Summer Swing Fuels Traverse City Hopefuls

April 28, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – When Todd Hursey talks about all the MHSAA Finals golf champions that have come out of the Traverse City area in recent years, he cites one common denominator.

The Traverse City Junior Golf Association, started more than three decades ago by one of the area's most respected high school coaches to promote the game and provide local school programs with more skilled golfers.

“For the most part, it’s been accomplished with a steady (flow) of TCJGA kids,” the Suttons Bay coach and TCJGA executive director said of the area's recent success.

Consider this: Four area schools have captured eight of the last 16 MHSAA Division 4 boys championships.

A year ago, Suttons Bay earned its fourth team title while Leland’s Joel Sneed successfully defended his individual crown, edging Suttons Bay’s Devin Capron by two shots.

The girls matched that double last fall as Traverse City West claimed the Division 1 team title while Maple City Glen Lake’s Nichole Cox made it back-to-back individual championships in Division 4.

And what ties it all together is that almost all of those players have roots in the TCJGA’s summer program, now in its 33rd year.

The association’s 18-hole elite tournament division – 11 tournaments in seven weeks at 11 courses – is one of its most popular offerings, giving high school golfers a chance to develop their skills and competitive edge.

“As far as getting kids ready for tournament golf, there’s nothing better,” Traverse City West boys coach Mike Schultz said. “We definitely encourage our players to participate. It’s such a no-brainer. It’s like a summer camp where you get to compete in a tournament (every four to five days). It’s a tremendous asset for the players and the coaches.”

West has, perhaps, the best representation in the TCJGA – and it’s paid off. The boys swept league, District and Regional titles last spring. The Regional triumph was the third in four years.

The girls, with five underclassmen in the lineup, followed suit, finishing the season with the school’s first MHSAA Finals golf title. Freshman Anika Dy led the Titans, placing just one shot behind the individual winner, Brighton’s Julia Dean. All the West girls are TCJGA veterans.

“I highly encourage all my girls to play in at least three of the tournaments,” Titans coach Kristen Nolan said. “What ends up happening, though, is that most will play in five or six, if not more, because, no pun intended, I want them to get into the swing of things before fall. I want them prepped and prepared for playing in tournaments.”

Traverse City Hall of Fame coach Bob Lober helped launch the junior program in 1984 for a couple reasons – to help teach kids the sport (lessons are offered, starting for those as young as 5) and to have it act as a feeder for the high school programs.

Lober’s 1996 team won a state Class A title. The Trojans had runner-up finishes in 1991, 1994, 1997 and 1999.

Schultz was one of the early products of the program. He took up golf as an eighth grader when his parents signed him up for lessons in the junior program. He went on to play four years of high school golf (1989-93) under Lober.

“I was destined to be an offensive lineman and this was the best way to make sure I had working knees when I turned 40,” Schultz said, laughing. “I thank my parents for getting me involved. The junior program is dear to my heart.”

Hursey has been a benefactor, too. Although he had some three-sport athletes on his golf team last season, which prevented them from playing consistently in the summer program, that was more the exception than the rule.

“With our first three state title teams we didn’t have a kid who didn’t play multiple years in TCJGA,” Hursey said. “You didn’t consider not doing it. Everybody did it.”

Hursey’s team is rebuilding this season. His son, Thomas, is the lone returner from the Suttons Bay lineup that won the 2015 title. West is minus three of its top five players off a seventh-place Finals team a year ago, but Schultz is encouraged by the early returns.

“Going off last year’s averages it wasn’t looking too promising,” he said. “But I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The guys have worked hard on their games. We’ve been consistently between 324 and 327. As we progress, and play more, it should get better.”

The Titans did do better Tuesday, posting a season-low 315 at the Cadillac Country Club.

Because of a lingering winter, West had just a couple days of practice at Mistwood Golf Course before its season-opener, a fourth-place finish in the East Lansing Invitational. West has since won the first two Big North Conference meets.

