Golfers from area high schools now have the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level locally after they graduate, thanks to a new organization at Missouri State University-West Plains.
The Missouri State-West Plains club golf team was formed this summer with six former area high school standouts, including Thayer Bobcat greats Brett Ward, M.J. Clark and Layne Hawkins, according to volunteer coach Phil Wade, and he's encouraging other Missouri State-West Plains students -- men and women -- who played competitive golf in high school to join. The club is in the process of applying for recognition by the university's Student Government Association (SGA) as an official student organization, university officials said.
"We have a lot of young men and women in the area who are excellent players, but they've not been exposed to coaches at other colleges or universities with competitive teams because of where they live or the lack of opportunity to play in regional and national tournaments where they can be seen," Wade said. "This club team will provide these young men and women with the opportunity to continue playing golf competitively at the collegiate level and expose them to those coaches who might be interested in recruiting them."
Club team members will compete in tournaments against competitive teams from all collegiate levels and divisions, said Brendan Cooper, a former Missouri State University golf team member and the golf pro at the West Plains Country Club who is providing technical assistance to the team. "They will be going up against players at all levels -- NCAA Division I, Division II, NAIA and junior college," he said. "We're about ready to go into a tournament where we'll face nearly every school in Missouri."
The team's schedule is still being worked out, but Cooper said players can expect to hit the links in three to four tournaments this fall and three to four tournaments next spring.
Because the team will be competing at a high level, Wade said they are looking for golfers who can play at that same level. "If someone wishes to join, they will be required to pass a skills test showing they have the ability to play at a high competitive level," Wade said. "We'll also have a strenuous physical routine during practices, with technical instruction from Brendan, to improve their ability to play. Players are going to have to work hard. This is not going to be a walk in the park."
Although the team will represent Missouri State-West Plains, it is not being financially supported by the university, Wade stressed. "The club team is totally funded by donations and through fund-raising efforts. The university is not out any expense to support this team," he said. Wade pointed out all donations to the club team will be tax deductible; donations are made through the Missouri State University Foundation and earmarked for the club team.
Missouri State-West Plains Dean of Student Services Dr. Herb Lunday, who has volunteered to serve as the group's staff adviser, confirmed that the team will not be a varsity sport within the Grizzly Athletics program. Furthermore, he said, it will not be recognized by nor affiliated with the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Nevertheless, Lunday praised organizers for their tremendous interest and support.
Both Wade and Cooper see the team as a stepping stone to the next level for talented area golfers. "We have six guys right now who could move on after they finish here at Missouri State-West Plains," Cooper said.
For more information about the Missouri State-West Plains Club Golf Team, contact Lunday at 417-255-7225.