By Chris Whitfield
In football, it is the home-field advantage. On the hardwood, it is the home-court advantage. No matter what the sport, familiarity does not breed contempt. It breeds an advantage.
Today in the Georgia High School Association’s Class 4A golf state tournaments, local schools should have an advantage. And after the weekend rains soaked both Nob North Golf Course in Cohutta and Dalton Golf and Country Club — particularly on Sunday — that advantage could be a lot bigger.
The girls championship will be held at Nob North, which is the home course for Northwest Whitfield, one of 15 teams in today’s field. Dalton, the Region 7-4A champion, and Southeast Whitfield, which features region medalist Megan Collins, will also play at Nob North, and both of those teams also have plenty of experience on the Ron Kirby-Gary Player design.
DGCC will host the boys tournament and is the home course of the Dalton Catamounts, who captured the Region 7-4A tournament title there last month. Northwest’s boys will also compete on the Kirby Griffith-designed course.
While local teams have all been playing the courses frequently since the region tournament, other teams from around the state have had less experience on the two layouts, and Sunday’s practice rounds were washed out.
“Obviously for those people who haven’t played (the courses), they are at a disadvantage, said Jim McGrew, Northwest’s boys coach and the tournament coordinator. “But at the same time, it isn’t going to play anything like it has been playing for the last two weeks. Even if people played on Friday or Saturday, it is going to be a much different golf course.”
Play was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on both courses today, but the rains could push the start back to 11 a.m. in order to get both courses prepared to handle the play, McGrew said. The last groups are scheduled to tee off two hours after the first groups, with the pace of play expected to be between four and four-and-a-half hours.
Spectators are allowed on both courses, but fans will have to walk to follow their favorite golfers unless they have a disability, the only reason they’ll be permitted a cart.
All told, there are 30 high school golfers from Whitfield and Murray counties competing in state tournaments across Georgia today. In Class 3A, North Murray’s girls will play at Chateau Elan in Braselton, while the Mountaineers’ Colby Hipp will play as an individual at the Class 3A boys tournament at Reunion Golf Course in Hochston. Murray County’s Amber Lewis will play in the Class 2A girls tournament at Hawk’s Ridge Golf Course in Vidalia, while the Indians’ Dylan Hubbard will compete in the Class 2A boys tournament at Rocky Creek Golf Club, also in Vidalia.
Per GHSA rules and regulations, all courses will be par 72 and play approximately 5,500 yards for the girls and 6,500 yards for the boys.
In the Class 4A boys tournament, Dalton and Northwest will compete with 14 other teams for the title and eight other individual qualifiers in the medalist race. Dalton senior golfer William Duffie, who shot a 3-over-par 75 in the region tournament at DGCC, said having more course knowledge will certainly come into play.
“It gives us an advantage, definitely,” he said. “It is difficult going somewhere else and playing a different course, but as long as you get those practice rounds in you can get a pretty good feel. Having played the country club so many times, you have a feel for getting out of trouble. We know where to miss, the putts you have to make and the holes where you have to be either long of short in order to get a low score.”
The rains will certainly make the courses play longer than usual, with the damp grounds taking roll off of drives and forcing players to use longer irons for approach shots to greens. However, balls will tend to stick on the greens a lot better, allowing players to fire directly at pins.
“You have to feel like anytime you are playing at home on a course you know that you have an advantage,” McGrew said. “But you have a lot of quality golfers and they are used to playing on courses that they don’t know very well.”
Duffie and his teammates shot a team score of 315 to win the region title by a stroke over Heritage-Catoosa. However, Cats coach Chad Jordan knows that score will not bring home a state title.
“I think something around 295 to 300 will win it,” Jordan said. “Anywhere around 305 to 310 will be in the top five. Everyone is going to have to be on their game and play their best. We will have an opportunity because of how well we know the course.”
Columbus had the lowest region championship total, led by Charlie Flowers’ 2-under 70 for a team score of 297. Richmond Academy also broke 300 during region tournament play with a 299, led by Grayson Sigg’s 72. Heritage-Catoosa’s Sport Allmond was the medalist at the country club for the Region 7-4A tournament with a 73.
In addition to Duffie, Dalton will send Chris Kazmierski, Landon Hicks, Allen Behr, Cole Calfee and Jacob Brown to the course in the six-play, four-count format. Dalton won the region title with consistency throughout the lineup. In addition to Duffie’s 75, Kazmierski, Hicks and Behr all shot 80.
