Colonial Golf

Fans watch from a fence behind Harold Varner III as Varner tees off on the second hole during the third round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 13.

East Carolina officials, including athletics director Jon Gilbert and assistant AD Ryan Robinson, watched from afar in mid-June when former Pirate Harold Varner was a weekend leader for the Charles Schwab Challenge and trying to become the first black golfer to win at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.

Gilbert and Robinson got a much closer look at Varner and his practice digs during a visit to Gastonia. They talked about Varner’s career at ECU from 2008-12 and about future partnerships, but they also found time to enjoy Varner’s personal touch to his home.

“He has built quite the man cave and has his own personal driving range and an indoor hitting facility,” Gilbert said Wednesday while serving as the featured speaker virtually for the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce July power luncheon. “There are a lot of bells and whistles out there. We had a good time visiting at his personal man cave.”

Varner has accrued $782,652.00 in PGA Tour earnings this year, which ranks 90th. He is one spot behind Rickie Fowler and one spot ahead of Phil Mickelson.

He faded during the final round of the Schwab Challenge and finished in a tie for 19th place. The 2012 Conference USA golfer of the year did not play in this weekend’s 3M Open.

Varner attended an ECU football game last year and has remained close with Gilbert and Robinson, an avid golfer himself locally. Gilbert was hired by the Pirates from Southern Miss in December of 2018.

“We spent a considerable amount of time talking about the community of Greenville and how important it is to him,” Gilbert said of Varner, who was in the final pairing for the final round of last year’s PGA Championship held at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y. “There are some events we want to partner with the HV3 Foundation in bringing a multitude of events and initiatives to the Greenville community. I know in the coming months that Harold and his foundation will announce what those things are specifically, but I got a great sense of how important East Carolina is to him. He thinks about it constantly and he really values this community from his time here as a Pirate.”

Robinson was one of Gilbert’s first hires in Greenville to be the Pirates’ executive associate athletics director for external operations. It didn’t take long for Robinson to seek out Varner and turn into a weekly follower of the golfer’s pro career.

Varner played in the 2013 U.S. Open and joined the PGA Tour full-time in 2016 as one of the its few black golfers. He frequently wears purple and gold apparel during tourneys.

“Loved hanging with (Varner) and learning more about where he grew up and hearing about all the exciting things he has coming up in the next few months,” Robinson tweeted Tuesday.

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