2005: State of golf in Georgia just peachy

By Ron Balicki

There are much bigger states than

Georgia when it comes to size

and population.

But where men’s college golf is concerned, the Peach State takes a back seat to no one. Last season in particular, it ranked at the head of the class. Not only did five Georgia teams qualify for the 2005 NCAA Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club near Baltimore, they all finished in the top 13.

The University of Georgia led the way as it

won its second national championship in seven seasons. The Bulldogs finished 11 shots in front

of runner-up and in-state rival Georgia Tech. Then came Augusta State, winner of the NCAA Central Regional, in 10th place, followed by Georgia State and Georgia Southern in a tie for 13th.

Since the NCAA Championship went to a 72-hole format in 1968, only once before had a state placed five teams in the top 15, that coming in 1978 when California had San Jose State (8), UCLA (10), San Diego State (12), Southern Cal (13) and Stanford (14).

What is it about Georgia that produces such outstanding programs?

“I don’t know, maybe it’s something in the water or the air,” joked Georgia coach Chris Haack. “But seriously, I think it’s a combination of a number of things. The climate is great, especially in the fall and the spring, and we’re very fortunate to have a lot of good golf courses which we have access to play. It’s a great state for golf from the junior level to the professional level. Because of the many professional events here the state gets put on the world stage in golf, and no matter where you go in the world, kids know about it.”

Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler agrees.

“It all starts with the Masters,” Heppler said. “Kids grow up watching and following the Masters and they know about Georgia. It has become an attractive state for golf no matter where you are from, whether it’s Ireland or Australia. And a lot of great players have come out of Georgia, (beginning) with Bobby Jones.”

Each of the five schools is represented by a smorgasbord of players from around the world.

Georgia’s starting five at last season’s NCAA showed the Bulldogs, located in Athens, with two players from the state, one from North Carolina, one from South Carolina and another from Canada. Atlanta-based Georgia Tech had three Floridians, and one each from Georgia and California.

Georgia Southern (Statesboro) had two from Georgia and one each from Arizona, Australia

and Sweden. Georgia State, also in Atlanta, had

a roster of two from England and one apiece from Australia, Sweden and Florida, while Augusta State had one player apiece from Scotland, Sweden, Canada, South Carolina and Georgia.

“You have five schools and they are all pretty much different,” said Georgia State coach Matt Clark. “My team, like Augusta State, is a little

more international. I think we all have had success because we have figured out who the players are and who fits in best with our programs. We all

have our own niche, and I feel we can continue to be successful if we all stick with it.”

Added Georgia Southern coach Larry Mays: “Georgia is just a great state for golf. Football is

still No. 1, but I know here in Statesboro we have a community that is really into golf and we get a lot of support and have a lot of people behind our program. Having the Masters is a big plus in bringing kids into the state, especially the foreign kids. They grow up thinking Masters. And once you get a pipeline working, kids pretty much recruit kids.”

For Augusta State and Georgia State – schools without football programs – golf, especially when successful, becomes the big thing on campus.

“Being a small school with only about 6,000 students, golf is our football,” said Augusta State coach Josh Gregory. “It’s the biggest thing going. There is no fraternity or sorority system, so these guys go out together, live together. It’s important for me to get kids who are going to get along.

At other places, you may see your teammates

at practice and tournaments. Here, they’re

best buddies.”

Georgia’s college success spreads beyond Division I. At the 2005 NCAA Division II Men’s Championship, Armstrong Atlantic State of Savannah came in second. At the Division III nationals, Atlanta-based Oglethorpe University finished seventh and Emory University eighth, and at the NAIA Championship, Berry College came in 10th.

All of which makes college golf in Georgia these days downright peachy. m

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