On a Friday evening two-and-a-half weeks ago, Furman University's golf community was reeling, stunned by news that the private university's board of trustees had voted to cut its men's golf program at the end of the spring semester.
Then, galvanized behind the face of Furman men's golf — Brad Faxon — a disparate group of Furman golf alums coalesced in shock and then decided to try to save the program.
Tuesday, Furman announced that men's golf would be spared the ax. At least for now.
The university changed course after the alumni-backed group pledged to raise enough money to operate the golf program for the next two years and established a plan to build a $2.5 million endowment to pay for golf scholarships and operating expenses in the coming years, according to the university and the alumni group.
Faxon, who won 11 tournaments and a national golfer of the year award while at Furman in the early 1980s and went on to win eight times on the PGA Tour, petitioned the university over the past two weeks as part of a team of six golf alumni who led the charge.
They just wouldn't let the program die.
"We certainly are thrilled that we could keep the program alive and we know that we've got some work to do with some fundraising efforts," Faxon said Tuesday. "We've gotten a tremendous amount of support from the Furman community. I guess you can say it takes a village."
Carl Kohrt, Furman interim president, said the plan provided thefinances needed to sustain men's golf and also allowed Furman to "retain the cost reductions realized by the board's original decision."
Furman's board had decided Feb. 7 to cut men's golf starting in 2014-15 to trim costs after the board said the program didn't meet its criteria for public visibility, attendance and competitiveness, according to the university.
Richard Cullen, Furman's board chairman, said the initial decision to cut the golf program was "necessary to ensure that Furman's resources support its core mission."
This plan maintains the board's position, he said.
"The goodwill with which the alumni have approached us, their genuine concern about the university's well-being and their commitment to the tradition of golf at Furman has been inspiring," Cullen said.
In the days after Furman announced the cut, shock turned to anger and then outcry.
The outcry spread to social media, and to an online petition, which said that former golfers and supporters were appalled and insulted at the decision to cut the golf program.
The petition garnered more than 2,500 signatures, members of the alumni group said.
Then a group of six alumni, all past Furman golfers that included Faxon, developed a plan and began to ask supporters to commit money to their cause, said Frank Ford III, a '74 grad who is a member of the school's Hall of Fame.
The group gathered those commitments and approached Kohrt, Cullen and Gary Clark, the school's athletic director, with their plan, Ford said.
"There wasn't a bunch of name calling or throwing rocks, it was 'This is silly. What's the problem? Let us talk about this,'" he said. "And they did. They stepped back and like a good liberal arts school, they opened their minds up and let us take a shot."
Monday, the groups met in person and finalized the plan.
Now, after two weeks on life support, the two groups have built a sense of enthusiasm for the men's golf program going forward, Clark said.
Clark called it a synergy between the groups that will work like a partnership between the university and its golf friends.
The partnership will need to raise $285,500 by midnight on June 30 to fund the next two seasons of operations, said Jeff DeLoach, '99, another former golfer who is now an attorney in Athens, Ga.
It already has commitments for about $230,000 from about 80 alums ranging from $50 to several thousand, DeLoach said.
Then, the alumni will need to raise an endowment to fund the program's future. They've set a $2.5 million goal, DeLoach said.
"Our goal is to put this program on its feet, to sustain itself in the long run," Ford said. "I don't know how long it will take to do that."
Ford said golf at Furman provided him countless benefits — to his career and life — and said college golfers tend to become very productive citizens.
"They're the kind of people you want coming out of your university so they come back and help you down the road," Ford said, "Like this."
Effect on team
Todd Satterfield has spent 18 years as Furman's golf coach, and until Tuesday morning, he thought this would be his last for the program that's won 13 Southern Conference championships, most recently in 2010.
He found out men's golf would be saved while his team — fittingly — was on the golf course during its first tournament of the spring season in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
"It was a hard tournament for us emotionally with everything going on," Satterfield said. "I told all those guys mid-round kind of what was going on and it gave them a little pop in their step."
Sophomore Preston Cole of Greer said he'd been forced to explore other collegiate options because he wanted to continue to play golf.
"It was very relieving to know kind of what the future holds now that we'll be able to stay at Furman," Cole said.
Cole said the news took some of the pressure off the team, which went into the week expecting this would be the beginning of its last stand. Cole ended up shooting a final round 71 and tied for 15th, a career best.
"I just know that they want to stick together, and given this news, that'll be great for them," Satterfield said.
Questions remain for the golf program, even with near-term stability. Three high school seniors had already signed letters of intent to play for Furman before the board voted to end men's golf. The students were stuck in a no-man's-land to decide their future because most college teams had already filled their fall rosters.
One of those commitments already told the school he would go elsewhere to golf. Two others were talking to other schools but had not yet pulled out, Satterfield said.
Furman had already promised to fulfill its scholarship offers to current students and to those who had committed already.
That gives the program a head start to build its endowment enough to support the program and to offer scholarships, but it will likely be operating for some time on reduced funds until the endowment is funded, Satterfield said.
"It poses its challenges," he said, "but all of the conference championships that we've won, none of them did I have the full scholarship allotment, so it's kind of going back to what I was used to."
Interested donors can contact email@example.com for information. Furman will set up a website to handle donations soon, DeLoach said.