published Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Alumni drive saves Furman golf program

Furman University alumni have roared loud enough to the administration and promised enough money in donations to keep for two years the men's golf program that had been scheduled to be eliminated on July 1.

But the fight is not over to keep the Paladins going for the foreseeable future.

"We have a long way to go to sustain a successful golf program at Furman," 1998 All-Southern Conference player Cordes Ford wrote in an email to supporters. "We are still working to meet our short-term fundraising requirement of $285,000 needed by June 2014 to keep the program in place.

"These dollars will fund operation of the golf program for the 2014-15 and '15-'16 season while the school continues to honor the scholarship commitments it has made to current and recently signed players."

A handful of important alumni, including Ford, eight-time PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon and 2005 graduate Rob Langley, organized the efforts to save the program.

They were blindsided along with the players and coach Todd Satterfield when the Greenville, S.C., university announced on Feb. 7 that the program would be discontinued after this season.

The news angered alumni who had no say in the matter and led them to organize a money drive to help cover the operating costs of the program that has won a SoCon record 13 tournament titles.

"It came about as quickly as it did because we wanted to provide certainty around the program and there was a lot of trust [by the board of trustees] in our ability to raise funds in the future," Langley said by phone. "Nobody likes it when they cut your baby. I applaud the trustees for taking new ways to look at it.

"I don't hold any grudges."

The plan, according to Ford's email, is to build an endowment for scholarships and to raise $2.5 million by the end of next calendar year with the ultimate goal of endowing the NCAA maximum of 4 1/2 scholarships. In the meantime, the school has agreed to maintain the NCAA minimum of 2 1/2 scholarships through the 2017-18 season.

"It's terrific news and it showed amazing collaborative effort by the golf alumni," Furman alumnus, former LPGA star and current PGA Board of Directors member Dottie Pepper wrote to the Times Free Press. "We are really just getting started with the long-term fundraising efforts, but we got the cooperation from the university that was needed.

"We also need to be mindful of the long-term health of the women's program so we are not faced with a similar situation in the future."

Jeff Sherrill, a Ringgold resident who played golf at Furman from 1982 to '86 and competes in Chattanooga-area tournaments, said he will resume writing checks to support his alma mater.

But he'll make sure they go directly to the men's golf program instead of the general fund or athletic department.

"It's going to take everybody pitching in, whatever size the check may be," Sherrill said. "The lesson learned is that it doesn't matter how good your program is, it can disappear with the stroke of a pen."

Furman's official release stated that interim president Carl Kohrt said the plan provides necessary financial support to sustain the program while allowing the university to retain the cost reduction realized by the board's original decision.

The school's release also included a statement from Faxon, who was an All-American and the Fred Haskins Award winner as the best men's college golfer in 1983.

The immediate result is that Furman will have a program and give the SoCon eight competing teams in the 2014-15 season.

"It's one of those programs that should be there," University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Mark Guhne said. "I'm definitely glad they brought it back, because they strengthen our conference."

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino also expressed gratitude that the program will remain in Greenville.

"The only way the program was going to be saved was through the effort of the alumni," Iamarino said. "They met with the administration, they were told what needed to be done and they rallied."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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