University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn remembers last year's Porky's Open for what he didn't have.
"We had to hire both a men's and women's basketball coach, and I'd been on the job about a week," Blackburn recalled Tuesday as he prepared to hit a few golf shots at Council Fire during this year's annual fundraiser for UTC athletic scholarships.
"I remember heading to the clubhouse as soon as the tourney started and calling coaching candidates. I'm pretty sure I made my first call to [eventual men's hire] Will Wade that afternoon."
But now that Wade and women's coach Jim Foster are under contract, is Blackburn planning on calling any other potential coaches this time around?
"I hope not," he said.
As if timed to the millisecond, Wade, seated in a golf cart not three feet away, added with extra volume, "I hope not."
What everyone gathered at Council Fire for the 15th staging of the Porky's most hopes for is that the UTC athletic department can keep counting on the $75,000 or more a year the Open consistently has generated for scholarships.
"We've got a full field (120 golfers) again this year," Frank "Porky" Kinser, the tournament's founder, said as the participants gobbled down a quick lunch donated by Porkers barbecue before heading to the course. "In this economy, that's a great thing."
The money generated from the entry fees of $300 a person is always a great thing, but it doesn't account for even half of that $75,000. The rest comes from private donations, generous sponsors such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee, a silent auction and the like.
"It's kind of become like a reunion for me, seeing so many of these same guys every year," Kinser said. "I don't think we ever dreamed we'd have raised over $1 million for scholarships over the first 14 years when we started, but now that we have, we just hope we can keep this going. This money really helps all our coaches in recruiting."
It's also become about the only time all year that most of the Mocs' biggest and best boosters can gather in the same place at the same time to see such sights as team dentist Bubba Trundle's blue-and-gold argyle golf shorts.
"They're John Daly's brand," Trundle said with a grin. "I'd won a $100 gift certificate for the pro shop at Eagle Bluff. I thought they'd be perfect for this."
It was certainly a perfect day for shorts of all kinds, the clouds having disappeared with the last gasps of winter's chill, the sun closer to hot than warm. It may have been only coincidence that the White House released a report on climate change the same day, but it certainly seemed perfect timing.
But it's probably no coincidence that UTC men's golf coach Mark Guhne was driving the cart in which Wade was riding. If anything speaks to the Porky's Open success, it may be Guhne's golfers, who will be participating in the program's eighth straight NCAA tournament this weekend in Eugene, Ore., as an at-large team.
In a non-revenue sport where full scholarships are as prevalent as Masters badges, any small portion of that $75,000 can be the difference in success or failure.
"Oh, it's huge for a program like ours," Blackburn said. "We're very fortunate that Frank and these guys have built up a network of people who love to support UTC athletics through this tournament."
Fortunate, perhaps. But far from shocking for former UTC chancellor Bill Stacy, who was still on the job when the first Porky's Open was staged in 2000.
"It's fabulous," said Stacy, who had his left knee replaced in early February. "But it's also Chattanooga. Folks in this town find something worthwhile to support, and everyone embraces it. Yes, raising more than $1 million thus far for Mocs athletics through this event is incredible. But that's who we are."
And as long as such generosity continues, coaches across the country will continue to answer Blackburn's phone calls.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...