In a surprise reversal that illustrates the long-term bond created by our game, Furman University announced today that it will not terminate the men’s golf program as previously planned.
The move came after a tumultuous 18 days, beginning with the stunning news on Feb. 7 that the school planned to do away with men’s golf at the end of the 2014 spring season. As reported in The Post, alumni were caught completely off guard and a fundraising campaign was launched to save the 82-year-old program.
Those efforts succeeded with breathtaking speed. Less than three weeks after the original decision, university officials announced that alumni will, in fact, fund the program on a short-term basis while working to endow permanent scholarships in the future.
“We are all proud alums of the Furman golf program and none of us wanted to see it discontinued,” said the Paladins’ most famous men’s golf alum, Brad Faxon. “We talked with university officials and discussed what we could do to bring the program back.
“Furman has a very dedicated group of men’s golf alumni and we had numerous people step up and make some very generous contributions that provided the kind of financial support the university needed. The outpouring of support from Furman alumni and the golf community has been amazing.”
Dottie Pepper, one of more than a dozen LPGA players who attended the small South Carolina school, credited the younger generation of internet-savvy alumni with getting information out to the public.
“The kids who came to Furman long after Brad and I did, they really got their act together,” Pepper said. “If it hadn’t been for them it would have been all the old war horses screaming at the trustees.
“But these kids got it going. Good and accurate information was flowing and you had lawyers and marketers and business people who put their educations to use. They got it done.”
One of those younger alumni was T.J. Blandford who began an online petition the day the original decision was announced. Within 48 hours, he had more signatures than Furman has undergraduate students. Blandford, Faxon and a handful of others worked closely with the administration to reach a fundraising resolution that will keep the program alive.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the alumni or the school right now,” Blandford said. “The core group of us were involved in the meetings and discussions, but we are just the tip of the iceberg. There have been literally thousands of people who have shown their support and made commitments, so it’s been an amazing outpouring.”
The eruption caused by the original announcement caught administrators by surprise. Furman is dealing with a total budgetary shortfall that reportedly is in excess of $6 million, so the $400,000 in annual savings from the men’s golf program was considered by many to be a drop in the bucket.
But the emotional connection between Furman and golf run much deeper than money, a fact that became obvious to all in the days after the decision was made.
“Everybody mobilized quickly, and I think the trustees and the interim president realized how angry many people were with how it was handled,” Pepper said. “That being said, we need to understand why things happened this way so that they don’t happen to another program, and by that I mean women’s golf, frankly.
“We’re eventually going to have to do this with the women’s program. For a long time we’ve been led to believe that there was a lot more money in that program than there is. So, this is just the start.”
Those involved are cautiously optimistic that it is the beginning of a permanent solution.
“There is a long-range fundraising goal that could make the Furman men’s golf team one of the top-rated programs in the country,” Blandford said.
“There are long-term obligations that will have to be resolved,” she said. “But even if it means taking the programs over ourselves, if that’s what it takes to get them back on track, that’s what the guys are prepared to do.”