessee. There are some in college golf who will never get that opportunity. As an athlete, you don’t know how good you are until you go against the best.”
In its second event of the spring, the JMU Eagle Landing Invitational, UNCG shaved 21 strokes off its collective score from the previous week. The improvement is the Spartans’ second-best between consecutive 54-hole tournaments in the past two calendar years.
- UNCG -