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On The Tee: Reflecting on 2010 and Looking Forward to 2011

With 2010 now in the rear view mirror and 2011 picking up speed, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on a few things from the past year and look forward.  Yes, this past year in college golf was memorable for several reasons, none more note worthy than the NCAA Championship in NCAA Division I by Augusta State.  Josh Gregory and his Jaguars played magnificently down the stretch in stroke play and again throughout match play to capture the national championship in the only sport they compete at the Division I level.  The decision to change the format in the championship has, in this old coach’s opinion, brought another 20-30 teams in to the mix each year.  Is it good for the college game?  Does it identify the best team?  Does it make sense to play mostly stroke play during the regular season and then bring in a match play component for the championship?  The answers fall mostly along party lines.  If you are one of the talent-rich established programs, maybe not. If you are from a program that challenges occasionally or is trying to step up on a consistent basis, probably yes.

With that in mind, 2011 will see NCAA Division II change their championship to a similar match play format.  The key difference at this championship will be a medal/match format during the match play portion of the championship.  Instead of traditional match play, each individual match will be based on the head-to-head stroke play score between opponents.  This is a significant difference as it maintains the stroke play format that is used throughout the year and ensures that each individual match finishes on the 18th hole.

Why did Division II take a different approach to their change in format?  Based on comments heard during the recent GCAA convention, it just made more sense to Division II coaches and it preserved the idea of head-to-head competition with a stroke play format; The best of both worlds so to speak.  Would Division I consider such a tweak to it championship?  The concept was definitely discussed at the time that the format was changed.  Hopefully it will continue to be discussed and evaluated, as it certainly has support from some coaches across the country.
NCAA Division III, NAIA and NJCAA coaches have discussed within their ranks the merits of following Division I or Division II.  At this time, logistics, cost and a traditional stroke play mentality are the road blocks. Stay tuned as each championship just heats up the discussions both pro and con.
Several other fun topics made news last year; none more controversial that the concept of a recruiting calendar and the reduction in the number of day’s coaches can be on the road evaluating and recruiting. At this time this is just a Division I issue, but sources indicate that Divisions II and III will follow suit in the near future.  All NCAA sports that do not currently have recruiting limitations have been asked by the NCAA to send recommendations through their respective coaches associations on how to address this topic.  Make no mistake; this is all about reigning in costs tied to recruiting throughout college sports. While packaged as a quality of life issue for coaches and PSA’s (which it should be), the underlying reasoning is to reduce costs for athletic programs in non-revenue producing sports and ultimately leveling the playing field between have and have-not programs.  Final decisions about changes will be made by the NCAA in 2011 with anticipated implementation in 2012.  Stay tuned as it is definitely going to change recruiting in college golf.

Lastly, the turnover in coaching positions will continue.  The number of former college players/young assistant coaches who are ascending to head coaching positions has never been greater. The next generation is literally changing the foundation of college golf.  Aggressive, tech savvy and highly motivated, these young men have waited their turn and are now putting their stamp on all aspects of college golf.  They are often described as the AJGA generation with good reason.  The new generation of coaches cut their teeth in the AJGA as juniors themselves before tackling college golf.  They have chased recruits across multiple levels of junior golf both at home and abroad.  They have evaluated how it has been done the past 25 years and they are now ready to move our sport forward as they see it.  They are truly the young guns and future of our profession.  Whether it is match play, speed of play or blogging from the road, the torch is being passed.

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to one of college golf’s great friends - Ron Balicki.  Wrong Ron, as many of his coaching friends know him, was this past December inducted into the GCAA Hall of Fame.  As the first non-coach ever voted into the Hall of Fame, this recognition represents a lifetime of covering college golf at all levels for Golfweek magazine.  Truly one of the good guys involved with college golf, Ron has done as much for our sport as any single person who has not played or coached our game. Again, congratulations to you and all of the members of the 2010 GCAA Hall of Fame class.

Gregg Grost
Golf Coach, Lamar University/University of Oklahoma 1981-2000