Paine's absence triggers criticism

Lee Elder wants answers.

The famed golfer, winner of four PGA Tour events and the first black golfer to play in the Masters Tournament, in 1975, helped Paine College establish a golf team three years ago.

This past weekend, Elder attended the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The Lions, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions, did not.

Last Wednesday, athletic director Ron Spry informed the golf team of the school's decision not to send it to the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship -- just hours before the team planned to travel to the event -- because of limited finances. Two weeks earlier, the Lions won their first SIAC Tournament title.

"This is the first I've heard about this," Elder said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "I knew at the Minority Championship they were not there, and I inquired about it. The director said he did not know why they weren't there."

Elder, who met with Paine president Dr. George Bradley two weeks ago, plans to be in Augusta later this week. He wants to meet with Bradley again to find out the circumstances surrounding Paine's withdrawal. Bradley, however, is out of town this week. Two messages left for him at his office Monday afternoon weren't returned.

Augusta Commissioner Joe Bowles, former chief financial officer at Paine College, said the trip, which would've included gas, food and hotel rooms, would've cost no more than $4,000 and possibly much less.

Bowles said he's baffled by the timing of the decision, because the school could have raised the money in time.

"You could've called any of the local golf manufacturers or the AGA (Augusta Golf Association)," Bowles said. "All it would've taken is one phone call.

"That would've been one of the easiest things to go to the community to raise money for."

Bowles said Augusta's golfing community is still in shock.

"Nobody can believe it happened," he said. "I think the golfing community here in Augusta was ignored, and they could've solved this problem. Unfortunately, it's the students and the college that are going to pay the sacrifice."

Bowles said he's planning to speak with Bradley as well. Bowles said he wants to put on a golf tournament during the summer to raise funds for the golf program.

"Set up an annual tournament to fund their travel," Bowles said.

Last week, before the announcement of the withdrawal, golf coach Fred Summers, who did not return a cell phone message Monday, said, "We're going down there to win. They're on a high right now you wouldn't believe."

Fayetteville State won the Division II portion of the 54-hole tournament Sunday with a total of 9-over-par 873. Lincoln finished second, nine shots back.

Upon Paine's withdrawal, freshman first-team all-conference golfer Sean Lucas returned to his native Los Angeles with plans to transfer to another Division II school. Lucas said Daniel Augustus, who also left Augusta late last week, planned to transfer out of Paine.

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

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