BUIES CREEK, N.C. – The six-hour ride down Interstate-95 to the Jacksonville, Fla., area was much more pleasant this past weekend for the Campbell University golf team. Thanks to a generous donation by Jerry and Beth Milton and Southeastern Interiors, head coach John Crooks' teams will arrive in style when they head to tournament competition.
Coach Crooks piloted the Camels to the Sea Best Invitational at TPC Sawgrass Dye's Valley in a new Mercedes Benz 2500 sprint passenger van. Customized for the comfort and safety of a driver and eight passengers, the vehicle's amenities include nine black leader captain's chairs, featuring Campbell logos and trim, plus Wi-Fi capability and a 42-inch television screen.
In addition, the vehicle comes with a customized storage compartment that includes four sections for pull carts, golf bags, gear and suitcases.
"When you see the van, it really stands out," said Crooks, who is in his 27th year in charge of the men's program and 26th as head women's coach. "It's a great monument to Campbell University and its golf team. When I first got into the van, I didn't have any idea something like this was possible. My wife (Susan) says I just smile the whole time I'm in it."
In addition to travel comfort and safety, the vehicle provides ample space and lighting for study. That's especially important when Crooks' team faces a six-hour ride home on a Tuesday afternoon and evening with morning classes awaiting Wednesday.
"Beth and Jerry Milton love what the University stands for and they love athletics," said Crooks. "The fact that they chose the golf team as the recipients of their awesome gift is humbling. Both of the golf teams will benefit immediately. Each seat has a portable table which allows our students to connect their computer to the internet while traveling to and from our tournaments. The internet availability will help them access assignments, do research, and take tests while traveling. Time management is a key component in the success of a student-athlete and the Milton family's gift will help each student each time they represent the University. I am most appreciative of their love, their support, and their gift."
That academic element is an important facet of the Campbell program, which won All-Academic Team honors from the Golf Coaches Association of America on the men's side in 2015-16. Eight of the 13 players on the men's roster claimed Big South Conference Presidential Honor Roll status. Craig Hornberger became the sixth Campbell men's golfer since 2010 to be named a Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar by the GCAA.
On the women's side, seven of the eight members of the 2015-16 team were named to the Big South Presidential Honor Roll, while Louise Latorre and Annelie Sjoholm claimed WGCA All-America Scholar recognition. Coach Crooks' team also received an NCAA Public Recognition Award for its Academic Progress Rate for the fourth-straight year.
During his tenure, Crooks has led the women's team to 13 conference titles and 19 NCAA Regional appearances. His women's teams have earned regional berths 16 times in the last 19 years. His 2016 women's team won its 13th conference title and collected the Big South's automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.
Campbell was one of 47 schools nationwide to earn team bids to both the men's and women's NCAA regionals in 2016. It was the first time that the Campbell men's and women's teams have reached post-season play in the same year under his guidance.
Crooks has been named conference coach of the year 17 times for either the men's or women's program. He was named Atlantic Sun Women's Golf Coach of the Year eight times in CU's 17 years as a league member. His men's teams have claimed 49 team titles and his women have won 80 tournaments. The Campbell men have made eight NCAA Regional trips (including individual berths).
A 2006 inductee into the National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Crooks ranks second among all active Division I women's coaches with 80 tournament wins.