The NCAA men’s golf Baton Rouge Regional tees off Thursday at the University Club, a test to see whether both man and the elements are championship material.
Five of the 13 teams here, plus the top individual golfer from one of the eight teams that doesn’t advance, qualify for the NCAA championships, May 28-June 2 at The Capital City Club’s Crabapple course in Atlanta.
It will take a strong showing for the participating teams to prove they are championship worthy.
The same is true for the University Club itself.
LSU is considering a bid for the NCAA championship, likely on the women’s side, as early as 2016.
LSU women’s golf coach Karen Bahnsen believes the U Club is up to the task.
“It’s definitely a championship-caliber course,” Bahnsen said. “We’ve hosted some big events, and we think we could host it and do a fantastic job.”
The par-72 course will play about 7,450 yards for the regional, according to LSU men’s coach Chuck Winstead, not quite its full measure of 7,700 yards from the back tees.
“There isn’t a letup hole here,” Winstead said. “You can have a high number on a hole, but you can also make bogey after bogey after bogey. You’ve got to hit quality shots, think your way around and hole some putts.
“That’s the way it should be for a championship event.”
Though length is a big factor in the University Club’s arsenal, its green complexes are what have made the David Toms-Jim Lipe design a tougher test since they were redesigned in 2010.
If anything, Bahnsen has waited for the greens to play easier before deciding to make a bid for the women’s championship.
“When you redo greens, they’re very firm,” she said. “It takes two or three years for that firmness to go away.”
A potential road block to LSU’s hosting hopes is whether the NCAA will continue to try to play both the men’s and women’s championships at the same site.
The 2014 men’s championship will be in Wichita, Kan., while the women’s will be in Tulsa, Okla.
In 2015, however, both men’s and women’s NCAA Division I championships will both be played at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., with the Golf Channel televising them both.
“If they decide to keep the men’s and women’s championships together, we may not be able to host,” said Bahnsen, whose team saw its season end Saturday in the NCAA West Regional in Stanford, Calif.
Winstead’s Tigers come into the Baton Rouge Regional as the third-seeded team behind SEC champion Alabama and Florida.
The rest of the field includes Mississippi State, Houston, Northwestern, Tennessee, South Alabama, Coastal Carolina, UAB, Wichita State, Southeastern Louisiana and Houston Baptist.
“It’s the strongest regional field I’ve ever seen,” Winstead said. “We’re going to have to play well. It wouldn’t take a monumental achievement for us to make it to nationals, but we have to work extremely hard.”
No. 2-ranked Alabama is the team to beat, with three players ranked in GolfWeek’s top eight: No. 3 Cory Whitsett, No. 5 Bobby Wyatt and No. 8 Justin Thomas.
LSU’s top-ranked player is No. 40-ranked Curtis Thompson (his sister Lexi is an 18-year-old champion on the LPGA Tour) while Florida’s top player is No. 33 Tyler McCumber (son of touring pro Mark McCumber).
Despite the depth of the field, all four writers for GolfWeek magazine, which covers collegiate golf closely, picked LSU to be one of the five teams to advance.
Though not ready to count his team as one of the 30 heading to Atlanta, Winstead said he believes the University Club is ready to take the next step as a host course.
“This week will go a long way toward creating an identity for this golf course,” he said. “This is the first men’s regional LSU has hosted anywhere, and it’s another step toward hosting a championship.”
The 54-hole regional continues through Saturday. There is no admission charge.