While many traveled home for Spring Break this year, the Knox College men’s and women’s golf teams spent the entire week in Atlanta for the first time in the program’s history. A total of 17 golfers went on the trip, including 13 male players, two female and two head coaches.
A notable departure from the team’s typical spring break trip to Kentucky, the change in location was, according to Head Coach Kenneth Harding, the result of a generous invite from the Whitcomb family which recently provided the funds for the newest addition to the Knox campus, the Whitcomb Art Center.
“[Dick Whitcomb ’57] owns three golf courses in Atlanta, Georgia,” Harding explained. “So through communication, he said ‘I’d love to have the [golf] program down here.’ Mr. Whitcomb and his family were kind enough to invite us, hence the change [in trip location.]”
Men’s and women’s golf had the opportunity to play at all three courses owned by Mr. Whitcomb including Cuscowilla Golf Resort on Lake Oconee, Hampton Golf Village, and Reunion Country Club, all located within two hours of central Atlanta.
The teams and coaching staff, a total of 17, rented and stayed in an Airbnb together in southwestern Atlanta, an experience that according to players and coaches alike, undoubtedly yielded stronger team connections. With a group that is over 50 percent freshmen, those new to the team and to Knox were the heaviest presence on the trip.
“We cooked dinner for each other sometimes,” freshman Jason White explains. “It was a good time, and [there were] good bonding experiences. Sharing rooms, sharing beds, playing golf É It was a lot of fun. Mr. Whitcomb treated us to a lot of good courses.”
Junior and captain of men’s golf, Duncan Wheeler, agrees. Wheeler is a veteran player who also attended the team’s last two spring break trips to Kentucky.
“We went to Kentucky the last two years because there weren’t that many people on the team,” he says. “So [we did it to] save money. [This year] we ended up going to Georgia, which ended up being really good,” Wheeler said.
The women’s team, comprised of only two female players this year, was also in attendance on the trip. The past few years have seen a sharp narrowing of the women’s roster, a deliberate strategy employed by Coach Harding to heighten the esteem of the women’s golf program at Knox.
“It had gotten to the point where the prestige had left the program,” Harding says. “We had to just find players and it was at no cost. And I figured that instead of just having mediocrity É we might as well try to re-brand it.”
Harding’s efforts have so far yielded massive success for the women’s team. Two weeks ago on their spring break trip in Jacksonville, FL, freshman Shelby Keen and sophomore Samantha Nichols placed first and second in the women’s division, shooting 84 and 87 respectively as individuals. In addition, the men’s and women’s teams earned first place overall in combined scoring, with the men taking home second place in their division.
The Midwest Division III conference features a variety of larger women’s golf teams, making Knox one of the outliers. However, the difference in roster size is not something that Harding or the Knox women’s team was worried about.
“I talked to a girl [from Carthage College] É and she said at one point they had 20 girls on their team,” Keen says. “But we have a recruit for next year, so we have one more coming. Our coach would rather pick girls that can shoot decent scores rather than try and get someone that shoots really high scores and works forever to improve them.”
Speaking on their recent wins, Harding believes that Keen and Nichols are helping greatly to facilitate his rebranding of the program.
“Not just anyone can play,” Harding says. “You can try out, but I want it to be something that the kids are proud of and É it makes the program a lot more marketable É Like [in Jacksonville], [the ladies] finished first and second. Girls see that and it’s like ‘OK, I can add to this and now we’re something serious.’ So I’m trying to really market [Keen and Nichols] and get higher caliber players.”
Last weekend, the men’s team hosted the Jim Weatherbee Memorial Invitational in Galesburg, earning 11th place out of 15 teams. The men are set to travel to Augustana on April 13 while the women travel to Monmouth on April 7.