NCAA call to nix women’s golf event irks coaches

  • ESPN staff writer
  • Joined ESPN in 2011
  • Graduated from Central Michigan

When the NCAA committee decided to cancel the women’s golf regional tournament in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Wednesday, it left participating coaches and players perplexed as to how the decision was made.

The University Club golf course had taken on seven inches of rain over three days and had standing water on select holes and bunkers throughout the course. NCAA committee representative Brad Hurlbut declared the course was playable, but not up to a championship level, which left coaches asking what exactly that meant.

“I’ve never seen that. I’ve played pro golf. I’ve played NCAA regionals as a player. I’ve coached it. I’ve played in the U.S. Amateur, and I’ve never seen this,” Sam Houston women’s golf coach Brandt Kieschnick said. “It was the committee and the rules official, and I don’t know why they came to that conclusion, but it’s mind boggling.”

The teams had a practice round Sunday with course conditions that were dry. Rain came down Monday morning, which was scheduled to be the first day of the tournament, and play was called for the day at 11:30 a.m. ET.

According to Kieschnick, the sun was out from noon on Monday and there was a full eight hours of sunshine that could have allowed play later in the day. That option wasn’t discussed, however, and Kieschnick did not witness any maintenance crew attempting to get the golf course ready for play.

A similar scenario played out Tuesday, but the teams were later allowed to practice on the course that day.

“I walked a little bit of the course, it was playable. The water had receded a little bit, there was maybe one hole that we’d have to move from a par 4 to a par 3,” Kieschnick said. “A few of us coaches midafternoon went to the committee with questions and said, ‘What can we do to play?’ We’ll do whatever we have to do.'”

The coaches were told the bunkers on the course were a concern, with standing water making them unplayable. The rules officials did have the option to mark the bunkers as such that would give the players relief if their ball entered the marked areas.

“I specifically asked the head rules official why we can’t play. What do we have to do,” Kieschnick said. “The answer was that, ‘We don’t think you get the right champion if we don’t play the bunkers.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re well within your rights to make those ground under repair, that’s truly your opinion.’ You don’t know if that determines the right champion or not — that’s an opinion.”

Approximately 12 coaches from the participating teams went to the games committee on Tuesday to get some questions answered. The objective was to determine if there was a way to resume golf and a way to get the tournament in under the Thursday deadline.

Part of what confused the coaches was that the bunkers and standing water were presented as the big issue, but they did not see an attempt to clear the water or repair the course. According to Kieschnick and another source, there were no pumps on site to pump the water off the course.

“A great coach said, ‘If bunkers are the problem and you’re doing nothing about the bunkers, we ought to leave right now,'” Kieschnick said. “That was on Tuesday. They didn’t want to take the bunkers out, but this happens all the time and we can do this. When bunkers are the problem and nothing is being done, that’s really hard to swallow. It was bizarre.”

On Wednesday morning, the teams were delayed from their morning start, pushed back to 10:00 a.m. and then pushed back to 11:00 a.m. without communication from the committee.

Kieschnick and a few other coaches went to the clubhouse to try to talk to the committee, but could not gain access to the members and didn’t have communication with them until the final decision was announced to call the tournament later Wednesday.

He had reached out to the NCAA on Tuesday night to ask what could be done, sent a text on Wednesday morning asking what was going to happen without answer and eventually heard the decision along with his players from Hurlbut.

The NCAA released a statement Wednesday saying the committee regrets that the regional could not be conducted, and that because play could not take place on Wednesday, advancement would be determined by original seeding. That meant the top six teams would advance, including host team LSU, Ole Miss, Baylor, Oregon, Maryland and Alabama. The top three individuals not on an advancing team would also go to national championships, which included Houston’s Karen Fredgaard, Miami’s Nataliya Guseva and Sam Houston’s Hanna Alberto.

“Normally tournaments are doing whatever they can to play golf, whatever they can,” Kieschnick said. “The vibe was, once we got the weather, it was everything we can do not to play. It’s not ideal to get 18 holes in, but it’s better than not playing. That was the shocker.”

The players could be heard yelling — and some crying — as the announcement was made that the tournament was cancelled. For some, their seasons are over, but they’re left with questions about what could have been or what could have been done differently.

When reached for comment, the NCAA said it has no further comment on the matter.

“This doesn’t need to go away, because these are lives, emotions, feelings, hard work and hopes these kids have,” Kieschnick said. “The hardest part is these ladies had their season taken away from them last year with COVID. They’ve worked their tail off, they’ve earned the first round of the playoffs and we had a playable golf course, but they weren’t allowed to play.

“That’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever seen happen to a student-athlete in a span of 15 months.”

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