Sept. 13, 2014
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s golf program has enjoyed great success over the last six years, and there is no question that its improved schedule has played a major role in that success.
The Hawkeyes — 1-of-3 Big Ten teams to appear in six-straight NCAA Regionals — will open their 2014-15 campaign Saturday through Tuesday, hosting one of the nation’s premier tournaments: the sixth annual Golfweek Conference Challenge.
The tournament features 12 teams from 12 different conferences, and receives national exposure through Golfweek Magazine and Golfweek.com.
“It started with the idea to invite one team from each of the top conferences around the nation,” said Lance Ringler, Golfweek Assistant Editor. “We have been able to attract quality teams. It has turned into an event that a lot of teams look forward to. It is a great opportunity to represent your conference.”
It is a unique idea: no team from the same conference.
“To my knowledge, it has never been done before,” said Ringler. “There has never been a tournament that has had a field like this… it is very unique.”
Florida State won the inaugural event in 2009 before the Hawkeyes claimed the title in 2010. Oklahoma secured last year’s title, while Missouri held the top spot in 2012 and Arkansas in 2011.
This year’s event will be no different; the field will be strong.
“This year’s field is a little bit smaller; it will feel like a regional,” said Ringler. “Almost every one of these teams has a legitimate chance of being a postseason team, and many have a chance to win their conference. That makes for a very competitive event. It can serve as a showcase event for some of these teams to show what kind of year they are going to have.”
This year marks the fifth-straight year with Spirit Hollow Golf Course in Burlington, Iowa, serving as the host. Spirit Hollow was ranked the No. 1 golf course in the state of Iowa in 2012.
“Everyone always talks about how good of a layout it is,” said Ringler. “For the most part, the majority of the players competing in the event have never been to Iowa. So when they arrive to Spirit Hollow, one of their first comments is ‘I had no idea Iowa looked like this.’ Spirit Hollow has the rolling terrain… it is a good looking golf course. It passes the eye test every year.”
The annual tournament presents a valuable beginning to Iowa’s annual slate.
“There is a lot of opportunity, because we are playing at a great golf course that we are familiar with against a top national field, so it gives us a chance to get off to a good start and get some wins against quality opposition,” said UI head coach Tyler Stith, who will be making his Hawkeye head coaching debut.
For the seniors, it marks the beginning of the final passage of their Hawkeye careers. Ian Vandersee and Brian Bullington have been a part of the best run in Iowa golf history.
“People tell you from your freshman year to your senior year, it goes by like a blink, and that is absolutely true,” said Bullington. “This tournament is a great start to our season.”
“I saw the excitement on the seniors’ faces last year, and it is an exciting time,” said Vandersee. “I am looking forward to one last go-around. We have a good team, and that makes it even more fun.”