University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golf coach Mark Guhne tried to be philosophical about the school being forced to cancel its Scenic City Collegiate at the Honors Course on Monday due to torrential rains.
"Our guys were really excited," he said of the event that was to include some of the top golfing programs in the South, including Alabama-Birmingham, Augusta State, Clemson, East Tennessee State, Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
"But golf's an outside sport, and sometimes it rains."
And because the Honors limits the number of non-club events to one a year, it could be two or three more years before the Scenic City Collegiate is finally able to become the high-end fall tournament it was imagined to be before COVID shrunk last year's field to just a few nearby schools and Mother Nature did in this year's model.
"We are still completely committed to having this event," said Honors Course director of golf Henrik Simonsen. "We're thinking the third time will be the charm and we'll get it done right."
Not much has gone right for either the Honors Course or UTC golf over the past 18 months. First, the Easter tornadoes of 2020 all but destroyed the course, taking out close to 1,800 trees and damaging buildings. An exhausting summer of work by the staff got the state's best course ready for last fall's initial Scenic City Classic, which UAB won against a smaller, less decorated field than the one that descended on the Honors this time around.
Finally, though certainly not as devastating as McKenna's sad passing, came Monday's cancellation of the Scenic City Collegiate, which figured to draw positive national attention to Guhne's program, which has long been viewed among coaches and players as one of the sport's little engines that could, but would have surely garnered more national attention thanks to such a stellar field.
"It was such an honor to be a part of this," said Ole Miss assistant Austin Cody as the Rebels golf team boarded a van for the five-hour ride back to Oxford, Mississippi. "It's unfortunate they had to cancel. There have been so many big tournaments and big names here. We're all bummed."
It all started more than a year ago as a way to, in Simonsen's words, "Do something to help UTC golf."
At that time, Simonsen's son Oliver was still a key member of the Mocs team, but he has since graduated and is eyeing a professional career.
But with COVID-19 knocking out any participation from Southeastern Conference schools such as Georgia, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, last year's event became a more intimate affair for 10 mid-majors that included the Mocs, Arkansas-Little Rock, Central Arkansas, Dalton State, ETSU, Georgia Southern, Mercer, Middle Tennessee State, UAB and Western Carolina.
"We just wanted to do something for golf, do something for these kids," Simonsen said. "We told these schools, just come play. Have fun. No valets. Nothing fancy. Just enjoy the Honors Course."
They did, of course. ESPN+ even streamed it live, with cameras set up on multiple holes. And from that event, Dalton State went forward last spring under former Mocs player Ben Rickett to capture the NAIA national championship.
But this time around, Covid restrictions lifted, the Scenic City Collegiate was to grow into what it had originally intended to be — perhaps the ultimate invitational tournament of the fall golf season.
To underscore the depth of the field arriving for this week's event, six of the 15 participating schools reached the 30-team NCAA finals last spring: UAB, Clemson, ETSU, Georgia, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
But the rain ended all that almost before it began, limiting all these players from all these elite programs to one practice round on Sunday.
"It really is disappointing," said Guhne. "Being a mid-major program, you don't get an opportunity every week to play these top programs on something approaching your home course. We just hope we'll get to do this again."
The Honors, though private, is Chattanooga's hometown national treasure, arguably one of the country's 10 best courses, almost as revered within the golf world as Augusta National, Pebble Beach or New Jersey's mysterious Pine Valley, which no one but its wealthy all-male members and their guests ever plays or sees.
So perhaps it was to be expected that one Virginia golfer — upon exiting the Honors at lunchtime following the Scenic City Collegiate's cancellation — told a friend of Sunday's introduction to the course: "Most enjoyable round of golf I've ever played and it was a practice round."
Maybe one day, weather permitting, the best of Southern college golf will get to play an autumn round at the Honors that counts for more than fun. For a lot of college golf programs throughout the South, it would be the ultimate bummer if they didn't.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.