Bluder’s Bunch hosts Golf Extravaganza

BY SETH ROBERTS | JUNE 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Lisa Bluder has never been to Prague or Vienna — but thanks to a little bit of golf, that will change soon.

The Iowa women’s basketball coach hosted a golf tournament on Tuesday, and the proceeds from the fundraiser will help take her team to Europe in August. The Hawkeyes will spend 12 days sightseeing and competing against local teams in the Czech Republic, Austria, and France.

The annual event, called the Golf Extravaganza, drew team supporters who were aided for the first time by local celebrities. Groups of participants bid to have one of the celebrities — from former Iowa football players Nate Kaeding and Marv Cook to current men’s basketball assistant coach Andrew Francis — join their foursome for the afternoon, and Kaeding said he was more than happy to participate.

“I lucked out and got a great group of women to play with,” he joked as his group rested after the ninth hole. “[They’re] really good golfers, so they’re dragging me along a little bit.”

Kaeding wasn’t the only person smiling. Each group stopped to take a photograph with Bluder after completing the ninth or 18th hole — the two are only separated by a few trees — and there was plenty of teasing and laughing to be heard.

Participants became serious when asked why they were braving the buggy, 95-degree heat, though.

“[The team] gets to Europe and have 10 more practice days,” golfer Pat Walls said. “It just gives them a great experience, a wonderful experience in their lifetimes.”

Walls’ fellow foursome member Suzanne Summerwill agreed but said another factor was more important.

“[Bluder] said every time they’ve done [the trips], then they’ve had a berth at the NCAA [Tournament],” she said, with a small smile.

The Hawkeyes’ last such trip was to Greece in 2007 — the NCAA allows teams to go abroad once every four years — after which the team qualified for the tournament. The Black and Gold also went to the Dance in 2003 after spending time in Italy.

“There’s some connection to the chemistry that can be built on these trips,” Bluder said as she rested in the shade. “You go overseas for 10 to 12 days, and the women are trying to navigate subways and read signs in foreign languages. It brings out some leadership skills, but it definitely builds camaraderie. That’s one of the key elements in winning a championship.”

Former player JoAnn Hamlin, who was a center on the team that went to Greece in 2007, agreed.

“You spend so much time playing basketball with your teammates that you don’t always get to see … the kick-back-and-relax part,” she said. “A lot of it transfers onto the court. The friendships you make off the court really strengthen the chemistry you get on the court.

“Anytime you can take a trip like this, where it’s just the team and you get to build relationships, makes a big difference.”

It doesn’t hurt that the NCAA will allow the Hawkeyes to have 10 extra days of practice to prepare for the trip, either, especially because Bluder’s roster for next season includes five freshmen.

The prospect of extra time on the hardwood was one reason Francis said he agreed to play in the tournament as a celebrity.

“The practices you can have over the summer really start to get the young [players] acclimated with what you’re doing,” he said. “To get out there and play and have competition so early, to really work out some kinks — there are so many benefits to it. And then, [it’s important] socially to have [players] see something they might never have a chance to see [again].”

Bluder is looking forward to Europe, but for now, the coach said she was just happy the Golf Extravaganza lived up to its name.

“We had a great turnout, wonderful sponsorships, and some volunteers that made it all go,” she said. “This has been a successful outing, and hopefully, it will generate even more excitement for next year’s outing.”

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