Golf program a natural fit for USC Beaufort

May 23, 2010 

Last fall, a newcomer to Beaufort County struck up a conversation about the area sports scene, which is something that tends to happen pretty regularly when you write about sports for a living.

The topic eventually meandered toward USC Beaufort's fledgling athletics department, which is where the highly educated man with a deep sports background threw a curveball.

"Tell me this," he said. "Why does USCB have a golf team?"

I didn't know how to answer, not because I wasn't sure of the correct response, but because I didn't know where to begin listing the myriad reasons.

Less than a year later, he surely recognizes how silly the question was.

In three short years, USCB's golf teams have blossomed into legitimate national title contenders.

The Sand Shark men proved that again this week, grabbing the 36-hole lead at the NAIA Men's Golf National Championships before settling for a fourth-place finish, their second consecutive top-10 showing after taking seventh last year.

"For our team and our university, this is a great thing," USCB director of golf Shane LeBaron said. "We want to build a nationally recognized athletic program, and this is a huge step in the right direction."

Now the USCB women have a chance to take the next step. They go into the NAIA Women's Golf National Championships beginning Tuesday as the sixth-ranked team in the nation. They have nipped at top-ranked Embry-Riddle's heels all year, so it's not too far-fetched to think they could deliver the school's first national title by week's end.

Which brings me to my initial response to the puzzling query:

"Because they can instantly compete at a high level in golf."

I gave our interrogator the benefit of the doubt, assuming that as a new resident he probably hadn't yet realized how deeply the game of golf is ingrained in the area's culture and might not have known about the built-in recruiting base provided by the area's many golf academies.

He still wasn't satisfied.

"But how does having a golf team make the school any money?," he asked.

True, the Sand Sharks have yet to play a competitive round in Beaufort County -- their only home tournament was held at Traditional National Golf Club, just over the Jasper County line -- and even if they did play more "home games," they wouldn't bring in any revenue.

But that's missing the point. No sport at USCB is making money, or at least not very much. There are only two real revenue sports in college athletics -- football and men's basketball -- and even those typically aren't cash cows at the NAIA level.

By having intercollegiate athletics, though, the school has shed its reputation as a commuter campus and begun to attract more traditional students. By starting with sports in which it could achieve tremendous success almost instantly, it has hastened the process.

And when it comes time to add new sports -- perhaps even one of those "revenue" sports -- USCB's coaches can point to the immediate success of the golf teams as a selling point for potential recruits who might be concerned about joining a fledgling team.

So why does USCB have a golf team?

The best answer might be another question: "Why wouldn't it?"

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