Originally created 11/26/03

Birdie Club set on helping ASU golfers



Sitting in on a Birdie Club meeting last week, it was hard to tell exactly when it started.

Was it when club president Jimmy McLeod entered the clubhouse at Forest Hills Golf Club and took a seat on one of the couches? Or when Augusta State men's golf coach Josh Gregory showed up a few minutes later?

There was no call to order, just four members of the club's board of directors talking about ways to make Augusta State's men's and women's golf programs better.

That's the purpose of the Birdie Club, which was formed by McLeod in fall 2001 with 65 charter members. The membership roll is now around 200.

"We're people who have an interest in the golf programs at Augusta State," McLeod said. "We raise money to assist them."

At the periodic Birdie Club meetings, the board of directors bounce suggestions and ideas off Gregory, who attends all their gatherings.

"We're here to assist Josh and Trelle (women's golf coach Trelle Kite) with anything they might need that's not in their budget," said Forest Hills head pro Robby Watson, a member of the Birdie Club board of directors.

Watson is joined on the board by McLeod, Frank Mulherin, Gene Neal, Nick Evans, Jeff Fountain and Bobby Dressel. With the exception of Neal and Fountain, the board consists of former Augusta College golfers.

"Being at a small school such as Augusta State, golf is important not only to the school, but to the community," said Gregory, whose team finished seventh in the 2003 NCAA Championships and is currently ranked ninth in the country.

"Through the Birdie Club, we're able to get things we normally wouldn't be able to afford through the normal athletic budget," Gregory said. "Financially, now that we are one of the elite teams in the nation, it gives us a better chance to compete."

The club's money comes from two Birdie Club golf tournaments each year, plus yearly dues.

Both of those financial sources were topics at the club's meeting Thursday, which was attended by board members McLeod, Watson, Mulherin and Neal.

The members discussed whether it would be too cold to have a Birdie Club tournament at Forest Hills on Jan. 9 (they decided it wouldn't be, and finalized the date), whether to charge $50 or $75 to play in the tournament ($50 won out) and whether to go up on the membership dues from $50 to $75 (the increase was approved).

The Birdie Club is a 501c(3) nonprofit corporation, which means contributions are tax-deductible.

The bulk of the money the club raised in 2003 went to pay Augusta fitness trainer Jay Garrison, who worked with the men's and women's teams; and to bring in sports psychologist Morris Pickens, of Columbia, twice a semester to help the players with the mental side of the game.

The main topic of Thursday's meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes, had to do with the possibility of the club buying a van to transport the golf teams to matches. The projected cost: $40,000.

Every time the teams drive to an event, Gregory, who oversees the men's and women's teams as the director of golf, must rent a van.

With 10 road trips this season for the men's team, the cost adds up. Gregory estimated the school spent "$4,000 to $5,000" on rental vans last year.

Since the Birdie Club would own the van, the board members talked about who would pay for its upkeep (Gregory said the school would pay for gas, but he didn't know about regular maintenance).

Then there was the question of which team would use the van if the men's and women's squads had overlapping tournaments ("Flip a coin, I guess," Gregory said).

To help fundraising for the van, McLeod suggested an artist's rendering of a van, with Augusta State University and the school's logo sketched in on its side, be sent to Birdie Club members.

"If we can show the people that pay that this is what we hope to do, it will help," McLeod told the board. "When we drive up to a tournament, we don't want it to be the way it is now, the invisible Augusta State. We're proud of the name and we've worked hard to make a good name. If they can see it (the artist's rendering) it kind of hits home."

The board members agreed that if one supporter came forward and paid for the van, that person would be recognized on the side of the van with a "compliments of" credit.

"To have a team van is just another recruiting tool, along with the quality of Forest Hills and having one of the finest practice facilities in the country," Gregory said at the meeting. "Recruiting is getting tougher and tougher, and you have to have all these bells and whistles; that's what the kids are looking for."

The Jan. 9 Birdie Club tournament will follow the same pairings format as the previous two: an Augusta State golfer or coach will be in each foursome. The tournament is for Birdie Club members and incoming members, who can join by calling Watson at Forest Hills (733-0001).

"It's a great way for the guys to interact with some members of the community," Gregory said. "We don't really get that opportunity very much. It's a way for us to give a little bit back because we are pretty fortunate in what we do have and what we can get."

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.