Originally created 04/23/04

Citadel's golf team on the brink

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Jeff Spencer saw one spring miracle save Citadel's golf team. He doesn't think there's another such charge left in the team's supporters.

Without another strong fund-raiser or a donor willing to ante up $1.8 million, the Bulldogs golf team won't be around next fall. The team was spared the Board of Visitors' cost-cutting ax last summer when it raised more than $50,000 to keep it alive for 2003-04.

"I don't think it's the same momentum," said Spencer, a sophomore from Blythewood whose season ended this past Monday at the Southern Conference championships.

Spencer says $50,000 for one year was attainable, as proved by a fund-raiser last spring at RiverTowne and Dunes West golf clubs that drew 176 participants and netted nearly half of what the team needed for one more season.

However, Spencer thought having to find nearly $2 million to endow the program permanently was a stretch from the start. "A lot of the feeling on the golf team is that we're just unwanted at the school," he said.

Athletic director Les Robinson disagrees and says he's optimistic about another reprieve. The effort last year showed the passion golf supporters have, Robinson said. He sees no reason why someone could not step up to make a sizable donation to save golf again.

"This was not a single person's decision," Robinson said. "It was a collective decision. It's unfortunate it had to happen."

The athletic department's plan last year called for cutting men's soccer and golf. The move would have saved the school $179,000 on its budget this school year and $276,000 next year as scholarship players leave.

The team can't have the option of raising $50,000 each year to continue since it would be impossible to recruit with the specter of elimination each spring, Spencer said.

Robinson said the school's fund-raising efforts are new construction at Johnson Hagood Stadium that could ultimately help the golf team's prospects.

Crews are dismantling the downtrodden football stadium. The rebuilt facility will include luxury suites and premium seating that could bring up to $1 million more a year into athletic department funds - money that Robinson said could go to bringing back golf in a year or two.

"This isn't about football, it's about student athletes at The Citadel," Robinson said.

Robinson says he's presenting a detailed analysis of the athletic department's short- and long-term outlooks to the Board of Visitors - similar to a university's board of trustees.

Both, Robinson said, are bright and don't include future cuts to remaining sports teams.

"But if you asked me three years ago about cutting men's soccer and golf, I would've said the same thing," he said.

Members of the men's golf team don't know where to look next. Trey McMillan is a junior captain who came to The Citadel as much for its military discipline and academic reputation as for college golf. "This is where I want to be, golf or not," he said.

Robinson said all scholarship funds for defunct teams will be honored through a player's graduation. He said that affects about a dozen athletes right now.

McMillan said the golf team folding "pretty much cuts off any hopes of carrying this a step further" to the professional ranks.

Spencer said it was difficult at times to keep focused. Golf coach Benji Broadwater, a Citadel grad key to last year's fund-raising efforts, left in mid-academic year for his native Kentucky.

Assistant coach Kimberly Lewellen, in her first year, took over the coaching spots for men's and women's golf. Retired Citadel golf coach Gerald Runey was also brought in to help.

McMillan said Lewellen brought a proposal to the athletic department where the players could continue to compete in NCAA competitions as a nonsponsorship group without signing new scholarship players like "a team of walk-ons."

"Coach Lewellen has said that's the first plan she's presented to the athletic department where they haven't said 'No' straight up," McMillan said.

"The only reason they wouldn't do that," Spencer said, "is if they don't want us here."


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