With the unpredictable weather in North Florida in late February you wouldn’t think that Ponte Vedra Beach would be a good location for an early-spring college golf tournament. But it’s exactly that unpredictability that has been an attractive part of “The Hayt” for 25 years.
Starting at Queens Harbor Golf Club and eventually moving the Sawgrass Country Club, the tournament has gone through some changes in venue and sponsorship (once known as the Mercedes Championships) but it’s the kind of test early in the year that lets players, coaches and entire teams know where they have their strengths and weaknesses.
“Last year it was cold, windy and rainy,” Lorens Chan, a senior at UCLA said this week. “We don’t get that kind of weather in Southern California and this week it’s really breezy. With those kinds of conditions, you find out very quickly if you have game or not.”
At 15-over par as a team (5 players) in the first round on Friday, Chan’s UCLA teammates saw Sawgrass in all its glory. Chan shot +2 74 to keep his team in contention.
As the host to the Tournament Players Championship before moving to the Stadium Course in 1982, the Country Club took its toll on the best on the PGA Tour in early March for five years. Jack Nicklaus and Mark Hayes won the title at one over par. When Lanny Wadkins won at -5 in 1979 he won by five shots. Breaking 80 wasn’t guaranteed, even for the best players in the world.
Playing in the wind in the spring is nothing new for the golfers on the JU and UNF teams and it showed in the first round. The Ospreys have a six shot lead at +5 led by Phillip Knowles’ two-under 70, tied for the low round of the day. The Dolphins sit in second place, six shots behind with Raul Pereda leading the way with a 71.
“It’s a great test this early in the year and that’s why teams keep coming back,” Scott Schroeder, UNF’s golf coach said from the windy Sawgrass clubhouse porch. Schroeder played for the Ospreys under John Brooks, the tournament’s founder and now as the coach has kept the tournament in the upper echelon of collegiate events. The Ospreys have been the de-facto tournament host from the beginning. “Teams come from all over because of the reputation the tournament has and because of the great golf course,” Scott said. “They’ll find out who can handle tough conditions and who can’t.”
Here are the standings after the first round:
- UNF … 293 … +5
- JU … 299
- Oklahoma St. … 300
- Louisville … 301
- North Texas … 302
- UCLA … 303
- Coastal Carolina … 303
- Liberty … 305
- Tennessee … 305
- UAB … 308
- East Carolina … 310
- Furman … 313
- Tulsa … 315
- Army West Point … 315
- UCF … 321
Without the blessing of the Sawgrass CC membership, and the work by their Director of Golf Greg Lecker and local businessman John Hayt, this tournament might have gone elsewhere or disappeared completely. Hayt lived at Queens Harbor when it started and struck up a conversation with some of the players, saying they were “Outstanding young men. And good players!” Hayt has stayed close to the UNF program over the years and Schroeder says it’s more than just money that put Hayt’s name on the tournament.
“He’ll stop by my office, talk to the players, really give them somebody to lean on. It’s mentoring, it’s real. He’s a part of our program.”
The tournament concludes this weekend.