“The Darius” was always a big deal, but as the 11th Annual Darius Rucker Intercollegiate Golf Tournament gets set to tee off next week at the Long Cove Club in Hilton Head, the event has now become one of the most prestigious women’s college golf events in the country.
“We draw a national championship field,” said South Carolina women’s golf coach Kalen Anderson. “It’s one of the strongest fields in the country with the teams we have playing, and we get them from all over the country. There are going to be 17 teams and probably all but one of the teams was ranked inside the top 25 from last year.
“Long Cove Club is one of the elite private clubs in the country that rallies around the Gamecocks and women’s golf. It really feels like a professional event because you have crowds and members out there supporting it. It’s really special with that atmosphere.”
For those not familiar, the tournament started 11 years ago and is tied in South Carolina alumnus and music superstar Darius Rucker who is a huge sports fan and famously puts on a private concert for the sponsors, members, and tournament teams after Sunday’s practice round. While that’s certainly a great draw, the tournament is being nationally televised for the second straight year, which adds to the prestige of the event.
“We’ve now drawn the Golf Channel to it for the second straight year,” Anderson said. “This is the only women’s collegiate golf event to be televised on the Golf Channel. Just to have them involved and showcase the golf course and the eliteness of the event and the talent is great for growing the game, and having the Gamecocks as the host is very special.
“Obviously, we have Darius Rucker there, who is very close to our program. He provides a special concert, which is always a big draw.”
“The growth from eleven years ago until now is unbelievable with the increase in our budget and sponsorships. It’s growing every year and getting the influence of the Golf Channel just adds to it. ”
For the student-athletes in the event, they love to be able to play in one of the most competitive tournaments in the country, and the other perks are great as well.
“Your own home tournament is special, and Long Cove is such a special place,” said South Carolina sophomore Hannah Darling, who will be playing in the tournament for the second time. “Having it televised is very nice. You have the best of the best competing, so it doesn’t get any better than that. It’s great that people get to see that.
“It’s funny, one of my favorite parts about it is that we get to stay in a house together the whole week. It’s quite special. The concert is great, and the course is very, very nice and it’s tough and unique, but when we as a team get to spend a week in a house together, I think it gives us great memories that we’ll always have. Not many tournaments can do that. We’re going to bond that week and become a better team and better teammates.”
“The people there are always super nice!” senior Mathilde Claisse, who is playing in the tournament for the third time. “The organization of the tournament is amazing. Every year is such a blast. Even though it’s the beginning of the season, it’s kind of a big step looking towards the postseason because of the strength of the field. It gives you an idea of where you stand next to those other teams. There’s nothing like playing against the best teams in the country. The course is really hard, so it’s a very a challenging week. I think all of that is what makes it so prestigious.
“The concert is good, too. We’re really getting more into country music, so I think we’re going to enjoy that even more this year!”
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the tournament is that the great golf is taking center stage.
“This whole thing was (former South Carolina Director of Golf) Puggy Blackmon’s idea,” Anderson said. “The growth from eleven years ago until now is unbelievable with the increase in our budget and sponsorships. It’s growing every year and getting the influence of the Golf Channel just adds to it.
“It’s a special place and a special environment with all the support from the (Hilton Head) Island. We get so many requests every year from schools all across the board that want to get in it. Lucky for me, I have a committee of people at Long Cove that help, so it’s not solely on me to decide (who gets in). We try to get a good representation of teams from all around the country and make it the strongest field. We get so many requests. We have great teams on the waiting list that want to get in!”
The three-day tournament tees off on Monday and runs through Wednesday.
“Long Cove Club puts a lot of time and energy into putting on the event, and all their members are great,” Anderson said. “The members are the heart of why this experience is so great, just as much as sponsors and players. They do such phenomenal job of putting on this event.”