Springtime is just around the corner, and that means the Grand Rapids Community College golf team is ready to hit the links.
With the winter weather being less than ideal in Michigan for golfers, the team has had to find ways to stay sharp during their four-month hiatus. Head coach John Forton explained how the team has been trying to stay on track this winter.
“We meet every two weeks at the Golf Emporium,” Forton said. “It’s a heated golf range out near Greenville, Michigan.”
Freshman golfer Cooper Bell has enjoyed going out to the Golf Emporium with his team but has taken it upon himself to make sure he’s getting extra practice on top of what the team is doing together.
“We had two Sundays in January and two Sundays in February where we would go… and hit for an hour, hour and a half, however much you want to go hit,” Bell said. “I would go individually, I would go probably three, four days a week.”
The team had many strong showings in the fall including three first place finishes, and a second place finish as well. GRCC athletic director Bill Firn liked what he saw from the team during the fall and has high hopes for the team to make it back to nationals, which will be played on a course the Raiders are familiar with.
“The nationals are going to be in Plymouth, Indiana this year nearby,” Firn said. “Our two biggest rivals are actually on the east side of the state, Oakland and Mott. That’s who we’re gunning for, I think we’re actually right there with them. Frankly, we’re expecting to go out and win the conference and compete for our region and to send our whole team to nationals.”
Plymouth is home to the Ancilla College Chargers, a team that despite being located in Indiana, is part of the Michigan Community College Athletic Association. If the Raiders do get to nationals, it will be a course that they’ve seen many times before.
The team recently traveled to Pinehurst, North Carolina for Spring Break to get some team bonding and practice in before their first tournament later in March.
Bell was excited to have the opportunity to get out of Michigan for a little bit, work on his golf game, but most of all, just getting a chance to hangout with his teammates. He spoke with The Collegiate prior to the team’s trip.
“We’re playing I believe 10 rounds in five days,” Bell said. “We’re staying in a house. A kid on our team’s uncle has a house (in Pinehurst). So we’re staying in that house and we’re all sleeping in sleeping bags. It’ll be fun, I’m excited. I’ve never gone on a trip before with my team… So it’ll be fun just hanging out with the guys getting back together.”
After four months apart from the team, Forton wanted to use the trip as an opportunity to get better, and more so for the team to gel together.
“Well it helps us get ready for the season,” Forton said days ahead of the team’s trip. “I just want everyone to kind of get used to each other again and get acclimated to playing golf. None of us have played a lot of golf obviously because of the weather in the last three, four months. So it just kind of gets us back thinking about it and getting us directed for goals and direction of where we want to be. It’s a lot of fun. It will build a lot camaraderie and we have a great time with it.”
The fall season gave the Raiders a chance to see what their team looks like and what to expect from players performance-wise. It also allowed the players to get a feel for certain courses and see the level of competition they’ll be facing from conference foes in the spring.
“Our fall season is pretty much just our warmup season, so we’re just trying to get the lay of the land and see how the teams are in the conference,” Bell said. “Our spring season is our most important season. So that’s when we have our run for nationals… so we’ll put the gas down and get to work.”
Everybody involved with the golf program thinks they have what it takes to make it back to nationals. Forton is happy with the team he’s assembled, but for him, nationals aren’t the only goal. He wants the GRCC golf program to be the best in the state, but also nationally recognized.
“I think coming in, we have more depth than we’ve had… we have more players that can shoot lower scores than we’ve had in the past,” Forton said. “I expect us to be the No. 1 (junior college) team in the state and expect us to obviously win the state, win the region and then, the goal is to be in the top 10 in the nation. It’s tough when you’re playing against the southern teams that have been playing all year long, but… I always have lofty expectations and we’ll kind of go from there.”
The Raiders will play their first match of the spring season from March 22-24 when they head to Shepherdsville, Kentucky to play in the Heritage Hill Invite.