Statesboro to show southern hospitality at 35th annual Schenkel Invitational

Emily Arnold

Golfers around the country are preparing to experience a weekend of Southern hospitality and some of the best college golf competition in the nation for the 35th annual Schenkel Invitational.

The Schenkel began in the 1970s with local businessmen and golfers in Statesboro who wanted to start a college tournament for the Georgia Southern University golf team at Forest Heights Country Club.

After much research and involvement of the community, the organizers of the tournament wanted a nationally known name to put with it. Chris Schenkel was a very established sports broadcaster at the time who had spent some time in Statesboro and knew it as, according to the Schenkel website, “the home of Georgia Teacher’s College and Sweetheart Circle.” His name was added onto the tournament, which gave it credibility right away, but what made it special was that the Southern hospitality was taken just as seriously as the competition.

“We provide every meal for the golfers. They have breakfast and lunch [at the country club] every day of competition. Then we have dinner social events in the evening, which is an example of the hospitality the committee and community provide,” Richard Rogers, retired faculty member of GSU and member of the Schenkel Committee, said. “The reason the coaches and players like to come is because of the hospitality that the community and the college show to them.”

In addition to providing meals and dinner socials, each team competing in the tournament gets a host family that provides a welcome basket as they check into their hotel, which has been a tradition from the beginning. Barbecues and banquets happen throughout the weekend and are attended by every team. GSU’s Phi Mu sisters also help host the event, each being assigned a golfer who they bake goodies and cheer for during the tournament.

“It’s really cool to see that Georgia Southern hosts this and puts this on, and the community of Statesboro helps out and basically provides this for us,” Will Evans, senior captain, said. “People from all over college golf, they come here, they know our tournament, they know it’s really something special, so it’s something we hold our heads high on.”

Hospitality may be a special part of the weekend in Statesboro, but the Schenkel can also boast the best competition in the nation. With teams like University of Central Florida, University of Virginia and University of Alabama at Birmingham, the competition is sure to be steep with a good 86 percent of the field in the Nation’s Top 100. Despite the competition, the Eagles have the home advantage, having played the greens many times, and still expect to have a strong finish.

“We have the most experience out here on the greens. We definitely have an advantage, and it’s just a matter of taking advantage of our advantages,” Evans said. “Every year we come in with a bunch of confidence, and we have a lot of momentum, so we always look to finish high.”

With any home event there can be pressures to perform better than ever, and head coach Larry Mays said he and the team are no exception.

“Most schools host one, maybe two home tournaments a year, so that home pressure is probably going to be something that we’ll have to rise above. The Schenkel is one of the bigger tournaments in college golf, so that adds to that,” Mays said. “For the players, I try to put them at ease as best as I can and try to say it as much as I can that it’s just another tournament — but it’s not.”

The tournament begins tomorrow morning at Forest Heights Country Club in Statesboro and will continue through Sunday. Past tournaments have landed on one of the weekends of spring break, which is believed to hurt the tournament because it results in limited participation from local college students.

“The golfers enjoy seeing crowds of people out here, and anything we can do to increase the size of the crowd out here, we’d like to do. Go out on the 12th hole, and there’s a house out there of a family that likes to support it, and they have food and drinks around their pool and there are a couple of local businesses like Panera and South and Vine that will be providing some food,” Rogers said. “The public is invited. There’s free admission. Come and see some of the best golfers in the country.”