Vanderbilt shows off its course, hospitality

Vince Gill put on a private performance at the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tenn. for the NCAA finalists.

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FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Even if you didn’t know Vince Gill, and even if you didn’t know Heather Farr, listening to Gill’s majestic “Go Rest High On That Mountain” at Sunday night’s players’ dinner should have brought goosebumps to anyone with a beating heart.

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Vince Gill performed an intimate set at the Franklin Theatre for the NCAA participants.

The Nashville legend was a personal friend of Farr, a former Arizona State star who died far too young from breast cancer. Farr and Gill forged a friendship back when he played honky-tonks and was lucky if half the audience listened. Gill, now a winner of 27 Grammys, sang the same heartfelt song at Farr’s funeral in 1993. The moment was particularly poignant for Missy Farr-Kaye, sister of Heather and the Arizona State assistant coach.

It was a night of storytelling for Gill, who put on the private concert at the historic Franklin Theatre for the entire NCAA Championship field. The city of Franklin closed off Fourth Avenue so that players and coaches could dine under a massive tent. They then moved into the theater for a concert that Gill agreed to perform pro bono.

Gill, a serious golfer who has tried several times to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open, has done wonders for the game in Tennessee. His annual charity tournament – The Vinny – has raised nearly $10 million for junior golf. The First Tee facility in Nashville, about 30 minutes north, is known as VinnyLinks.

“He’s a guy who gives back,” Vanderbilt coach Greg Allen said.

It was a special way for Allen and his team to kick off this year’s NCAA Women's Championship at Vanderbilt’s Legends Club. The facility played host to the 1997 U.S. Girls’ Junior and an LPGA stop hosted by Vince Gill and his wife, singer Amy Grant, from 2000 to '06.

Like any host, Vanderbilt felt an extra dose of pressure at the NCAA West Regional two weeks ago. No one wants to sit on the sidelines while the rest of the nation’s best play your home turf. The Commodores rose to the occasion, finishing second to a stout USC team, which essentially ran away from the field.

“I don’t want to say that we peak at regionals,” USC head coach Andrea Gaston said. “I would trade the eight regional titles for two or three more national titles.”

The greens at the Legends Club’s North Course were redone last June, changing from bentgrass to Bermuda. Allen said the greens are more receptive than they were even a week ago, let alone last September for the Fall Preview.

The fairways on the North Course generally are mowed Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This week, however, they’re being mowed every day. As a result: 15-25 yards more roll. It’s playing faster.

“Used to be with the bent, you could just throw darts,” Allen said. “Now you need to think your way around it.”

Ninth-ranked Vanderbilt finished up final exams before regionals. To help stave off boredom, Allen arranged for his players to go up in a hot-air balloon last Thursday at a place near the course. Once in the clouds, players found the experience incredibly calming.

The home team will rely heavily on senior Marina Alex, who recently became only the second player in Southeastern Conference history to be named Women’s Golfer of the Year twice, after Vicki Goetze-Ackerman of Georgia. Alex also won the award as a sophomore.

“It’s fun to see her bounce back from the maybe not-so-great year she had last year,” said Allen, who chalked it up to too much self-inflicted pressure.

Alex also switched instructors, moving on from Bob Toski to Joe Hallett, director of instruction here at the Legends. Hallett was on the range Monday afternoon working with Stacy Lewis, a former NCAA champion at Arkansas who came out to get work done and give her Razorbacks some support.

Lewis planned to tell the Arkansas team tonight to soak up every moment. Treasure those times wearing a team uniform: the practice rounds, the dinners, the one-of-a-kind concert from a local legend.

At 27, Lewis is old enough to know these college years are unmatched. For seniors like Alex, Gill provided the first round of goosebumps.

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