College golf: SEC teams head to Sea Island Golf Club for championships
Beautiful weather, picturesque scenery, plenty of golfers working on their game -- a walk around Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course on Thursday wouldn't look that much different than it does the rest of the year. The only exception was the SEC and team logos dotting the course, driving range and putting green.
The SEC men's golf teams make their annual trip to the Golden Isles this week for the SEC Men's Golf Championship at Seaside. Even before the RSM Classic came to fruition, the SEC was making trips to the Isles to decide a conference champion.
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The league has held its men's golf championship in the Isles since 2001. The majority of that time has been spent at Seaside with 14 tournaments being held at the prestigious course. The tournament shifted to Frederica Golf Club in 2008 and 2009.
"It's a great venue. It's probably one of the best venue's we play all year," said Auburn head coach Nick Clinard of Seaside. "It's a special place. It's the best manicured grass we'll see all year. It's an exciting time anytime you get to compete against the best. The players are ready to compete."
This year, though, there is a new wrinkle to the tournament. Teams will compete in three rounds of stroke play on Friday and Saturday, playing 36 holes on Friday and 18 on Saturday. The tournament will then be cut to eight teams and go to a match play format with the quarterfinals and semifinals on Sunday and the finals on Monday.
"If you can get into match play it's going to be fun," Clinard said. "It could be a short week, or it could be a long week. Typically in college, we do a lot of 36-18 events because we miss less school that way, but the match play brings a different element. It's a different game, kind of [mano-a-mano scenario]. I think all the players, at least my players, love it. The coaches love it too."
The format is the same as the one the NCAA uses to determine a champion, so getting a chance to experience the format at the conference championship could be beneficial down the line.
Clinard said the head-to-head format could also bring in more casual fans to the course.
"I think the outside fans who don't really know a lot about college golf, they understand wins and losses -- whether it be tennis or soccer, football or basketball," Clinard said. "When you play head-to-head, they understand that. They don't really understand that you play five guys and you drop the highest score."
The SEC traditionally has some of the best teams in golf, and this year is no exception.
The conference has eight teams in the top 25 of Golfstat Relative Rankings. Vanderbilt is the highest ranked team at third, with No. 6 Florida and No. 7 LSU also in the top 10. Texas A&M and Auburn are at 16 and 19, respectively, while Ole Miss, Missouri and Georgia round out the top 25. The eight teams have combined to win 21 events so far this season.
Four of those wins come from Auburn.
"We've been up and down this spring, but we've won four times this year and we're ranked 19th in the country," said Clinard on Auburn's season so far. "It just comes down to your state of mind and how many putts you can make."
If you expand the rankings out a little further, the SEC has 12 of the top 41 teams in the country based on rankings with Arkansas (28th), South Carolina (30th), Alabama (37th) and Kentucky (41st) sitting just outside the top 25.
Georgia and Alabama have had the most success since the tournament shifted to Seaside. The Bulldogs have won six titles in that span while the Crimson Tide have won four times. Florida has two wins at Seaside with Auburn, Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee each scoring one victory.
Practice round is in the books. 36 holes on tap Friday at SEC Championship. pic.twitter.com/T36rY61beh— Georgia Golf (@UGAGolf) April 20, 2017
Georgia took home the crown last year with a 5 over 285 in the final round to finish at 13 over for the tournament and edge Texas A&M by three shots.
As is usually the case at Seaside, the challenge could be the weather. The forecast calls for plenty of sunshine with highs in the 80s for Friday and Saturday. Showers are possible on both Sunday and Monday.
The real challenge though will be dealing with Seaside's notorious windy conditions.
"The wind will blow. It will probably be a little calmer in the mornings and blow in the afternoon," Clinard said. "I think the forecast right now has it blowing out of the south at about 10 to 20 mph. It's going to be hot and warm, so I think the scoring will be very good."
Play tees off Thursday with the first round starting at 7:20 a.m., and the second round slated to tee off at 12:35 p.m.