New Men’s Golf Story Series Debuts

            We are kicking off a new monthly series on the Colorado Men’s Golf Program.  Features will be varied, from alumni interviews to topics of the day, etc.  But our first edition will be:

        Ever wonder what a college golf team’s itinerary looks like for a road trip?
        Earlier this spring (well, it was still winter), in late February the Buffaloes traveled to Palm Desert, Calif., to participate in Wyoming’s Desert Intercollegiate, a tournament which has become a regular early spring season event for the Buffs.
        “Two aspects of college golf that are really different than most college sports are the length of the trips and how busy the team is while we are traveling,” Colorado head coach Roy Edwards said.  “For this trip to California for the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate, we traveled out of Boulder/Denver on Friday evening, getting to the hotel in Palm Desert around 10:15 pm.  We used Saturday, Sunday and Monday for extra rounds and practicing, 
        “They are great days but they are long as we would leave the hotel each morning at approximately 9:30 and return after sunset and dinner.  The extra time the guys have they hang out a bit and catch up on school.  For the official practice round and the tournament days the team is usually up at 5:30 and to the golf course to eat breakfast and warmup prior to their rounds.  By the time the rounds conclude, we have lunch, and then practice for a short time, we get back to the hotel around 4.  We have a lot of time together and that is why many of our players and teams stay so close over the years.” 
        I joined the team to Palm Desert for the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate.  Two coaches, seven players and the sport supervisor for men’s golf, Orville Jennings, were with the team in addition to myself.
        Many probably think that the team heads to the location, has a practice round then plays what is most often a 54-hole tournament over either two or three days.  A handful of tournaments will have three rounds over as many days; but if over only two, they play 36 holes on day one and the final 18 on day two.  (For the Pac-12 Championships, a 72-hole affair, it’s a 36-18-18 format.)
        Day one can often be grueling, as they usually carry their own clubs (some rent a pull cart) and rounds can take as a long as five-and-a-half hours to play.  Depending on the number of the teams in the event, often they eat lunch “on the run” between rounds, if not during the end of the first or the beginning of the second.  If there is a long hike between nines, often the course provides an escort or two for cart rides to help speed up the round.
        The football, golf, ski and lacrosse teams have the most equipment to bring with them, but football has an army of equipment staffers to handle their needs.  Golfers have their clubs and baggage to haul to the airport and then the hotel, just like you and me when we travel.  The coaches do check them in to the hotel and hand out the keys. 
        Any equipment issues ranging from repairs to items left behind are handled by the players.  On this trip, two players left their umbrellas home, despite a few reminders, and Justin Biwer needed to replace a putter grip that had to be done once the team reached the site.
Unless leaving a few days early to get some extra practices in, which happens ahead of the spring season, depending on the location the Buffs usually arrive the night before the practice round.  Thus, the team flies in two days ahead as the only annual events CU can realistically drive to is the Air Force Miranda Invitational, and of course, our own Simpson-CU meet.
The practice rounds are just what you surmise; players getting familiar with the course, marking personalized yardage books for a better feel of what clubs to use when and where, and getting used to the speed and any undulations of the greens.  During this time there is the usual head coaches meeting that Edwards attends to go over tournament and course rules.
        Then after a break for lunch, the players all head out to the range, practice greens and sand areas to work on their swings, putts and what coaches call, “muscle memory.”  Anyone who plays golf knows that muscle memory comes into play largely around the greens – that’s why the experienced golfer has that soft touch where the amateur will often send the ball flying across the green and into a neighboring apartment complex.
        The night before is a team dinner at some local restaurant (in Palm Springs, assistant coach Derek Tolan took the team to one of his favorite haunts, the Hula Grill).  There is the usual quick team meeting, perhaps an individual one or two, often study hall of some sort, and on this particular trip, one player had to take a test that the was proctored on-line (any tests can also be proctored by an administrator or an academic staff member from another school).
        On this trip since CU traveled earlier than usual, the coaches held study hall for several players all three mornings prior to the practice rounds ahead of the actual event.  “We played Eldorado CC, Bighorn CC and Stone Eagle Golf Club, three of the best courses in the Coachella Valley.  They were fun, extra rounds on this particular trip.” 
        There is no established curfew for the team.  Everyone has their own individual habits, but the experienced golfer knows he needs a good night’s sleep to be successful. 
        Wake-up calls usually hover around 5 or 6 a.m., with the first tee times about two hours into the day.  Tournaments have breakfast for the players at the course (standard daybreak fare), and the players then loosen up on by spending time on the range and the putting green.
        The coaches each get a cart and motor around the course, carrying water and sports drinks with some healthy snacks (granola bars, bananas, etc.).  NCAA rules allow for two coaches who can “coach” during each round. 
        “Basically, we can do anything except carry their clubs,” Edwards said.  “Sometimes we go with one or two players for consecutive holes or we place ourselves at key points on the course.  We typically like to help to ‘club’ the guys on the par-5s – their second shots – and on the par-3s.”
        Lunch, as aforementioned, is either on the run while playing 36, or afterward if just one round per day; it’s provided on tournament days but seldom on practice ones.  Occasionally in tournaments with 12 or fewer teams, there’s brief window for a quick, sit-down meal.  Most tournaments feature some form of “ready golf,” utilizing the host school’s conference pace of play guidelines to keep play moving; the average round usually falls somewhere around five hours (with the aim to be closer to four-and-a-half).
        If there’s time post-play to head to the range or putting green, most players take advantage of the opportunity to work on tweaking or correcting a part of their game the feel needs some attention, with the coaches there giving advice.  Then its load up the cars, back to the hotel, and dinner can vary between the full team heading out or splitting up one of the nights if the players have family attending the event.
        A very quick awards ceremony follows most tournaments, usually just enough time to present trophies to the top teams and the medalist and snap the quick picture or two.  Then it’s time to race to the airport if you’re need to fly home, which often can be cut close depending on the last flight out from the site to Denver International.
        Edwards will usually E-mail or text comments to me after every round, or we just get together on the phone.  If a player is the medalist or has a great round, he’ll get on the phone with me so I can get a few more details about his day and/or the entire event.
        Edwards also pointed out that coaches are educators in time management.
        “In our sport, with the exception of the Mark Simpson Colorado Invitational, every ‘game’ is a road game,” Edwards said.  “We have to get used to traveling and being productive on the road athletically and academically.  An athlete or two every now and then earns some mandatory study hall and we had that each morning of this trip on the non-tournament days.  As players grow and develop through the years, they become more efficient in their time management and this becomes less of a necessity as they will do this on their own.”
        Several parents often will follow the team at a few events a year.  On this trip, Justin Biwer, Tucker Clark, Dylan McDermott and Hunter Swanson all had parents travel to Palm Desert.  And one very special Hall of Fame Buffalo dropped by as he always does—Bobby Anderson, the MVP of the ’69 Liberty Bowl who relocated to Palm Desert in the mid-2000’s.   (Bobby is quite an accomplished golfer himself; the College Football, Colorado Sports and CU Athletic Hall of Famer remains a scratch golfer to this day).
        In the end, the Buffs finished third here out of 16 teams with a 1-under par team score of 863.  Host Wyoming won with an 857 score, with Fresno State wedged in-between at 860.  McDermott captured Pac-12 Player of the Week honors with a 5-under par 211 total that landed him in second place, three back of Fresno State’s Matt Manganello.