As the Dalton State College athletic program continues to ease its sports into the fold, the men’s golf team expects to be able to compete immediately.
With play on Monday in the College of Coastal Georgia Fall Classic on St. Simon’s Island, the men’s golf team will join the women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country teams as the school’s fall sports this year. The two-day tournament will be played at the Sea Island Golf Club Retreat Course.
A full team of five golfers along with coach Ben Rickett is on the coast today for a practice round in the five-play, four-score format of the tournament. Ten teams from around the Southeast will play in the tournament.
One of the leading players for the Roadrunners is expected to be Chatsworth native Chase Jones. Jones is a redshirt sophomore who played golf at Darton College and was Rickett’s first signee.
Jones said that building something new has been a thrill and something on his mind since deciding to come back to the area and play golf.
“We started practicing about three weeks ago, and everyone was getting excited about that first tournament,” Jones said. “It has been really exciting. Anytime you get a chance to start something from the ground up, you want to start things off on the right track. We have a lot of players who are very talented.”
Joining Jones is fellow Murray County graduate Tyler Mitchell, a senior who was recently the low amateur at the Tilted Kilt Georgia PGA Open at the Legends Course at Chateau Elan.
Other players on the team are LaFayette sophomore Levi Nix, Roswell freshman Tommy Rimel and sophomore Anthony D’Angelo, who started his college athletic career at Hinds (Ala.) Community College last fall as a quarterback.
One of the main draws of the program has been coach Ben Rickett. A graduate of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as well as a coach in the golf program, the Surrey, England native was a four-year letter winner at Chattanooga and was an All-Southern Conference performer with a 73.66 stroke average for his career with the Mocs.
He was the caddy for Chattanooga’s Steven Fox when he win the U.S. Amateur Championship and caddied for Fox again this past spring at the Masters in Augusta.
“As a coach, this is what you work for,” Rickett said. “When you have nine months to put together a team, the coaching part is the fun part for me. The practices have been very good and the energy has been very high, and we have had to put together quickly what I think will be a very, very good team.”
Jones said Rickett was a big factor in his decision to come play for the Roadrunners.
“You have to have somebody there that when you have a bad round, you can go and talk to him,” Jones said. “It is a learning experience. You need someone to talk things through with. It isn’t quite as enthusiastic as having a football coach or a basketball coach, but there are a lot of things and a lot of advice he can offer to the players just like any good coach. It is good to speak with someone who has been through it and been there.”
For Rickett, the building of a golf team has been harder than any shot he ever faced on the course.
“I never came into this thinking this would be easy, but I never appreciated just how hard it was going to be,” he said. “The differences with recruiting is that you are looking down the road two years, we were already behind from that standpoint.
“One of the biggest things I was worried about was getting experienced golfers. I didn’t want to have nothing but freshmen coming into the program. I wanted to break up the classes, was lucky to have three sophomores.”
The school is also benefiting from the use of three local courses — the public Nob North golf club as well as two private courses, The Farm Golf Club and Dalton Golf & Country Club.
“We have incredible facilities for a new program, and everyone has been very generous in the community in offering whatever help they can,” Rickett said.
“As long as we are heading into the right direction and making things better, I will never be a disappointed. I want them to improve on a daily basis and it is hard to know what those expectations are or should be right now. I am not a huge fan of basing things on results.”
The school hired Jim McGrew and Marsha Whitener as women’s golf coaches in the spring, but athletic director Derek Waugh recently announced that the women’s team would not begin competing until the 2013-14 academic year.
“Women’s golf is a very difficult sport to find high school athletes,” Waugh said in a release from the school. “Given the limited time that our coaches had to recruit this year, we have decided to redshirt this year’s signees.
“We do not want to rush into competition just to say we have a team. We want to be competitive from the get go.”