Club golfers get student-athlete experience, minus the pressure

By David Schuh

Sophomore Ryan Schroth recently joined the UK club golf team, in its inaugural year, after a year away from competitive golf.

“I played four years of high school golf and really missed that competition last year,” Schroth said. “When I saw a flyer for a new club golf team, I knew it would be something I would really enjoy.”

For a big university like UK with a club and group for every imaginable interest, team founders Kevin Brandel and Andrew Strother were shocked to discover there was no club golf team.

“After two years away from the game, I came back to school this year and was looking around the ‘get involved’ website,” Brandel said. “I could not find a club golf team.  A school like UK has so many students; I was shocked.

“So, I contacted the varsity coach, Brian Craig, and he thought it was a great idea.”

For the 20 UK students on the team, it is an opportunity to re-live the glory days of their high school sports years. It’s an opportunity to travel some seven hours away to play golf courses usually occupied by professionals. It’s an opportunity to experience the camaraderie of a team that every “armchair quarterback” will say is the most cherished aspect of their athletic experiences.

Cameron Becker stood on the first tee at Picadome Golf Course, driver in hand. “When I hit this yesterday it didn’t get 5 feet off the ground,” Becker said, laughing. A low pull into the ninth fairway drew a vindictive laugh from the whole group. “Good thing I have a lesson tomorrow.”

The team has developed a bond quickly since it formed in mid-September. Brandel and Strother organized 2-on-2 scrambles among the squad members for fun, practice and potentially to determine who would travel to the out-of-town tournaments.

Two of those tournaments took place this semester in Johnson City, Tenn., and Villa Rica, Ga. The team placed sixth and fifth out of eight teams, respectively. Brandel and Strother haven’t been able to develop tryouts yet with limited numbers to begin, but given that, he can’t help but be pleased.

“So far, everything has been running great,” Brandel said. “We accepted players of all skill levels since this is just for fun. Considering those other teams have qualifications and experience, I’d say we did extremely well. And everybody had a great time, which is what it’s all about.”

Not only do the team members get to have fun together, they get a small feel of what it’s like to be a college athlete. With five weekend trips scheduled to several southeastern cities over the course of the school year, the players get a chance to represent UK in a way they never imagined.

“Getting to go to tournaments out of state and represent UK against other colleges like Wake Forest, South Carolina and Tennessee is almost better than playing in high school,” Becker said. “It’s just really fun to get that satisfaction of playing competitive golf again.”

Schroth carries his jumbo bucket of balls past several occupied mats. He proceeds a few hundred feet farther down to the end of the row. It’s just him, a bag of clubs and a bucket of balls. He, just like his other 19 teammates, gets another chance to compete and make himself better. That drive may never stop. And at least for the next few years, they all have a chance to play the game they love.