More than 80 women golfers have descended on the shores of The Bahamas to participate in the inaugural White Sands University of Houston Golf Invitational, sponsored in part by The Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism, and set for the Ocean Club Golf Course on Paradise Island, October 26 to November 4, 2019.
The women will tee off the first round of competition today and will wrap up their third round on Wednesday. The men will begin competition on Friday and wrap up the third and final round of their competition on Sunday November 3.
Competition gets underway at 8 a.m. in every round. The classic involves several National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I schools. Other than the University of Houston, there are 13 colleges participating. They are the University of Arkansas, Baylor University, Clemson University, the University of Georgia, Mississippi State University, the University of New Mexico, the University of North Texas, Ohio State University, the University of Oklahoma, Southern Methodist University (SMU), the University of Tennessee, the University of Texas and Tulane University.
Each school has five players in the team competition and one extra player.
Houston Head Coach Gerrod Chadwell said having a collegiate golf tournament in The Bahamas will rival or exceed any other regular season or postseason event in significance and prestige. He has been the head coach of the University of Houston’s golf team since the program’s inception in 2013.
“My first experience in The Bahamas was coming over for the (Ladies Professional Golf Tour) LPGA Pure Silk-Bahamas Classic. When that tournament went away, Jeff (Raedle) and his team at Global Golf asked me what I thought about having a college event here. I said it will blow anything that we have ever done away – any regular season event or postseason event. Seeing the way tourism, Atlantis and Ocean Club treated the ladies from the LPGA Tour event, I thought that something like this would be the best experience our kids would have in tournament golf,” Chadwell said.
Jeff Readle, one of the principals at Global Golf Management, said that he hopes this becomes the marquee event on the collegiate level outside of the NCAA Championships. His company helped stage the LPGA Pure Silk golf tournament.
“Our hope is that from a tournament standpoint, they are playing on one of the best courses that they will ever experience as a collegiate athlete,” he said. “They will have a professional-like atmosphere in terms of transportation, hospitality, accommodations and the activities that they can enjoy here. They can learn a little about The Bahamas’ culture and the people. We want this event to be the marquee event in the collegiate landscape for both men and women, starting this year, outside of the NCAA Championships.”
Amanda Elich, a senior at Houston, said it means a lot to have the tournament here in The Bahamas.
“It means a lot. I have been a part of this program for three years. It is our first time doing this. I have never been to The Bahamas before and I am absolutely blown away by its beauty, people and culture,” she said.
The business major and her team have played on the course twice and she feels that her team can put together a low score.
“I am looking forward to playing the course. It is a beautiful course that we get to play on. It does get tough especially with the conditions of the winds. It’s a challenge, but it is a course that I feel we can go low on. I am excited to have that opportunity to play out there,” Elich stated.
She and her team are looking to win it all, and she is happy with where her individual game is at this point. This is not her first time playing outside of the United States. She and her teammates also played in Cabo, Mexico.
Alison Crenshaw, a junior at Georgia, said it’s incredible to be in The Bahamas and it feels like they are in Disneyland.
“Our team is really excited about the competition. We have been playing well leading up to this event but everyone is also feeling confident about their game. We enjoyed the course, so we are really looking forward to a fun, competitive three days of golf,” Crenshaw said.
She transitioned from Daytona State University, a junior college, to Georgia.
The tournament also has an international flavor to it with players from around the world in the competition. One such player is freshman Emilie Ricaud of Texas. She is from Noumea, New Caledonia, an island off the east coast of Australia.
“I have never seen the course but hopefully I will play well. The condition is so much better than Texas. It is warmer and I feel confident. We trained a lot,” Ricaud said. “I am from an island, so it feels like home here. In Texas you do not see sea so I am happy to be here as it reminds me of home so much.”
She added that she wants to show who she is and how she can play with persons at this level.
Making her return to The Bahamas is Ginger Brown-Lemm, head coach of the Mississippi State University golf team. She said this is not her first time in The Bahamas having played her first professional event here 30 years ago. She is in her 10th season as Mississippi State Head Coach.
“It means everything. We want to show experiences to our young women to show that they can play anywhere in the world, but we are also supporting The Bahamas and what they have endured during the hurricane season. I have a friend from college who has a home in The Bahamas,” Brown-Lemm said.
She was emphatic in saying that her team came here to win.
“We came to win – that’s the goal. We play in Oklahoma which is known to be a windy place as well. We came to compete and to win. It is all about picking your targets, hitting the ball and let the wind work for you versus you fighting the wind,” said Brown-Lemm.
Asked if he will look to make it a yearly competition, Chadwell said there is legislation against the Foreign Tour Rule which states that an institution cannot engage in a foreign tour more than once every four years per sport.
“Right now there is legislation that the NCAA is hoping to see in January. We are hoping it gets voted on in November to do away with the Foreign Tour Rule,” said Chadwell. “Coming to The Bahamas, each university can do that once every four years. Right now and hopefully in January that will get passed where we will do away with the Foreign Tour Rule and we can come back every year. Hopefully we can do away with that because right now, Mexico and Canada are approved – it’s been that way for a while but why can’t we take a 45-minute flight to The Bahamas where we can go further than Mexico and Canada. Hopefully, they can see the logic in that.”
According to the latest Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) Rankings for NCAA DI women’s golf, Texas is the highest ranked team that will be participating in this tournament. They are ranked at number two in the nation. The other schools in the Top 25 among the teams here for the classic are Arkansas (tied for 16) and Mississippi State (22).