It's hard to question the character of the members of the Furman men's golf team given the way they've handled themselves the last 72 hours. Friday afternoon coach Todd Satterfield broke the news to his team that the university's Board of Trustees had voted to discontinue the program after this season. Shortly afterward, Furman athletic director Gary Clark also spoke to the squad to try to explain the decision, which the school says was made to address a need to reallocate resources (read: save money).
As feelings of anger and disbelief surfaced over what the long-term future might hold, the group made the most impressive of short-term decisions. Saturday and Sunday the Paladins were supposed to be holding a qualifier at Furman GC for their upcoming opening spring tournament, and they would not change their plans even in the wake of such disappointing news.
"It was their choice," said Satterfield, among college golf's most respected voices. "They've been remarkably resilient."
I spoke with Satterfield Sunday as he was driving to Furman GC. He said he knew the university faced significant financial issues—an estimated $6.4 million deficit for the 2014-15 academic year according to one report—but said he learned of the possibility of shutting down the golf program only a day before the Feb. 7 vote was taken by the school's Board of Trustees.
The men's golf team was the only one of 18 varsity men's and women's sports programs at the school that was affected. In a release, the school said the decision to cut the men's golf team was based on "an extensive evaluation of criteria, including public visibility, attendance, competitiveness and overall cost."
The Paladins have won 13 Southern Conference titles since 1970, most recently in 2010, but had qualified for NCAA Regionals only four times and had not reached the NCAA Championships since 1986. The men's team currently is 122nd in the Golfstat team ranking. Sadly, Furman has struggled on the course of late.
Still, within college golf circles news of the team's disbanding was greeted with shock. Alumnus Brad Faxon, an All-American at Furman in the 1980s, was among those who publicly expressed his disappointment with the move, as did former Lady Paladin Dottie Pepper.
The frustration from some about the decision stemmed not only for golf's long tradition at the school—a men's team first played there in 1930 and the women's team was one of the dominant national programs in the 1970s and early 1980s—but also that the school recently added men's and women's lacrosse teams, both of which are believed to require larger monetary resources from the school than the golf program.
The question now is whether there is any recourse that can be taken to appeal the decision. Other schools that have announced they would cut their golf programs had changed their mind when the team or its boosters managed to raise money to support the team. The most notable example: Minnesota in 2002, when boosters rallied to save the team as the squad responded by winning the NCAA title.
Satterfield (left) says he doesn't know if this is a possibility or not. Regardless, he said he was committed to making this next semester the best possible experience for him and his team.
"We've always done things a class way," Satterfield said. "We're going to continue to do it a class way."