A tough approach: Despite Syracuse club team’s recent success, addition of varsity program not imminent

Luke Raffery | Video Editor

Joe Hanna and the Syracuse golf team are improving, but they still aren't at the level of Division I programs.

Every year, two or three interested students ask Ken Walcyk about golf scholarships. And every year, the club team head coach has to turn them away.

There was one in 2009 who went on to sign with the College of Saint Rose. There was another in 2011 who was so interested in playing competitive golf at Syracuse that he sent a highlight DVD to Walcyk.

But despite the Orange’s rise to what Walcyk said is the NCAA level, Syracuse University Athletics has yet to seriously consider creating a varsity program.

Forty years ago, the original team was disbanded. Walcyk is now pushing for a rebirth, but SU Athletics has kept him and the rest of the team out of the loop with its plans.

“Trying to get information about what’s going on — if there’s a chance — has been a little frustrating,” Walcyk said. “It’s something I’m used to, but I’m not going to give up on it because it’d be great for the students. They deserve a chance to get out there and play competitively with those other teams.”

Drumlins West Course walkthrough

On Feb. 5, Herman Frazier, deputy athletics director, told The Post-Standard that SU was in preliminary talks about adding golf. Frazier said it was being discussed along with baseball, and that the long winters would not factor into the decision.

Frazier deferred comment to SU Athletics spokesman Joe Giansante for this story. Giansante said that while the athletic administration is always assessing potential sports to add, its current focus is 98 percent budgetary restraints, facility upgrades and the success of currently established programs in their first Atlantic Coast Conference seasons.

“When we are able to shore up our programs and make sure our budgets are there and someday the boss gives an indication that’s the direction we’re going to move, our staff is well positioned to get going pretty quickly,” Giansante said.

In the meantime, the club golf team is on a decadelong ascent as it enters its first season in the National Collegiate Club Golf Association. At least one player has qualified for the National Collegiate Golf Championship in Las Vegas each of the last three years. All five lineup players recorded a 75 or lower on Drumlins West Course at tryouts last week. They’re adding tougher and tougher opponents each season, including NCAA teams in two 36-hole tournaments.

Junior President Bram Berkowitz, who is also a columnist for The Daily Orange, said the team is capable of competing at the Division-III level, but the ACC — the toughest golf conference in the country — wouldn’t be realistic.

“I definitely would have loved the chance to be part of a varsity team in my college experience, but it is understandable,” Berkowitz said in an email. “The club team is a strong team, no doubt, but for us to go out there and compete with the likes of Georgia Tech and (Boston College) is asking a lot.”

Drumlins pro shop employee Connor Wisniewski agreed. He played for four years at Division-II Le Moyne before taking the job five years ago.

Wisniewski said the players would have to be able to shoot between 64-67 on the private course, Drumlins East, to compete at that level. He added that his team would have “stomped” the Orange.

Then he compared them to the ACC schools.

“‘Holy cow’ is all I’ve got to say,” Wisniewski said.

For now, it doesn’t look like a move is imminent.

Giansante said SU Athletics hasn’t given any more of an in-depth look at golf than at baseball or any other potentially new sport. SU officials haven’t considered whether Drumlins would provide an adequate course to host championship-caliber golf and haven’t considered a women’s sport that would theoretically balance out scholarships for Title IX compliance.

He cited gymnastics, men’s volleyball, fencing and sailing as other possibilities, given their rising popularity.

“There are so many things that are out there, it’s really hard to necessarily zero in on one,” Giansante said, “but the overall point is that we’re aware of what’s happening when we have these discussions.”

As the senior associate athletic director at the University of Oregon, Giansante said he spent a full year almost exclusively researching and assessing baseball talent trends across the country as the Ducks planned to reinstate their baseball team.

When they finally did, Oregon held an open tryout for its club players. None made it.

Walcyk was confident that if such a tryout was held at SU, many of his players would earn spots instead of transfer talent and incoming inaugural recruits.

But that day doesn’t appear to be approaching anytime soon. Until then, Walcyk can only keep coaching.

“Nobody’s let me know. They’ve kept me out of the loop,” Walcyk said. “Most of these things that SU does are internal until they decide.”


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