MARSHALL — When Dick Hamilton signed on to coach the Marshall girls golf team, never in his wildest dreams did he think he would still be doing so 40 years later.
“I’m just glad to be alive 40 years later,” he said, laughing.
He is not only alive, but thriving on working with what he calls “close to the best team I’ve had.”
After winning the Division 3 Regional on Oct. 7 at Niles, the Redhawks are headed to the MHSAA Final this Friday and Saturday at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.
It will be the 29th time Hamilton’s teams will have competed at the Finals level and, with five seniors, he hopes this is the year to win the previously elusive championship.
Third place is the highest his teams have finished. These Redhawks are ranked third in Division 3 and finished eighth last year.
The team is led by four-year varsity golfer Karlee Malone, who was Regional medalist with an 83 at Orchard Hills Country Club.
High school golf has come a long way since Hamilton began coaching.
“When I started, there was one division and everybody was in the same division,” Hamilton said. “Ironically, my first year, we hosted the state championship at Marshall High School.
“Our AD said, ‘You run it.’ It had to be the worst-run state championship in history. I was a rookie and everybody was coming in with these powerhouse teams.”
The Redhawks actually qualified for that year’s championship tournament and ended up eighth.
While the game, itself, has not changed much over the years, the coaching and the golfers have, Hamilton said.
The Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association pushed for more divisions, and today the MHSAA has four divisions for golf in the Lower Peninsula.
“There are a lot more good players now,” Hamilton said. “When I started, we were in the spring and we would just go play and that was it.
“The season would be over. They wouldn’t work on it. They wouldn’t play.”
Now, he said, his golfers play all summer, especially Golf Association of Michigan events.
“When I started, girls were players if their dads were (golfers),” Hamilton said. “Now, out of the girls on my golf team, maybe one or two of their dads are players.
“It’s a game where they get into it, they take lessons, they go to First Tee, they go to Foundation Golf Center, they have private swing coaches and that makes a difference.”
Having the best equipment also is a plus. Hamilton had that advantage when he was growing up in the Thumb.
“My dad was a good player, and my grandfather was a good player,” he said.
“My grandfather owned the local hardware store, so I got a set of golf clubs the day I went to play golf (at age 6 or 7). Not every kid in town had that.”
Another change in high school golf was the uniforms.
When he started coaching, the girls team had no specific uniforms.
“When I started in 1980-81, I said this is a team; we’ve got to have a uniform,” he said.
“They looked at me like I was crazy. The AD bought into that, and I think that helped.”
While Hamilton did not coach any mothers of his current golfers, he did have his own two daughters on his team.
“They were basketball players who played golf when the season came on, but in those days, it was in the spring,” he said.
“They live in New York now and don’t play much anymore.”
Over the years, Hamilton has thought about giving up the position, especially once he retired from teaching history at the high school.
“Every time I had a really good team, I’d say ‘Well, I don’t want to give up this really good team,’” he said.
“A couple of times we’ve had rebuilding years, and I didn’t want to give that to anybody else so it just kind of kept going.”
Full speed ahead
These current golfers are happy he kept going.
In addition to the Regional title, the Redhawks won the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference (going undefeated) this fall, plus the conference tournament and four invitationals.
“He meets the needs of every individual player,” Malone said. “He is willing to take you aside individually and work with you.
“Golf is not only a team sport, but an individual sport, so he helps us with that aspect. But he also brings us together as a team and sets goals for us that we’re able to meet.”
After tying for fifth individually at the Division 3 Final last year, Malone said she feels a bit of pressure this season.
“I’ve been dealing with that all throughout the season,” she said. “I wanted to have an even better season than last year, so rising to those expectations has been an extra challenge.”
Marie Mathieu, another four-year varsity golfer, said with all seniors on the team, there is an advantage.
“We’ve all played together for so long that we know how to help everyone and give everyone confidence,” she said.
Another four-year varsity golfer is Emily McLane, who appreciates the coach’s sense of humor.
“He’s very encouraging, and he’s funny,” she said. “He cracks some jokes once in a while.
“Our practices are really structured. We work on chipping, we work at the range, we work at putting all the time so when we get on the course, we know what to do.”
