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Golf: UL hosted some of country’s top golf programs in Louisiana Classics

Dan McDonald, The Advertiser, Feb. 28, 2018

Only a few people, mostly those who are involved with the UL golf program, pay more than casual attention to the Louisiana Classics Tournament, which completed its 33rd edition Tuesday at Oakbourne Country Club.

And that’s a shame, for a lot of different reasons.

The tournament wrapped up three days of activities and two days of competition Tuesday, with national No. 3-ranked Texas A&M claiming its first team title out of the 15-team field. The Aggies put up an impressive number in Monday’s second of two rounds, throwing a 15-under-par 273 at the field in the afternoon to take control, and never looked back in finishing well ahead of runner-up and fellow national powerhouse Illinois.

Therein lies one reason that more attention should be given to the tournament. UL doesn’t host many other events, if any, that bring four of the top 28 teams in the country and nine of the top 100 to Acadiana. That’s the field that was here for the past four days, with Illinois ranked 11th, Louisville ranked 26th and Kent State ranked 28th in addition to the third-ranked Aggies.

Cajun coach Theo Sliman has shaken a lot of hands and worked the phones to try to bring some of the country’s best teams to Oakbourne for this event, continuing the efforts that long-time coach Bob Bass and a long list of supporters began back in the mid-1980s. The tournament’s all-time participant roster reads like a who’s who of collegiate golf programs.

And, by the way, huge kudos to sophomore Jack Tolson of Opelousas, the former prep standout at Westminster. Against that strong field, Tolson fashioned a stellar four-under-par 68 on Tuesday to pair with 73-71 rounds, and his three-round 212 total was four-under-par and good enough to tie for sixth against national-caliber competition.

Tolson rallied from well back in the field and went four-under-par on his final nine holes Tuesday, birdieing the first and third holes and then rolling in an eagle putt on the par-five seventh hole.

Jack did a lot of things right during the tournament. So did Sliman and the Vermilion Links Club, which has taken over some of the tournament’s administrative duties. There’s a waiting list to get into the field, and virtually every team that was in this year’s 15 wants to return.

The reasons for that  are many. The coaches who bring their teams mostly cite the hospitality that they’re given from tournament staffs, the staff at Oakbourne, and especially the team hosts who are assigned to each squad. Most of those hosts have been with the same returning schools for many years and have developed a relationship with that school’s coaches and players.

They also talk about Oakbourne itself. In many parts of the country right now, places that still feel like the dead of winter, no one’s thinking about tournament golf. Here, Oakbourne’s already in solid shape, even after a prolonged period of rare sub-freezing temperatures in the Acadiana area in December and January.

“I love coming here and playing this course,” said Texas-San Antonio coach John Knauer. “It’s a difficult course and we want that to challenge our players, but it’s also very fair. There’s not all the trickery that you find at some courses. You’ll use every club in your bag, and that’s important this early in the season.”

The Oakbourne membership in effect turns their course over to the college kids for three days, and that commitment comes on top of the agreement between the club and the university to build UL’s new golf facility on the club property.

That pair of buildings now sits a long iron from the No. 1 fairway, and Sliman spent a lot of time over the weekend proudly showing off the facility to visiting coaches and players. The tournament provides that opportunity, and that facility might not be there had it not been for the relationships that  have been built over the event being held at Oakbourne for the past 32 years.

The Louisiana Classics makes a contribution to the local economy. Fifteen team parties all include a minimum of seven people who stay in hotels and eat in local restaurants, and that doesn’t include a significant number of parents and friends who come into town to follow the players.

The tournament makes another type of impact. A broadcast was streamed live on the UL athletic site ragincajuns.com for nearly 10 hours on Monday and for five hours on Tuesday. More than 1,700 viewers watched Monday’s action and a similar number was expected for the final round Tuesday.

The biggest reason for supporting the event, though, is to support the Cajun program. The Louisiana Classics is the only “home” event of the year for the UL golf team, and has been in that role for all of its 33 years.

I date myself, but I can remember several long-ago Cajun players who went their entire collegiate careers and never had the chance to play a tournament in their backyard, in front of family, friends and supporters.

That alone should be enough to warrant support, which is the only way the Louisiana Classics will remain a premier and popular event.

“Making the Turn” appears Wednesday in the Daily Advertiser. Clubs, courses and individuals with information about local golf events may email Dan McDonald, editorial director at Golfballs.com, at danmcdonald@cox.net, FAX to (337) 857-8763 or call (337) 857-8754 and leave a message with phone number.