For nearly two years, Laura Kanouse poured her energy into the biomedical engineering program at the University of Florida. Kanouse, a former junior golfer from Boca Raton, Fla., made a run at the University’s women’s golf team two years ago but came up short. Kanouse wouldn’t sacrifice academics – she wanted to study at Florida.
Turns out, Kanouse wouldn’t sacrifice golf, either. At the start of the spring semester, charter in hand, Kanouse and a friend began to recruit players for a club golf team at the University. They found it surprisingly easy to find teammates, and good ones. Less than a semester in, Florida remains undefeated.
Crystal Springs Resort (Ballyowen Course), Hamburg, N.J.
25 teams, 24 individuals
“It surprised me how many good players there are that just play for fun,” said Kanouse, a sophomore. “I know that we have other people who are coming (to Gainesville) and wanted to play collegiately but decided not to, so it’s a lot of good competition. I think it’s only going to grow.”
Kanouse always imagined she’d play on the varsity team at the University of Florida, and was somewhat heartbroken that it never came to fruition. Club golf is beginning to fill that void, however. The club has grown to about 25 members, and plays at the Mark Bostick Golf Course, the same course Florida’s varsity squads use. Kanouse spread the word about her growing team on Facebook, and also found kindred spirits at Mark Bostick.
Kanouse not only chartered the club golf team at Florida (a process that began in the fall with a search for advisors and the drafting of a constitution), but aligned with the National Collegiate Club Golf Association, a governing body for club golf teams that provides regional and national competition. Club golf wasn’t a new concept in Gainesville, but competing in the NCCGA was groundbreaking.
NCCGA competition consists of two regional tournaments each semester, using a play-eight-count-five format, and there are 23 regions in the country. A point system is used to determine the top team in each region, and that team receives a bid to the national championship (a select number of wild-card teams and individuals also get to compete at nationals). The 2014 spring national championship field consists of 25 teams and an additional 24 individuals.
In the past two years, the NCCGA has grown from about 50 universities to include 183 club teams nationwide. Of those teams, Florida is ranked second in the nation after the spring season. The Florida region, made up of nine teams, is notoriously deep in talent.
“How are we going to compete with people who are ranked so high?” Kanouse remembers thinking at the beginning of the semester.
Those doubts ceased when Florida won its first regional start on March 24 by nine shots. Gators claimed six of the top 12 spots on the individual leaderboard, which included Kanouse in a tie for fourth. She finished at 14-over 156 at The Claw at USF in Tampa, Fla.
Nearly a month later, the second regional event was played at Stone Creek Golf Club in Ocala, Fla., much closer to home and with a national championship berth on the line. Junior Blake Hershberger eagled the final hole for a 1-under 71 that put Florida in a tie for first with Florida State. The sixth player’s score was used to break the tie, and Kanouse’s 75 left the Gators undefeated.
“It felt so good knowing we were going,” Kanouse said of qualifying for nationals. As for Hershberger, it was the first time he has shot a sub-par round in competition. Like Kanouse, he is a former high school golfer who has found the competitive atmosphere he was missing.
Florida enters the spring national championship, to be played this weekend at Crystal Springs Resort’s Ballyowen Course in Hamburg, N.J., without having any serious practice sessions. Kanouse appealed to the University to fund part of the team’s travel, but otherwise players are on their own. They will fly to New Jersey a day before the 36-hole event begins April 26.
“We’re just trying to get in the mindest of it’s a really serious tournament,” Kanouse said.
It’s final-exam week at Florida, so the team will compete with only five players, meaning there will be no scores to throw out. Herschberger, in Florida’s pre-pharmacy program, is among those making the trip, but only because he scheduled a physics exam for earlier in the week so he could travel.
“The thing I’m looking forward to most is playing against the best in the nation on the club teams because I can see how my game compares with the other top players in the nation,” Hershberger said.
Once the semester ends, a few of his teammates plan to try U.S. Amateur qualifying, but Hershberger isn’t sure he’ll go that route. Club golf has given him enough satisfaction, and pride in seeing what a group of students who love the game have been able to accomplish in a few short months.
“To be honest,” he said, “it’s really cool that we were able to put together this team right away and have the skill level be high.”