The other two seniors are Malena Solis and Katie Kolassa. Assistant coach is Sal Konkle, who also led the Marshall girls basketball team to the Class B championship in 2016.
The Redhawks’ home course is Marshall Country Club, where Hamilton has been a member for 50 years.
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Marshall girls golf coach Dick Hamilton talks with his team before last week’s Regional. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hamilton, Karlee Malone, Emily McLane and Marie Mathieu. (Below) Hamilton will take a team to the MHSAA Girls Golf Finals for the 29th time over his four decades as coach. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)
ROCKFORD – The Rockford girls golf team witnessed first-hand at last year’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final the type of scores it would take to compete for top honors in the state.
The Rams finished a laudable eighth at last year’s championship tournament, but their two-day total of 697 (338-359) put them well behind champion Northville, which posted team scores of 307 and 308 to claim a fourth-straight Finals title by 12 strokes.
Rockford entered this season with aspirations to close the gap, and it has done just that with a talented quartet of experienced golfers.
“Our top four are better than we've had in the past,” Rams girls golf coach Scott Kruisenga said. “Maybe we’re not quite as deep, but the potential for all four of these girls to be in the 70s is pretty exciting.
“We’ve been seeing those scores by Northville, and Rochester Adams and Saline, and that's some darn good golf.
“The girls last year saw some of the scores that needed to take place in order to have a shot at a state championship, and they really took it serious over the summer. They played a lot of tournament golf, and they want it and they believe they can do it.”
The extra preparation and enhanced desire has been evident with low scores and first-place finishes.
The Rams have rolled through the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red thus far with the league tournament looming next week.
A new school record was established as well when Rockford won the Kent County Classic with an impressive 306.
“We’ve played well, and it’s been fun getting to know everyone the last three years,” said junior Jessica Jolly, the team’s No. 1 golfer.
“Everyone is capable of shooting low, so when we can do our best on the same day it’s fun, and we’ve broken the school record multiple times in the past few years.”
Jolly is joined in the top four by seniors Mackenzie Davidson and Bridget Parlmer and junior Aubrey Wilson.
In addition to the Kent Country Classic, Rockford also won the O-K Red Midseason Tournament, the Sydney Carfine Memorial Tournament and the Greenville Invitational.
The Rams took second behind state powerhouse Brighton at the 36-hole Lober Classic at Crystal Mountain to open the season.
“They have really been playing up to their ability and been playing lights out,” Kruisenga said. “They’ve put a lot of hard work in, and I’ve had all four since they were freshmen so it’s been fun to see how they’ve been improving year by year.
“That has been the most exciting thing, seeing the improvement and dedication they are putting into get better.”
While the team had high expectations entering the season, Kruisenga said they have already exceeded his.
“I was thinking even if we stay the same as last year we would be a good team,” he said, “but everyone is playing better.”
Jolly has been the catalyst and broke her own school record earlier this season with a superb 67 at Quail Ridge Golf Course.
She tied for ninth at the LPD1 Final as a freshman, when Rockford finished fifth as a team, and just missed the individual top 10 last season.
“I’m pretty happy with how I’ve played, and I’ve definitely seen my average drop to the lowest it’s been since I’ve been in high school.” Jolly said. “Most of my rounds have been under par, and it’s been fun to make some birdies and get a chance at shooting pretty low.”
After struggling on the second day of last year’s Final, Kruisenga said the success his team had at the 36-hole event earlier this season should bode well for the future.
“We did that intentionally to try and get used to that back-to-back,” he said. “The girls fared really well. We lost by three or four strokes to Brighton, and we were tied going into the second day. They kept a good mental game and limited their mistakes.”
The Rams are anxious for the postseason, but refuse to take anything for granted. They want to finish the conference season strong before setting their sights on a Finals berth.
“Our first goal would be to win the postseason tournament, and then we hope to do well at Regionals and qualify for state,” Jolly said. “If we do, then we’re looking to perform well there and give ourselves a chance.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Jessica Jolly powers through a drive during last season’s LPD1 Final. (Middle) Aubrey Wilson putts off the rough during the Final at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)