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Darton College golf team now turning heads off the course with new wheels

Thanks to nearly 20 private donors and supporters of the team, the Darton golf program recently purchased a state-of-the-art travel van for their long road trips and numerous away tournaments that is truly one of a kind.

Thanks to nearly 20 private donors and supporters of the team, the Darton golf program recently purchased a state-of-the-art travel van for their long road trips and numerous away tournaments that is truly one of a kind.

ALBANY — Bill Jones doesn’t like to look at it as a gift.

It’s more like the fruits of a program’s labor over the last decade being rewarded.

And in this case, it comes in the form of a fully-paid-for, approximately $80,000, nine-passenger Mercedes van the team can now use to travel to all of its tournaments — 95 percent of which are typically between three and eight hours away from Albany.

“All around the country, the Darton golf program is well known because of all the success we’ve had over the years, and we got there through hard work,” said Jones, a one-time player and NJCAA National Champion for the Cavs who took over as head coach two years ago after playing a big role in one of the program’s three national titles. “We’ve done a lot to raise the visibility over the years and make Darton College a place you want to recruit you or you want to come play. Now, with this amazing travel vehicle, our visibility is greater than ever.”

Over the years, Darton has spent roughly $7,000 a year on travel expenses for weekly van rentals and fuel, but those days are over — thanks in large part to one of the current players’ parents who Jones said preferred to remain anonymous. Jones said it was his initial donation of $50,000 in the spring that got the ball rolling on the idea to purchase a custom van tailored to the golf team.

“From that initial donation, we went around to all of our usual sponsors and supporters and told them what we wanted, and within a few months we met our goal,” he said. “We’ve been talking about trying to purchase something like this years, and it always seemed like a pipe dream.”

Not anymore. The new van, straight from the custom Mercedes Benz outfit in Indiana, was delivered last week and presented to the team as they walked off the course at Stonebridge following a practice round.

“They knew we were getting it and knew some of what it would look like, but when it finally pulled up that day, they went nuts,” Jones said.

And with good reason.

The van is painted black and red — Darton’s team colors — and features the Cavs’ “D” logo painted on either side with two golf clubs crisscrossing behind it.

But that’s just the outside.

Once you open the doors, the amenities are seemingly endless:

--- Six tan leather captain’s chair seats that recline — and have built-in lumbar support for the players’ backs — and are embroidered with the “D” logo once again, and a three-person bench seat in the back.

--- Wood grain, plush carpet and a 26-inch television that can play DVDs (satellite TV was an option, but Jones said he’d rather see his players studying or resting during the long trips, so they declined to install it).

--- Laptop trays, drink holders, and individual radio, headphone and power outlets.

--- Split cargo space in the back with one side for coolers and luggage, while the other side was specifically designed for the team in that it holds up to six bags of golf clubs — fully strapped in.

Jones and Dale Dover, the former coach and godfather of the program who coached Darton to those three national titles from 2005-07, designed the van online, and within months the one-time dream was a reality. The Cavs, however, haven’t taken it on a trip just yet, but they will when they leave today for the Central Alabama Invitational — their final tournament of the fall season.

Jones, for one, can’t wait.

“We’re spoiling ourselves a little here, sure, but we’re also sending a message — a message of expectations that this program has for every player that comes here,” he said. “It’ll be a great recruiting tool because it’s one-of-a-kind amenity that fits a one-of-a-kind program.”

Of course, there’s been one major problem with the van so far: deciding who sits where.

“We’re still talking about how that will work. We could do it on seniority between the freshmen and sophomores, but we’re thinking about basing seating on scoring average after each round,” he said. “Hey ... the better you play, the better your spot.”