Northwest’s boys were led by Sam Speights and Ethan Hayes, who each shot 79 in region play. Chad Flanders and Silas Ledford each finished at 82. Tyler Clayton and Chandler Lomax will also compete today. The Bruins had a score of 322, a mark that fell short of the team’s expectations coming into region. McGrew said his team is happy to have another shot.
“They are disappointed they didn’t play as well as they could at region, and I am really excited about the seniors getting the opportunity to finally play in the state tournament,” he said.
Dalton’s girls won the region title with a team score of 273 — Mable McKone led the Lady Cats with an 88 — in the four-play, three-score format. Carson Roberts, Ashleigh Peters and Olga Fouche will also play for the Lady Cats today.
Northwest was second at region with a 286 that was paced by Marlee Bingham’s 90. Alicia Cole, Dallas Coker and Emilee McKinney will also play for the Lady Bruins today. Collins paced Southeast with an 82 at region for a team score of 319. Bethany Reddix, Hannah Dempsey and Victoria Bailey will play for the Lady Raiders as well.
Individually, all of the golfers will be looking to duplicate the feat of current Armstrong-Atlantic State University and former Dalton golfer Brendi Rockholt, who was the Class 3A state medalist last year.
Collins would seem to have the best shot of going low. A two-time region champion — she also won a region title as a sophomore — Collins is a three-sport senior standout who is likely playing her final competitive round of golf. At the region tournament, Collins indicated that if she did play a sport in college it would likely be volleyball — she was also a basketball standout — but she was even undecided about that.
“Looking at the rest of the players in the field, the medalist will probably be in the mid-70s,” Southeast coach Todd Murray said. “We have been playing a lot of rounds at Nob North, and Megan is certainly capable of shooting that score. I hope she will end her career with something like that.”
Among Class 4A girls competitors, Carrollton’s Sydney Needham had the lowest score in region tournament play, shooting a 2-under-par 70 on her home course.
North Murray’s girls lineup, which features a pair of golfers who are headed off to play collegiately after graduation this year, are the lone area team outside of Class 4A to make its respective state tournament.
Region 5-3A medalist Jocelyn Blair —a recent signee with Reinhardt University — shot an 85 to lead the Lady Mountaineers to the region title with a 278. Dara Dople — will play next year at Maryville (Tenn.) College — Tillie Hughes and Hali Sheram will also play today in Braselton.
North Murray coach Keith Robinette said one of the biggest advantages for Blair will be the players she is paired with.
“We will be paired with Buford and White County and they have some quality golfers and that will push her,” Robinette said. “Jocelyn wants to draw the best competition and wants to see how she stacks up. She will thrive off of that competition and it will push her lower.”
Hipp qualified for the boys tournament by shooting a 74 for second place individually at the region tournament. Since the medalist was on a team which qualified for state, Hipp earned one of eight individual invitations to the tournament.
The same is true for Murray County’s Lewis and Hubbard. Lewis shot a 98 at the Region 7-2A tournament and was the lowest scorer on a non-qualifying team, while Hubbard’s 89 earned him the same kind of invitation to state.
And here’s a look ahead at what else is happening in local sports:
• The prep sports year closes for the area with today’s state golf tournaments, but two schools will also hold their spring football games to close out two weeks of practice for that sports.
Northwest plays its intrasquad scrimmage at 6:30 p.m., while Southeast does the same at 7:30. Fans will have the chance to see what next season might look like as new players step up for those who will soon be graduating.
• It’s an athletic pursuit that could save your life — or someone else’s — one day: swimming.
Two area options for swimming lessons are the Swim America program at Dalton High School’s pool and Bradley Wellness Center. Summer is a great time to learn to enjoy the water safely, and you can learn more about how to sign up for lessons by going online to our Local Sports Calendar at daltonnow.com/events and looking under the “Instruction” heading.
• Finally, in the coming weeks The Daily Citizen will present its annual all-area team honors for spring sports and we’ll also begin revealing this year’s field for our third annual Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship. That football tournament is scheduled for July 13-14 in Dalton, but we’ll be profiling the field of teams starting next Monday.
Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. Got something you think he should highlight in “A Look Ahead”? Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.