Can hosting a Nationwide Tour event sway college recruits?


Come to our school, which has a golf course that hosts a Nationwide Tour event, and it'll give you a leg up on the competition as you prepare for life as a professional.

It's quite a pitch, right?

Chris Haack, the men's golf coach at the University of Georgia, leads one of only two collegiate programs that can make it.

The Athens-based school has hosted the Nationwide Tour's Stadion Classic at the on-campus course for the last two years. And UGA players have won the tournament both times. 

Russell Henley previaled last year while still a student, securing Nationwide Tour status for the first two seasons of his pro career. Last week, recent grad and newly minted pro Hudson Swafford shot a course-record 62 in the final round to beat Luke List and two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen.

With the plan to pave only one path to the PGA Tour, through the Nationwide Tour, the chance to claim a tournament site on the circuit as your home course – with a pair of alums as champions – should be on the front of the program brochure. Haack, however, sees the event as more of an asset to his program than who wins it. 

'I don't know that it's a recruiting tool,' Haack said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. 'It's just another thing a kid is going to look at, a throw-in thing.

'It keeps the program on the front burner of kids' minds. We get to show off our course, our practice facility that's as good as any in the country and how the community supports us. With some alums in the field, it's like a little homecoming.'

Nationwide Tour president Bill Calfee believes the Georgia event, as well as another held on the campus of the Ohio State University, is a mutually beneficial relationship.

'As a coach, I could understand using it as a recruiting tool,' Calfee said, 'but we're not trying to help colleges recruit. These schools are great partners and do a great job running their events. If we can help their program, that's fine, but it's not our primary objective.'

No Nationwide Tour regulars have picked up the phone to complain about the run of Bulldog wins.

'I'm kind of surprised I haven't gotten a call from some players about this,' Calfee quipped.

J.J. Killeen led the Nationwide Tour money list last season. A graduate of Texas Christian University, Killeen sees the value of the event.

'It's a great course and a great tournament,' he said Wednesday. 'They definitely have an advantage playing there every day. It doesn't hurt them to have it.'

Five other schools have hosted Nationwide Tour events. The last to fall off the schedule was at the University of Maryland, which decided not to keep the event after a two-year run. It will move this year to nearby, Tour-owned TPC Potomac.

Jason Rodenhaver is the director of intercollegiate golf in College Park. His father, Barry, recruited Calfee to the Terrapin program. The Nationwide event there may be gone, but it is still a selling point.

'It's great for the university, great for the program,' Rodenhaver said. 'It's great for our credibility. It put out facility on TV. It's free advertising. I used it with every recruit I talked to and still can use it.'

Chuck Winstead is at the helm of Georgia’s Southeastern Conference rival, Louisiana State University. He hopes the Stadion Classic doesn't deter a player from coming to play at University Park in Baton Rouge.

'Certainly any of these types of events can give your school different types of exposure,' Winstead said in an email on Tuesday, 'and sometimes that exposure can certainly change opinions of your (program). Yet, I hope the ultimate decision that is made on where to attend college is made on more substantial factors.'

Even with the imminent changes to PGA Tour qualification, Haack does not see the prospect of a pro home game as swaying the minds of future players. He, as does Rodenhaver, anticipates some current students turning pro sooner to take their shot before the Q-School window closes. 

For most players, that may be the best course. Haack recommends the Nationwide Tour as a graduate program from Athens.

'The Nationwide Tour is actually a really good avenue for a lot of players,' he said. 'It's a great place to cut your teeth.'