As professional golfers are filtering into The Greenbrier this week, West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck announced that golfers will soon be coming to the Morgantown campus.
Luck said WVU will begin offering men's varsity golf as a scholarship sport beginning in the 2015-16 season. The school currently offers golf as a club sport. A coach is expected to be hired in 2014.
"We probably have a lot of good golfers already enrolled at WVU," Luck said in a teleconference call Monday. "We are very excited about an opportunity which doesn't come along very often to add a men's sport."
Golf has a maximum of 4.5 scholarships allotted to the program, and Luck said WVU will start with fewer than that and work its way to eventually fully funding that aspect of the sport. He said the University has already received verbal commitments for golf in excess of $1.5 million, which will go toward the operation and endowment of scholarships.
"We were really blown away by how passionate people are about bringing back golf," Luck said.
The Mountaineers operated a men's golf program between 1933 and 1982, except for the years during World War II.
"Golf has established itself as one of the main sports in West Virginia with a thriving junior golf program, competitive amateur competition and a PGA Tour event," said West Virginia Golf Association executive director Ken Tackett. "With the success of the game in our state, it is only fitting that our largest university provide an opportunity for our top junior golfers to stay in West Virginia and compete at the Division I level."
Luck said University leaders considered bringing back men's tennis, cross country and track before deciding on golf. He said golf offered many fundraising options, and its scholarship limit made complying with Title IX requirements easier. He noted that 108 high schools in the state are sponsoring golf programs, compared to only 93 sponsoring cross country.
"Obviously, there is a strong community in the state that is very supportive of golf," he said. "Golf is very important to our economy, and I can't imagine we would not have an opportunity to put together a great college tournament at one of our great golf courses in the state."
Luck said WVU may sponsor some open tournaments for students during the 2014-15 season to allow the newly hired coach to get a jump on recruiting. Luck said a national search for a golf coach will commence in January.
"We will be looking for someone who has experience in collegiate golf and understands the legacy of the great golf courses in this state," he said. "We are looking for someone who can take a program and build it to where we will be competitive in the Big 12 Conference."
Luck also said the team will primarily play its tournaments, which are held both in the fall and spring, in the mid-Atlantic region. He said the team will compete in the Big 12 championship tournament when that event approaches.
The addition of men's golf will satisfy the Big 12 Conference's requirement of its school having six men's and six women's sports. WVU will offer 18 intercollegiate varsity sports once golf gets into full swing.