The meaningful mission behind a new college golf tournament between Army, Navy and Air Force
Virginia's Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, a four-time host of the Presidents Cup, will hold the inaugural Commander-in-Chief's Cup.
The NCAA title won’t be decided until June, but an alternative national championship is on the line next week at Virginia’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. That’s when the inaugural Commander-in-Chief’s Cup will be held, pitting the men’s golf teams from the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and Air Force Academy.
The two-day, 54-hole tournament, employing a distinctive play eight/count six scoring format, is intended as a celebration of golf at the service academies as well as an opportunity for players at the three schools to experience a high-level competition at a top-ranked course.
Playing college golf at a service school is different than at an Oklahoma State, a Florida or a Texas, contends Jeff Renzulli, head of the Service Academies Golf Foundation (SAGF) that is organizing the event. It’s not always a “fair fight” when competing against other D-I programs given the challenge of finding practice time and resources.
Renzulli was the architect-in-chief of the tournament, having watched the Army-Navy football game in 2020 and wondered if there was an equivalent golf competition. It turns out there had been: the Service Academy Classic began in 1993 but was held for the last time in 2012. Among the individual winners were the two players at services school to have earned full status on the PGA Tour—Navy’s Billy Hurley (2003) and Air Force’s Kyle Westmoreland (2011).
Navy graduate Billy Hurley isn't afraid to let his feelings out for his rivals at West Point.
In an attempt to create something special for the golfers to recognize the effort they put in fulfilling their service requirements while also competing in a D-I sport, Renzulli helped establish the SAGF and put in motion the new tournament, which runs April 17-18. The Sunday prior, the teams will be playing in a pro-am-style event with tournament sponsors followed by a welcome dinner at RTJ.
“It’s a chance to honor these great young men and the dedication they put into school and to golf,” says Renzulli, with the goal of creating some of the pageantry connected with the Army-Navy football game with the golf tournament.
Jimmy Stobs is in his first year as Navy’s golf coach after winning three NCAA D-II titles during 20 years of coaching at Barry University in Florida. He learned of the Commander-in-Chief’s Cup in the fall when he was just becoming acclimated in Annapolis, Md., and has used it as a motivator this spring.
“I have 11 players on the team, and they’re all fighting for those eight spots,” Stobs says. “This is for the bragging rights, the first ever Commander-in-Chief's Cup at this level. To win this event would be extremely important for the program just like it is in football and the other sports.”
“It’s a huge recruiting piece,” says Hurley, who graduated from Navy in 2004 and then, after putting in his post-college service time, became the first service academy graduate to win on the PGA Tour with his victory at the 2016 Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club. He compared having this event on the schedule to the Navy football team knowing each fall it will have spotlight games against Notre Dame and Army.
Hurley joined the SAGF board with the goal of making sure the event becomes a top-level competition for the players, by taking it to top-ranked courses around the country. That’s Renzulli’s aim, too, stating that plans are in place to do just that in years to come.
The ability for the golfers at the three schools to come together and compete is something Hurley is also excited for, recalling his days as a Midshipman playing in the previous event and the common bonds these players have.
“You have to be really committed to wanting to put in the extra time [playing golf] because your scholarship doesn’t hinge on it,” Hurley says. “Once you get to the school, you don’t have to play a sport. You can have a lot more free time like my roommates did when I was there. You have to kinda really want to do it.”
Trey Owen, a West Point graduate who won the first Service Academy Classic in 1992 and serves on the board of the SAGF, believes the Commander-in-Chief’s Cup has the potential to become one of college golf’s more noteworthy events.
“I think what's different today is the awareness of the service academies and how important people view them,” Owen said. “Just the idea of the Commander in Chief Trophy in terms of football has grown in popularity over time and people follow that and the games are on TV. … So this is something that could be very special. There's no reason why golf shouldn't have this.”