Giving Up of Golf: Lessons from the Defunding of the Men’s Team

The view of Furman’s golf course from Paris Mountain. Photo courtesy of Joe_Plocki, Flickr.com

The view of Furman’s golf course from Paris Mountain.
Photo courtesy of Joe_Plocki, Flickr.com

On Feb. 7, Furman announced that the Board of Trustees had decided to discontinue Furman’s men’s golf program. Although the announcement itself was a surprise, this move is consistent with the university’s stated goal of reducing expenditures in many of Furman’s programs and departments. The recent push by alumni to fully endow the men’s golf program and allow it to continue in the coming years does not diminish the significance of this decision. This administrative choice may deprive Furman of an established program, potentially leave the team’s coaches seeking employment with other programs, and place members of the team in a difficult position of having to leave Furman to pursue their athletic interests elsewhere. However, this decision is also the enactment of Furman’s plan to reduce the budget deficit by reducing expenses and demonstrates the administration’s willingness to eliminate programs to reduce the budget.

Although the Trustees were forced to make a difficult decision in defunding the men’s golf program, they ultimately made a necessary choice in response to a difficult situation. If the university is serious about reducing the budget without drastically increasing costs, these are the kinds of sacrifices that task will require us to make.

Is such a drastic measure — defunding an entire program — truly necessary? Men’s golf is one of Furman’s smallest sports programs, with lower costs than other programs like the football or basketball teams. The university recently invested in a new facility for both the men’s and women’s teams. In addition, Furman this year started both varsity men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. Why is Furman funding new sports programs while cutting a sports teams with an established history and current players? Why is this happening so suddenly, instead of after a period of public deliberation?

The answers to these questions are disheartening but satisfactory. All sports programs are facing cuts as part of a campus-wide initiative to cut costs across the board. At a time when all of Furman’s programs and departments are facing restrictions, the men’s golf team is not being unfairly targeted. The lacrosse teams were established in part because an anonymous alumni donor gave a large sum of money to initiate the programs, and the teams recruit more students and draw students from geographic regions of the United States like the Northeast and Northwest. While onerous, the decision by the Trustees to eliminate a low visibility, low membership sport is consistent with the university’s cost-cutting position and may ultimately be necessary to prevent budget problems in the future.

In reaction to the announcement, alumni and supporters of the program have begun an online petition to challenge the decision, and according to Golfweek magazine, a number of alumni have already launched a fundraising effort to cover the cost of the men’s golf team in the coming years with the goal of fully endowing the program. Regardless of the success of this initiative, Furman’s administration and Trustees have set a precedent for eliminating programs with low enrollments or low visibility, a painful step necessary to alleviate Furman’s budgetary woes.

Defunding programs that define and give meaning to the lives of individuals is difficult, and submitting these decisions to a calculus of costs and benefits, dollars and bottom lines, seems wrong. We all can imagine the pain and horror we would experience if activities to which we had committed our lives were eliminated for reasons beyond our control. However, for the university to reduce the budget without substantively increasing costs for all students, the budgets of all programs will need to be reduced, and some programs will need to be eliminated. This is the administration’s stated position, and the Trustees’ decision to defund the golf teams reveals a commitment to that position in practice. For the good of the university as a whole, some programs (and in extension, some people) will be forced to sacrifice more than others. Hopefully, the difficult decisions like this one that Furman makes now will ensure future education and enrichment for generations to come.


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