Keits Shoemaker and Austin Webb are the two returning players off last year’s squad. Shoemaker fired a 74 on Tuesday, Webb a 79.

“Keits has stepped up nicely,” Schultz said. “I’m hoping he gets more comfortable shooting in the mid-70s. Austin is going to be an integral part of this team. Three of his first four rounds have been under 80.”

Tyler Buchanan, Sam Schriber and Zach Perrin are coming on, too. Buchanan shot a 76 in the first tournament, Schriber was averaging 81 through the first three events while Zach Perrin, who did not play last year, chipped in an 81 Tuesday.

“I think these kids will continue to improve and grow,” Schultz said. “It should be a fun year.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West senior captain Keits Shoemaker hits his opening tee shot at the Ogemaw Heights Invitational on Friday at The Nightmare. (Middle) West senior Tyler Buchanan tees off at the East Lansing Invitational on April 18 at Hawk Hollow. (Photos courtesy of Traverse City West golf program.)

Mid Peninsula's Boys Sweep UPD3 Titles, Including 1st Team Championship

By Jason Juno
Special for

June 1, 2023

HYDE – The Rock Mid Peninsula boys won their first Upper Peninsula Finals boys golf championship Thursday, earning it in Division 3 at Highland Golf Club near Escanaba.

The Wolverines finished with a score of 324, 13 strokes fewer than runner-up Ontonagon.

“It’s the first time in school history for us, so we’re pretty excited about it,” Mid Pen coach Earlene VanDamme said. “The kids put a lot of work into this year.”

They did it with three golfers among the individual top five, led by medalist Bradly VanDamme, who shot a 77, and tournament runner-up Michael Englund, who carded a 78. Christian VanDamme was close behind with an 81, which was good for a fifth-place tie.

Big Bay de Noc’s Nick Desjarden watches a tee shot at Highland Golf Club. The three golfers have shot consistently around 80 all year. 

“Our top three boys were pretty equivalent. They were within one or two strokes of each other,” Coach VanDamme said. “I kept messing with the order. It didn’t matter where I put them, it always ended up that they were just all always kind of consistent.”

Bradly VanDamme said he has been shooting consistently in the 80s. He shot an 80 here during a practice round. 

“So a 77 today was huge,” he said. “I never expected to play as good as I did today.”

Fixing a key part of his game helped.

“I got off the tee well; usually that’s my struggle,” VanDamme said. “But every tee, I just thought, if I can keep this one in play and keep it in the fairway, then this course is pretty easy if you can keep it in the fairway.”

He said he was happiest about the team title.

“It’s great. All the guys are really excited. That was our goal coming into this – we didn’t care how we all individually placed, we just wanted to win as a team,” he said.

Watersmeet’s Edmond Williams putts during his round.That’s the way team leaders think.

“Bradly is a strong leader for the team,” Coach VanDamme said. “He continuously is just prepping the team, saying, ‘Come on guys, this is about the team score. We all need to do this.’”

His brother Christian VanDamme was just four strokes behind him.

“It helps that (Bradly’s) brother is on the team because he is very competitive with him,” said Coach VanDamme, who also is Bradly and Christian’s mother. “And they put a lot of extra practice in trying to better themselves, so they do practice a lot.”

Ontonagon was team runner-up for the second year in a row.

The Gladiators were led by Abi Pestka, who finished in third place and shot an 80, and Jerry Majurin, who tied Christian VanDamme with an 81.

“That’s the best the boys have done as a group,” Ontonagon coach Jim Jessup said. “Everybody was fairly close in terms of their scores.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Rock Mid Peninsula celebrates its first UP Finals championship in boys golf Thursday. (Middle) Big Bay de Noc’s Nick Desjarden watches a tee shot at Highland Golf Club. (Below) Watersmeet’s Edmond Williams putts during his round. (Photos by Jason Juno.)