VT high school golf making a move

Sophomore+Josh+Bates+drives+the+ball+off+of+the+first+tee+at+Champlain+Country+Club+in+Swanton+for+the+BFA+Bobwhites.
Sophomore Josh Bates drives the ball off of the first tee at Champlain Country Club in Swanton for the BFA Bobwhites.

Sophomore Josh Bates drives the ball off of the first tee at Champlain Country Club in Swanton for the BFA Bobwhites.

Sophomore Josh Bates drives the ball off of the first tee at Champlain Country Club in Swanton for the BFA Bobwhites.

Robbie Maher, Editor

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The days of fighting for tee times with cabin fever filled golfers in the mud soaked grounds of March are over for high school golf teams in VT.

This coming after a recent Vermont Principals’ Association (VPA) decision that has put an end to the spring golf season and has instead moved the sport to a fall offering beginning in the 2017-18 school year. This marks the first time a VPA sport has changed seasons in decades.

“I am not going to say that 100 percent are happy about this, but this wasn’t a recent decision, this has been talked about for seven or eight years,” Head of the VPA Golf Committee Bob Johnson said.

The seven to eight years that have gone into making this decision has seen multiple viewpoints and variables included in the overall equation. One of the major topics considered was would the change of the season of the sport allow Division I schools to gain an advantage on lesser Division schools in regards to participation.

This wouldn’t be a problem with “bigger schools because their kids are usually one sport athletes anyway,” Johnson said.

With BFA being a Division one school, it remains to be seen if their golf program will see any uptick in participation.

“There tends to be more athlete overlap with lacrosse, tennis, and baseball than with football and soccer. Switching seasons [should] increase the number of players available to play on the team,” BFA golf coach Chris Hungerford said.

With the sport now changing seasons, one of the concerns is that players who had participated in golf when it was a spring sport would be blocked out of participating in the upcoming fall 2017 season because of commitments to prior fall sports.

“We allow students to play in two sports….This was the only major pushback we had, but as we went through the process, a number of schools began to realize this is do-able,” Johnson said.

Another angle that was factored into consideration by the VPA was holding the season in the spring pitted high school teams against course members and paying greens feer’s, all waiting for the water-logged courses to open their doors.

“In the spring, everybody is ready to get on the golf course. Course members were waiting all winter long and complained because of the amount of high school students that were on course.” Now one of the big things we are going to see is the availability of golf courses [increase],” Johnson said.

Even with the VPA allowing students to participate in two sports at the same time, this scenario does not spare all high school golf participants an easy transition from a spring season to a fall season. Specifically, students who in the past have been getting a majority of their employment in the fall months -or those who have planned to do so.

“I think everything was going fine [previously]. I don’t think that starting in the spring was that big of a deal, I can’t really think of a reason as to why they did this,” Josh Bates, a member of the BFA golf team said.

Andrew Dieringer hits a chip-shot for the Bobwhites.

Players having to transition from teeing it up in spring conditions to the vastly different fall conditions has also raised some concern.

“I think the course plays way differently in the spring than the course does in the fall,” but at the same time, “I think having more time to practice and play during the summer will show better scoring,” Bates said.

The almost decade-long waiting period for this drastic change to high school golf has been pushed through by the support of countless parties that include the majority of high school golf coaches, golf pros -often times decision makers for individual courses- and the VT PGA group.

“We hadn’t gone this way for seven or eight years because we felt we didn’t have any support… [this support has now arrived],” Johnson said.

One of the main objectives in revamping the high school golf season is to extend the number of playing opportunities for players. As the situation currently sits, team golf typically begins in the second or third week in March. With courses around the state not typically opening until the second or third week of April, this has left high school golf coaches in a situation to replicate golf activity in an environment where no real activity can be done for about a month of the scheduled season.

“Fall golf will be a big improvement to our program at BFA. Players will be able to play all summer prior to the season, which will mean more consistent, lower scores. Also, September weather in Vermont is usually much more conducive to golf than it is in May,” Hungerford said.

The upcoming spring golf season will be the last time high school golf will be held in the spring for the foreseeable future. At the conclusion of the spring season, the majority of high school players will spend their summer hours on the golf course with the impending fall 2017 season directly around the corner.

“People have understood that the weather is a factor… [Now with the new setup] kids will come in in August and say they are ready to go because they have been going all summer,” Johnson said.

By moving the golf season to the fall, the sport will no longer bump into high school’s spring testing season which features finals and exams, and standardized testing like the SBAC.

Vermont will join Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts as the only New England states that contest high school golf in the fall season. With Vermont’s impending move, Connecticut and Rhode Island will be the only remaining New England states to not contest high school golf in the fall season.

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