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It's not easy to build a program, no matter the sport, and golf is no different.

You need players, sure. That doesn't change no matter what your field of play looks like.

But in college golf, to raise your profile and put yourself in contention for NCAA bids, you better have a quality schedule, too.

That's been Mark Hankins' top priority since taking over as the Nebraska men's golf coach last June. And it's been a difficult job.

"I essentially had to call and beg to get us into some of these events," Hankins said earlier this week.

No begging was required for this weekend's tournament. Nebraska will host a Division I men's golf competition for the first time since 2005 when the Git-R-Done Invitational is played Saturday at Firethorn Golf Club.

The 36-hole event begins at 9 a.m.

Nebraska hasn't hosted its own event since the Fairway Club Invitational was played at Firethorn in September 2005. Current PGA Tour player Brady Schnell was a junior on that team.

"It's huge. One of the biggest things is being on a course you've played before — knowing the greens, knowing the shots, being comfortable with the shots," junior Tanner Owen said. "It's also exciting because it's something we haven't had before. I think we're ready. I think we all know how we want to play the course."

Nebraska's players have had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable this season. Hankins completely revamped the team's schedule, getting Nebraska into events everywhere from North Carolina (for the Rod Myers Invitational hosted by Duke) to California (last week's The Goodwin hosted by Stanford).

It's a necessary step toward building a program that can eventually compete for an at-large spot in NCAA regional play. Teams are judged by the quality of their schedules, and for teams like Nebraska, that means hitting the road in search of quality competition on the coasts and in the south.

While Nebraska, at No. 152 out of 300, is the lowest-ranked of the Big Ten's 14 men's golf teams according to GolfWeek, the Huskers have played the third-most difficult schedule among the league's schools.

GolfWeek ranks NU's schedule 45th in the country. Illinois, a perennial national power and the Big Ten's top-ranked team, has a schedule ranked 60th. The only two conference programs with schedules rated tougher than Nebraska's are Purdue (31st) and Iowa (38th).

"You can't go play a terrible schedule and win enough to be high enough to go to regionals. So that's the first step is getting the strength of field up there," Hankins said. "When you talk about playing at places multiple years in a row — we played a lot of places this year where we've never played. That's a disadvantage, but we had to do it."

Of the eight events Nebraska has played this season, going back to last fall, six of them rank among GolfWeek's 50 most competitive collegiate events.

Compare that to last season's schedule. Nebraska played just one event ranked among the top 50 (the Maui Jim Intercollegiate, which ranked 15th) while four of the eight were outside the top 60.

Saturday provides a bit of a respite from that grind. No. 32 Arkansas is the top-ranked team in the field. Also playing are South Dakota State (No. 213), Drake (No. 219), Omaha (No. 222) and Creighton (No. 272).

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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