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Chance meeting tees up future for UNF golf

spring 2012 hayt

John Hayt remembers the day in 1993 when he noticed a group of young men playing golf near his home at Queen’s Harbour in Jacksonville.


“I was curious because they were obviously part of a golf team, so I walked out and started a conversation with a few of them,” he said. “I discovered they were from the University of North Florida.”


That chance encounter was the start of relationship that has blossomed into a thriving partnership,  paying dividends for UNF and the community.


Hayt quickly became acquainted with UNF’s first golf coach, John Brooks, and the two developed a lasting friendship. Years later, Hayt established a scholarship for members of the golf team in honor of Brooks.


The scholarship wasn’t the only Hayt initiative to benefit the UNF golf program. He and Brooks began working together to plan and build a practice facility on campus. They both knew if UNF golf was to become a top-tier program, such a facility was essential. Today, the 38-acre facility, named in honor of Hayt and his wife Gerri, offers a practice area for the golf team and is also open to faculty, staff, students and the community. One of Hayt’s goals was also to open the center to disadvantaged young people to teach them the game of golf. And, in fact, the First Tee program established one of the first of more than 500 programs at the Hayt Golf Learning Center.


In the years since his initial chance meeting, Hayt has traveled with the team to golf tournaments around the nation. He also recently made the lead gift to purchase a new van so the players can travel in comfort and stay plugged in with Wi-Fi connectivity.


His contributions to the golf program were recognized in 2006 when the University announced that the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship was changing its name to the John Hayt Collegiate Invitational.

“That was a complete surprise to me,” Hayt said. “I was humbled by the honor.”


UNF’s current golf coach, Scott Schroeder said the naming of the golf tournament was a small attempt by UNF to say thanks.


“Having known John since I was a player at UNF, I’ve seen first-hand the level of commitment he has for making sure that UNF golf is the best it can be,” he said. “He is definitely our biggest supporter. He not only supports our team but is equally concerned with helping develop our student-athletes in all aspects of their lives.”


Golf is not the only recipient of Hayt’s generosity. He played a major role in funding a new campus strength and conditioning facility. He not only provided some of the funding — he actually helped set up the machines. 


Hayt and his wife have also established a $100,000 endowed scholarship for UNF student-athletes.


“My number one priority is academics and graduation rates for our student-athletes,” he said. “I’m very proud of what they have accomplished in the classroom as well as on the playing field.”


UNF Athletics Director Lee Moon said Hayt’s passion for the University is only matched by his philanthropic support for UNF athletics.


“In all my years as an athletic administrator, John is the most outstanding benefactor for an athletic program that I have ever encountered,” Moon said. “He is one of the most active members of the Osprey Club Board and has a deep commitment and keen interest in all of our athletic programs. John truly understands, respects and promotes the ideals of the student-athlete concept.”   


His involvement also transcends athletics. When the First Generation Scholarship program was announced, the Hayts were among the first supporters. Although a successful Jacksonville business executive, Hayt never attended college.


“I realized there are many extremely capable, well-deserving young people who deserve the opportunity to go to college,” he said.


He fully realized the importance of his support when he attended a First Generation Scholarship luncheon on campus and met a student who had once been an employee in his mortgage company.


“She wanted to go into education, and the scholarship was the only way she could accomplish that,” he said. “I was thrilled to help.”


Hayt has also assisted the University by serving on the UNF Foundation board, where his financial background was an asset on the Finance and Audit Committee.


Hayt is optimistic about the future of the University.


“UNF has come a long way over the years. Under the guidance of visionaries such as President John Delaney, that progress will continue, and the community will ultimately benefit.”