When the Vanderbilt men’s and women’s golf teams tee off this weekend, there will be a bittersweet feeling in the air.
The Commodores host the 11th annual Mason Rudolph Championships Friday through Sunday at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.
For the women, there is added excitement and enthusiasm as the tournament also serves as the NCAA Fall Preview. Vanderbilt will host the 2012 national women’s golf championship at the Legends Club next May.
“I think it is huge for our golf program, but I think it is huge for Vanderbilt University and our athletic department because we have never hosted a national championship [in any sport],” women’s coach Greg Allen said. “We really want to come out this week and show the country we are a good team.”
The Commodores, however, will be playing without two of their biggest fans.
Former Vanderbilt men’s golf coach Mason Rudolph, and his wife, Carol, both died within the last five months.
“We are just so accustomed to seeing him and Carol in their [golf] cart, watching both teams play,” men’s coach Tom Shaw said. “There will be a void there.”
Mason, a Clarksville native, coached the Vanderbilt men’s team from 1992-97, before being named director of golf and then taking on an emeritus role in 2002. Prior to that, he spent 21 years on the PGA Tour.
Though Mason and Carol moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala., four years ago, they attended every Mason Rudolph Championship. Last November, he suffered a heart attack and underwent emergency bypass surgery.
Mason died in April at the age of 76. Four months later, in August, Carol, 73, died while in hospice care in New Orleans.
“It was very sudden,” Allen said of Carol’s death. “From what I knew of Carol and Mason, they went everywhere together. They did everything together. You did not see one of them without the other. ... I just think she died of a broken heart. She lost her man.”
With the Rudolphs on their minds — and their son, Mason Jr., in attendance — both Commodore squads aim to snap a lengthy skid.
The last time — and only time — either team hoisted the tournament championship was 2002.
“This year, it would certainly mean a lot to our program to do it in a year where we are honoring Mason and Carol,” Shaw said. “If we could go two-for-two, that would be a perfect weekend.”
The men’s field will play 54 holes on the par-71 South Course and will feature 14 teams, including defending tournament champ Memphis.
Vanderbilt began its season three weeks ago at the Carmel Cup at the famous Monterey Peninsula Country Club in California. The Commodores lost 19-13 in a dual match against Texas Tech. They are led by senior Trey DelGreco, who has a 73-stroke average, along with senior Adam Hofmann and junior Will Snipes, who have averaged 75 strokes.
“There are a lot of young guys and a little bit of inexperience there, so it is a little bit of mystery of how the team is going to perform,” Shaw said. “But I’m optimistic and I think we have the firepower to do well this year.”
On the women’s side, the top 12 teams from the 2011 national championship are automatically invited to the Fall Preview. This includes defending national champ UCLA and runner-up Purdue. The Boilermakers also finished second at the Mason Rudolph Championship to LSU, which also returns.
In addition, the teams that did not finish in the top 12 but cracked the top 10 of the final Golfstat rankings also were invited. The result is an 18-team field that will swing it out for 54 holes on the par-72 North Course.
The greens have been resurfaced with Bermuda grass over the summer. The Commodores have been playing on the surface since August. Opposing teams who have been regulars at the tournament, however, only played on the new greens during their practice round on Thursday.
“I think from that standpoint, it should be a little bit of a home course advantage,” Allen said. “It all just comes down to how we handle all the things that we really don’t have control of, such as having a lot of fans out watching us. ... If we can handle those things and kind of keep our emotions in check, then I think we will be just fine. I’m really excited about this team.”
Vanderbilt, which finished tied for 10th at last year’s national championship, placed sixth nearly two weeks ago at the season-opening Cougar Classic in Charleston, S.C. The Commodores were led by senior Marina Alex, who finished tied for ninth and was an All-American in 2010.
“We have always struggled at our home tournament, which is discouraging,” Alex said. “For us to put up a good showing this week, even if we don’t win but are in contention to win, I think it will be a good tribute to Mason and just show everyone we are team to be reckoned with this year.”
Both tournaments begin at 8 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday and are free to attend.