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What could have been?

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A group of golfers heads to the next hole during the Boy Scouts of America tournament held at Ironwood Golf and Country Club on Thursday, May 11, 2017.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, May 14, 2017

If plans had stayed the way they were for most of 2016, Ironwood Golf and Country Club and East Carolina would have jointly hosted an NCAA women’s golf regional Monday through Wednesday, just before bands of thunderstorms hit eastern North Carolina late in the week.

As is turned out, that event was pulled from Greenville by the NCAA in mid-September because of the controversial House Bill 2 law that was in effect at the time. To make it likely sting even more now for the ECU women’s golf team, it was considered on the bubble to make the NCAAs this year but was not chosen as one of the at-large participants.

The NCAA decided on Sept. 12, 2016, to move all seven of its events scheduled in N.C. for the 2016-17 academic year to other states. Like Charlotte losing the NBA All-Star Game and some Atlantic Coast Conference events leaving the state, the end result was a lost opportunity for Greenville.

It also appears to be bad timing, because not long after HB2 was repealed on April 30, the NCAA announced that North Carolina cities are back in the running for future events.

“It is unfortunate, and I just think for the long run I am glad that’s now off the table,” East Carolina athletics director Jeff Compher said of the NCAA not holding championship events in North Carolina. “We were adversely affected for this one year.”

In September, the Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated an impact of $150,000 to the area if NCAA golf was played as scheduled at Ironwood. It would have been the first NCAA event held at the course since a 2010 regional.

The Ironwood schedule for the week instead included a few local events with a women’s Eastern League two-round tournament and Boy Scouts fundraiser.

ECU women’s golf coach Kevin Williams expressed optimism that the Pirates would have made the NCAA field if the regional had stayed in Greenville, but he also said inconsistency during the spring portion of the season was the main factor that cost his squad that didn’t have a senior on its roster.

The NCAA relocation decision came on the first day of the Pirates’ season as they were playing in the Minnesota Invitational in Minneapolis, where they fared well during the afternoon portion of the day.

“It was a really strong field and we were feeling good about ourselves, and then all of the sudden everyone’s phone is blowing up with, ‘Sorry you lost the regional’ and that kind of stuff,” Williams said.

The host school is not guaranteed a regional berth as a team, so it would have been possible for Ironwood to still host without East Carolina playing if it didn’t earn its spot. The University of New Mexico served as the host for this year’s Albuquerque Regional without getting a team or individual bid.

“It has just been one of those strange years, and it was all set up by not being able to host regionals,” Williams said. “We’ll never know because we knew early in the year that we weren’t going to host, and you never know what it would have done either way. … (The situation in North Carolina) could have factored into it, but with that being said, it kind of came down to Oregon State and us and they did play better during the spring than us. I had no complaints when I talked to the chairman of the committee.”

ECU junior Lisa Pettersson made the NCAAs as an individual and played in the Athens (Ga.) Regional.

A Greenville Regional would have started one day after the conclusion of a PGA tournament in Wilmington. The Pirate softball team also hosted the American Athletic Conference tournament this week.

Counting this season, ECU’s women’s golf team has made regionals in seven out of 10 years.

The NCAA determines regional sites on a three-year rotation and they are already set for the next rotation of 2019, 2020 and 2021. That leaves a regional returning to Greenville for 2022 at the earliest, and Williams and Compher both said discussions will likely be held for that possibility.

Williams also said that Ironwood officials have been wanting to bring an NCAA event back to their course since it happened it 2010 and was viewed as a success.

“It is five years off, but we’re always in discussions with Ironwood,” he said. “We have to work close with them to see again if it will work with their schedule to do it, but they really wanted to do it again so it’s just a matter of getting together and kind of seeing if we want to put in a bid to host or not.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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