Before it was announced in January of 2015 that Middle Tennessee and The Grove Golf Club would host an NCAA golf regional, it was hard to imagine the Blue Raiders playing host to such a prestigious tournament.
MT hasn’t hosted an NCAA Regional event since the 1979 NCAA basketball tournament. Needless to say, the wait caused some questions about when and if the Blue Raiders would host another.
But, when The Grove opened in 2012 along with its Greg Norman designed golf course, an instant bond was created between the owners and Middle Tennessee, most notably its golf coach at the time.
That connection sparked an idea that they could place a bid to host a regional.
“It all starts with the golf course,” Whit Turnbow, MT senior associate athletic director and former golf coach, said. “To secure a bid like this for that prestigious of an event, you have to have a world class golf course. The Grove fits that; they check all the boxes in regards to the golf course, the amenities, the staffing and things that need to be in place.”
Turnbow met with Mike Green, The Grove’s golf manager, and developer Mark Enderle to discuss the possibility of inputting a bid.
“I sat down with Mike Green and Mark Enderle, and we just talked about what ifs,” Turnbow said. “Mike said to me, ‘if we’re going to host a regional, we’re going to put on the best region that’s ever been put on.’ When you hear that, it makes you want to go for it.”
The two entities put in a bid in late 2014. A few months later, it was announced the bid had been accepted by the NCAA, and The Grove would be one of the six sites to host a regional in 2017.
Preparation began immediately for the tournament, and has been ongoing ever since.
Now, the tournament that’s been more than two years in the making is merely days away, and MT isn’t just playing host. The Blue Raiders will be one of the teams fighting to move onto the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois, on May 26-31.
“I am thrilled about officially being extended an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships,” Middle Tennessee golf coach Brennan Webb said. “This was a day that we, as a team, have had circled on our calendar for close to 18 months. Being the host school added a lot of pressure to our guys but they stepped up and left no doubt with solid play all season.”
Playing and hosting the tournament will put eyes from across the nation on Middle Tennessee and The Grove. Turnbow hopes that will go long way toward securing another bid in the future.
“We’re trying to build a brand here nationally, and this exposes us nationally to some things that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see,” he said. “I think this is just scratching the surface. There’s more down the road for us and The Grove, whether that’s another regional or the NCAA finals down the road one day.”
The Blue Raiders, the nine seed in the regional, will join 12 other teams at The Grove vying for the top five places, which will qualify them to move onto the NCAA Championship.
Other squads participating include top-seeded Vanderbilt, Texas Tech, Clemson, Georgia, Missouri, Lipscomb, Kennesaw State, UCF, TCU, Troy, East Tennessee State and Harvard.
The golfers should expect a challenging golf course, according to Turnbow. They should also expect to be treated like royalty over the three days of play.
“They can expect a really good test of golf,” he said. “The Grove is ahead of growing schedule because of the mild winter, so the rough will be up and greens will be firm and fast. If they get good weather, I think you can expect a really good test of golf.
“More importantly, they can expect a world class experience. These teams have earned the right to compete, and we’re going to take care of them like the successful teams they are. It’s really an all-hands-on-deck deal for our community, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The success of the tournament and the continued bond between Middle Tennessee and The Grove could lead to more prestigious tournaments in the future. At least, they hope it won’t take another 38 years before the Blue Raiders again play host.
The Tournament will begin Monday the 15th.