Related Link: Hummingbird Intercollegiate Record Book
Cullowhee, N.C. - Led by last year's individual medalist in senior Dylan MacQueen, the defending tournament champion Western Carolina men's golf team is set to host the 2017 Hummingbird Intercollegiate Oct. 1-3 at the beautiful Country Club of Sapphire Valley.
This season marks the 11th-consecutive year -- and the 12th time overall -- that WCU and the Country Club of Sapphire Valley (CCSV) have hosted an intercollegiate men's golf tournament. With play slated on the first week of October, it marks the earliest date of competition in the tournament's history, an event that has traditionally been held in late October / early November.
Also, for just the second time in tournament history, the 2017 Hummingbird Intercollegiate will play out at a 54-hole format with 36 holes of competition on Monday, Oct. 2 and the third and final round to tee-off on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 3. Festivities get underway on Sunday, Oct. 1 with a special Member-Player round at CCSV. The 87-golfer field will again play one of the region's most pristine courses during the special time of year as the mountainous terrain starts to be painted with the hues of autumn.
Live scoring of the tournament will be available both days and for all three rounds online at GolfStatResults.com. Additional updates will be made periodically through Twitter using the handle, @Catamounts and @GolfWCU.
"This is a special year for this event. The membership has always been so great to us, but has given us the opportunity to move this date up a full month this year. The results speak for themselves as we have a full field of 13 Division I programs, and some powerhouse programs that are bringing players up as well," said WCU head coach Tim Eckberg. "All of us that have been a part of this program and have been fortunate enough to spend time at the Country Club of Sapphire Valley know how unique this club and golf course are. It truly is 'Heaven on Earth.' My goal for the Hummingbird from day one has been to create an event worthy of this golf course and this membership, and I think we are getting close to that with this year."
Eckberg added, "As for the event, moving it to a 54-hole competition for just the second time in tournament history takes this event to the next level. This is such a perfect tournament course that the more rounds of competition, the more the best teams and players will separate themselves. Much like the Collegiate-Member event, the support of the membership for this event is unmatched. We have over 40 volunteers for each day of the event, and it will create a phenomenal tournament feel during the competition. We are so excited to put on a great show for the members at CCSV and for all our supporters in purple next week."
Eckberg, who played two seasons for the Catamounts in 2002-04, added, "I played this course when I was in college at Western Carolina, and I loved it then. We are so very fortunate to be embraced by the club membership that allows our golf program to use their top-notch facilities. This golf course continues to be in the best condition of any course that we're going to play this season. Our players are excited to come home to play the Country Club of Sapphire Valley, to be on a course that they know."
A combined 16 teams -- 13 vying for the tournament team championship and three additional squads sending individuals -- comprise the 87-golfer field. In addition to the host Catamounts, WCU welcomes golfers from Austin Peay, Belmont, Central Arkansas, Charleston Southern, Colgate, Elon, Gardner-Webb, Marshall, Morehead State, Presbyterian, Radford, and Tennessee Tech, with individual competitors from three Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) members, Clemson, Duke, and Wake Forest.
Central Arkansas is the only new team that is competing for the first time, though Wake Forest's individuals carry the Demon Deacons' banner into the tournament for the first time. All told, nine different teams have won the Hummingbird Intercollegiate with Western Carolina (2016, 2007) and Charleston Southern (2004) representing the only two previous tournament champions in this year's 16-school field.
In addition to Eckberg, Colgate men's golf head coach Keith Tyburski is very familiar with the tournament venue as another former Catamount. Tyburski, who is in his ninth season coaching the Raiders' golf team, finished tied atop the individual leader board back in 2004 before falling on the second hole of a playoff for medalist honors of the then WCU Intercollegiate.
Playing at a par-71, 6,767-yard layout, the beautiful Country Club of Sapphire Valley is a private, member-owned club that features a valley golf course, plush clubhouse, state-of-the-art fitness center, and tennis center. The course meanders through the backdrop of a mature hardwood forest and scenic mountains that provide for breath taking views and a natural setting. The course, which sits on a level valley floor despite its mountainous surroundings, was originally designed by George Cobb and was updated by Bill Bergin.
The peaks of the southern Appalachian Mountains and the autumn foliage colors provide a magnificent setting for the team tournament.
Festivities tee off with the special Collegiate-Member round on Sunday, Oct. 1.
"The Sunday 'Collegiate-Member' event is a new wrinkle in the schedule of play. I wanted to give back to the membership, but also give them an opportunity to be around these great student-athletes from all across the world," said Eckberg. "I'm so humbled at the support the CCSV members have given this, as we have a full field of members to go along with the players for the practice round. It's going to be a very fun day."
Two of the previous 12 Hummingbird Intercollegiate golf tournaments have been decided by a single stroke. Clemson edged SoCon-foe, Furman, by a single marker in 2014 with UCF rallying past Vanderbilt in 2008 for a one-stroke victory, using a tournament-record 36-hole score of 557.
In similar fashion, the individual race has finished tied just twice -- the aforementioned 2004 tournament involving Tyburski and Radford's Aaron Summers in which Summers claimed in the only playoff in event history. The other tie came in 2014 due to weather.
Following back-to-back, weather-shortened events in 2014 and 2015, Western Carolina led start-to-finish a season ago and cruised to the team championship on its home course. Three of WCU's scoring five placed inside the top five finishers including returners, MacQueen and teammate Jackson Bishop, who was three strokes in arrears.
Though this is just his second year on the WCU roster, the tournament's defending individual champion, MacQueen, is making his fourth appearance at the Catamounts' home tournament. Originally attending Cardinal Stritch University, the Woodstock, Ontario native finished tied for 40th with a 5-over par round of 76 in 2014 and was tied for 23rd in 2015 with an even-par round of 71 ahead of claiming medalist honors a season ago with consecutive rounds of 4-under par, 67 (134).
MacQueen became the third Catamount to claim the tournament's individual medalist honor. Former Catamount J.T. Poston won the longest Hummingbird Intercollegiate, pacing the then 54-hole tournament with a score of 204 in 2013. Andres Cuenca won the 2007 individual honors in the event's return to the CCSV.
Like MacQueen, WCU classmates Bishop and Bright Julamool are slated to make their fourth start in the home tournament. Bishop looks to capitalize on the runner-up finish a season ago while Julamool, who has twice competed in the scoring five and once as an individual prior, has finished inside the top 30 each year including tied for 21st last fall.
The remainder of Western Carolina's roster will make their first-ever appearance at the home tournament. Joining the aforementioned trio in the scoring five for Eckberg are junior transfer George Whitbread and freshman Chandler Metz. The two other newcomers -- freshmen Michael Coe and Zach Caudill -- will also be in competition as individuals with the Cary, N.C., product, Coe, making his collegiate debut.
"Being the defending champion is always a great thing - but we know we face a tough challenge this year against some very strong teams," said Eckberg. "This is a much different team this year and we were searching for our footing a little bit in our first two events. This last two weeks of work has been great, and let's be honest - there is nothing like a little home cooking start showing how this team is capable of performing. We are ready to get after it."
Complete results and recaps of both days will be made available at the conclusion of play Monday and Tuesday.