College golf is gearing up, but with an added COVID wrinkle: attestation forms

Julie Williams
·8 min read

By the time a college golf coach gets his or her entire lineup to the first tee of a tournament this spring, a major hurdle will have been cleared. Central Florida head women’s golf coach Emily Marron will be among several coaches breathing a sigh of relief at that point.

“I think the most stressful part now for us is testing,” Marron said in talking about the COVID protocols that are allowing college golf to go forward this spring. “It’s a little bit of anxiety for (student-athletes) too. They all feel healthy, we’re doing symptom tests, but you just never know, and it’s just a whole new thing.”

Marron is hosting the UCF Challenge at Eagle Creek Golf Club in Orlando this week. It’s one of the first women’s college tournaments of the spring. For the 17 teams in the field, the previous Wednesday was a big day. Many conferences have COVID testing protocols in place that require student-athletes to undergo a PCR test 72 hours before the start of competition – which, in college golf, means the practice round.

That’s where attestation forms come in. In many cases, schools or conferences require that every other team in the field attest that every individual in its travel party has achieved a specified level of COVID testing. That’s verified by an attestation form, which must be received from each individual school or conference in the field.

“We got a form back in December from our conference saying if you play anybody outside of our conference, you’re going to have to have them sign this form,” said Marron, who coaches in the American Athletic Conference. “All of the conferences, it’s all the same.”

Seven conferences are represented in the 17-team UCF Challenge field, which makes for quite a bit of paper trading when it comes to COVID attestation forms. There’s no real guidebook to this, and so Marron has worked to learn the process and streamline it. That involves email threads to each conference instead of each school.

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Some aspects of attestation forms suit other sports better than golf. For example, golf teams don’t often travel with a trainer and in some cases, Marron said, verbiage on the form indicates it should be exchanged among schools three hours prior to competition. That might work for a soccer or volleyball game, but not a three-day golf tournament.

Much of the responsibility for the paperwork falls on a university’s trainer or medical staff as opposed to the coach, as Marron noted. The coach, of course, has a vested interest in making sure it all gets done.

Establishing a system

Teams in the SEC got to play three conference-only tournaments in the fall, which made COVID attestation forms a non-issue. When Golda Borst, head women’s golf coach at Kentucky, realized how many forms would need to be traded back and forth in order for her team to play in the UCF Challenge, she decided to divide and conquer with another SEC coach in the field.

“The SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC, those three conferences got together and said if we play each other, our COVID testing guidelines are the same,” she said. “We don’t need forms from each other because we’re all good, but everybody else, we have to have signed forms from.”

Ultimately, some schools will be at the mercy of other schools to return the necessary forms or they might not be able to compete.

“It’s a little stressful but I also know every school we’re playing against here, I can call up the head coach and they’re going to get it signed,” Borst said.

It’s not just the forms that makes this year look different. Teams eating out in restaurants are a thing of the past. Borst said she is required to create a more detailed travel plan, for instance charting where student-athletes will sit in the team van or bus and restricting hotel room assignments to less than three individuals. After the fall season, the SEC determined that quick meals or snacks in the team van are a way the virus spreads, so those are out, too.

“It’s very dependent on the school,” Borst said of such guidelines. “We have our SEC guidelines but then also UK might have their guidelines.”

Marron may be navigating the attestation process first through her host duties, but many other coaches will face it eventually. Houston head women’s golf coach Gerrod Chadwell, whose team is also competing in this week’s UCF Challenge, is already receiving blank attestation forms for his Houston-hosted Icon Invitational in three weeks. Chadwell, also in the American Athletic Conference, would like to see the attestation process become less redundant.

“I think this could all be resolved by the tournament has its own attestation form and that’s it,” Chadwell said. “You sign it, and if you need to, send yours to somewhere else. We’re all abiding by the same protocol.”

Chadwell also wonders why coaches can’t attest on-site to the COVID testing their teams have undergone rather than require university medical staff to complete the forms. He raises a valid question: “We can keep our whole team’s score if we play in a group of five, but I can’t attest that my kids have tested negative to play in a tournament?”

Language is key

When Ryan Blagg’s Louisville men’s golf team was invited to fill a last-minute spot in last week’s Southwestern Invitational (one left vacant when UCLA pulled out because of COVID protocols), Blagg’s first question was about testing protocols. He knew his team couldn’t compete unless every team already in the field was abiding by the ACC’s protocol of 72-hour PCR testing. Tournament host Michael Beard, head men’s golf coach at Pepperdine, made it a priority.

“I had our guy send the form to him and he sent it out to all the coaches saying get this to your administrators,” Blagg said. “And we got it done in about 12 hours, which was pretty fast.”

Blagg has learned that it all boils to the language and the level of testing. The key is that all schools must abide by the 72-hour PCR test if they’re in a field with a conference school that requires one, even if their conference doesn’t require that level of testing. Many smaller schools and conferences are testing at that level anyway.

At the University of Alabama Birmingham, players tested once a week from the time they arrived on campus in the fall to the time they went home for the holidays.

“There aren’t very many schools in the country that test golfers like we do,” said Mike Wilson, head men’s golf coach at UAB. The Blazers, undefeated in three fall starts, never encountered a Power 5 school in the fall. UAB competes in Conference USA, and Wilson ended the fall by hosting the Graeme McDowell Invitational in Birmingham, Alabama. He doesn’t remember filling out attestation forms.

“We made it pretty simple on our end, even when we hosted, you basically just had to provide (evidence) the team that was traveling to the tournament had tested negative 72 hours before the start of the practice round,” he said.

In college golf, connection is achieved through common opponents. The validity of the rankings depends on it, and a postseason field that’s truly made up of the best teams depends on valid rankings. Attestation forms will be the price to achieve that.

Scott Schroeder, head men’s golf coach at the University of North Florida, co-hosted the Timuquana Intercollegiate last week – which included a 11-team field made up of four conferences, including the ACC and SEC. UNF competes in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

“For our event at Timuquana, we had four different conferences – so we had the ACC, SEC and Big 12 – and then UNF also had a form,” he said. “Six schools had to sign four forms and then there were five schools that only had to sign one form.”

Schroeder collected the forms himself and sent them on to the conferences. Otherwise, he said, he wouldn’t know whether every school had truly completed the necessary forms. He views it as more of a pain for university administrators than for coaches and hopes to see the process more streamlined.

“This needs to be viewed as a small sacrifice for the student-athletes to play. We haven’t played in over 10 months for some of us,” he said. “It’s not great, but it’s better than not playing.”

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