Cullowhee, N.C. – The Western Carolina Catamount men’s golf team opens its seven-event spring schedule this Friday, traveling to Palm Desert, Calif., for the University of Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate hosted at the par-72, 7,305-yard Classic Club.

The 54-hole event is spread over three days with an 18-hole round each day beginning Friday with double-tee times off holes No. 1 and No. 10 beginning at 7 am PT / 10 am ET. The practice round is set for Thursday. Live scoring beginning Friday is available online through

The 21-team field includes a bevy of programs from the Mountain and Pacific regions – in fact, Western Carolina is one of just two participants in the field from east of the Mississippi River. In addition to the Catamounts and the host Cowboys, the field features Boise State, Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton, Colorado, Colorado State, Denver, Kansas, San Diego, Santa Clara, University of San Francisco, Seattle, Southern Illinois, South Dakota State, Southern Utah, TCU, Texas-Arlington, Texas Tech, UALR, and UC Riverside.

Five of the teams in the field are ranked inside the latest GolfStat Top 60 – Texas Tech (No. 28) – which is also ranked in the latest Top 25 polls; Kansas (No. 40), TCU (No. 49), Colorado State (No. 52) and San Francisco (No. 54).

“The field is really strong – it’s a very, very good field, always is, and that’s why we wanted to get out there,” said WCU head coach Tim Eckberg. “It’s a great opportunity with the first event of our spring. We’ll be able to get in some good work with Thursday’s practice round and with the three rounds in three-day format, we’ll be able to get in work after each round.”

WCU went through a 54-hole qualifying competition during pre-spring practice to determine the scoring five and lineup for the spring season opener.

“We had six guys battling for five spots – and there was only a five-shot different from the first guy to the sixth. So, we’re grouped together nicely, working on the right things and I think the guys are positive about it. They see the difference in the things we’re working on specifically, and now it’s just going to be can we take those things and translate them in tournament play, keep improving every day.”

Leading WCU’s scoring five will be its top scorer from the fall portion of the schedule in redshirt senior George Whitbread. The Colchester, England, product led the Catamounts in three of the fall tournaments, closing the opening portion of the schedule with a team-best 74.91 stroke average – a mark that ranked 27th in the SoCon individual standings.

Whitbread will be flanked by freshman Louis Theys and sophomore Zach Caudill, both of which posted career-low rounds of 69 in the fall, matching the team’s best individual score also turned in by Whitbread. Finishing out the Catamount scoring five are sophomore Michael Coe and freshman Tumi Kúld, both of whom saw action in all four fall events.

“The focus of our team since the end of the fall schedule has really been getting more specific with each individual player with things they needed to work on,” said Eckberg. “The biggest change for us has been the addition of our indoor facility, getting that up and running. It’s allowed us to target specific things – and with the way the weather has been the past couple months, we actually feel like we’re geared up and ready to go.”

“We had our growing pains in the fall – we were what we were in the first part of our schedule. But at the end of the day, I know what we are capable of and it’s not about the scores that we shot back in October, it’s going to come down to the scores that we shoot in late April. And that’s why this is a building process, and we’re working really hard with these guys to see how much better we can get,” Eckberg added.

Western Carolina has a very busy spring semester with seven competitions including the Southern Conference Men’s Golf Championship, playing a combined 20 rounds. The slate includes the opening trip to California with a spring break trip including a pair of tournaments in Nevada and Arizona. The final three events of the regular season are much closer to home in South Carolina and Georgia with the SoCon championship tournament again set for Pinehurst No. 9 in Pinehurst, N.C.

“This isn’t where we’re stepping into our first event thinking that we’re ready for the conference championship tomorrow. This is about a process; putting us in an event with some great competition to allow our guys to get better and to see what we can do against some of the best. Working our butts off before and after each round and continue to look at our long-term goals of conference in April,” said Eckberg.

He added, “George (Whitbread) really made a nice step from last season to this past fall – and I still don’t think he’s come close to touching what he’s able to do on a golf course. One of our freshmen, Louis (Theys), was injured early in the semester and I don’t think we ever saw what he is capable of. He’s got a ton of game and I’m excited to see what he does healthy and now that he’s had time to gear up for events. And the same goes for Tumi (Kúld) – it’s tough for freshmen, it’s tough for internationals coming into a new environment and I don’t think he ever found his stride after a successful opening event, then expectations hit. Our sophomores (Zach Caudill, Michael Coe, Chandler Metz) are working on the right things – and they’ve seen among the biggest benefits of our indoor practice facility and have seen the improvement in their games.”

WCU will again venture west March 8-9 and March 15-16 in tournament play during spring break before a two-week hiatus in front of the Wofford Intercollegiate (April 1-2) and Clemson Intercollegiate (April 5-7) in early April. The final tune-up before the SoCon Championship (April 21-23) is the one-day, 36-hole Southern Intercollegiate in Athens, Ga., scheduled for Monday, April 15.