by Ben Jansen
For the first time in 27 years, the University of Tampa Golf program is under new leadership. This August, it was announced that Gary Hilton would be taking over as the head coach of the UT golf team. Hilton is a program builder in every sense of the word. In his previous coaching job at Albany State University, he led ASU from having no team to three straight conference championships and NCAA Tournament berths in all three years of the program’s existence.
That type of success is often hard to leave behind, especially when it is still in progress. When asked about what swayed him to coming to Tampa, Hilton replied “I am a very competitive person who is always seeking the opportunity to coach and play against the best and UT should be in those discussions as one of the best programs in the country. When I first visited campus, I could tell that the University of Tampa is a special place and would be a huge selling point to any prospect that comes to tour the campus.”
While Hilton was a program builder at ASU, he also understands the history behind the golf program here at UT explaining, “Coach Christie was able to lead the golf program to great achievements and he was a staple of the UT community for many years. My job is to come in with a fresh perspective and to change the culture into my vision of what an elite program should look like.”
Representatives in the Athletic Department believe Hilton is the coach who can help lead the Spartans to their first NCAA Tournament appearance this century. According to Athletic Director Larry Marfise, “After interviewing multiple candidates it was obvious that Coach Hilton not only had the experience and knowledge to help our program become successful, but also the motivation. We are hopeful that we will see our program become one of the elite golf programs in Division II.”
In most sports, having a coach who is a former player gives many teams a competitive advantage, and golf is certainly one of those sports. As you recruit on an international level, you need to know what each potential prospect is made up of.
Coach Hilton had a very successful playing career at Darton State College, where he was a captain twice, led the team to its first of 15 regional tournament appearances, and was named to the all-region team. Hilton feels this experience can be a huge help to him, both coaching and recruiting.
“As a golfer who played in college and at a somewhat high level after school, I feel like I can relate to the successes and struggles that college golfers go through,” said Hilton. “This is a very hard game to play well and I try to recruit mentally strong students, as well as, the highest ranked players that I can from all over the world.”
His experience as a player also helped him learn that being an NCAA student athlete is about more than just sports. In his 3 years as the coach at Albany State, his teams had a team GPA above 3.30 each season.
Ultimately, Hilton knows that this rebuild will require lots of hard work and effort. “Year one my goals are to lay the framework for how I think things should be done with the golf program. I have been hard at work with every contact that I have in the golf business all over the world and plan on having many recruits on campus visiting throughout the Fall semester. This program will be a contender soon, but the hard part of rebuilding has to come first and I plan on getting there sooner than later,” said Hilton.
The Spartans begin the season number 83 in D2 rankings, and open up the first season under Coach Hilton on Monday, Oct. 7 with the Golfweek Fall Invitational Tournament at El Campeon Championship Course.
Ben Jansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org