Furman's decision to drop golf program irks area alums

Furman's decision to drop golf program irks area alums

February 18th, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sportlocal

Jeff Sherrill has been writing a check to Furman University every year for longer than he can remember.

He's not giving the Greenville, S.C., institution a dime from now on.

Sherrill, who played golf at the Southern Conference school from 1982 to '86, is irate that his alma mater has decided to discontinue its men's golf program effective July 1.

"I gave to their annual fund," said the local native and businessman. "Now I'm not giving again."

The decision made on the afternoon of Feb. 7 by the school's board of trustees has rippled through Greenville, across the Southern Conference, through the college golf community and up to the PGA and LPGA tours.

It infuriated former players who are now trying to save the program.

"Furman has very high academic standards," said The Farm Golf Club head professional Deck Cheatham, who played at Furman from 1977 to '80 and sent his son there for a degree.

"I don't think they met their own standard. They made a long-term decision with a short-term solution."

Brad Faxon, who won eight PGA Tour events, was a two-time All-American at Furman. He also played in Chattanooga's Provident Classic in 1986 and asked Sherrill to be his caddie.

"He didn't call somebody from Western Carolina to caddie for him," Sherrill said. "He called a former teammate."

Furman's official reason, according to its release, is that the decision "was based on an extensive evaluation of criteria including public visibility, attendance, competitiveness and overall costs."

That surprised Sherrill, who still competes in Chattanooga-area and Tennessee Golf Association events. He learned of the decision by checking his phone for a Facebook message while watching his daughter play basketball.

"I thought they were joking," he said. "It hurts. I spent four years of my life studying my [tail] off and working my [tail] off for golf, and I feel that I've been shortchanged by the school."

According to various reports, Furman estimated a $6.4 million deficit for the 2014-15 fiscal year. But the school recently spent about $1 million to renovate its on-campus golf course, add a practice facility and a small golf house for players and coaches.

It doesn't add up, in Sherrill's opinion.

"It's mind-boggling that they would can men's golf," Sherrill said. "It's not like they started the program a couple years ago. It was 1932.

"You want that legacy to continue."

Chris Gilliland is the most recent Chattanooga-based golfer who took part in that legacy. He was on the Paladins team from 2003 to '08 -- including the 2004 SoCon championship team -- after leaving Notre Dame High School.

He also had no idea that the cut was coming. Gilliland learned of it while checking his phone while waiting for family at El Meson restaurant.

"I thought it was a joke," said Gilliland, a history instructor at Chattanooga State. "I didn't sleep well that night just thinking, 'How could this happen? Was there anything I could do?'"

Not much unless he can make a seven-figure donation.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.