International Experience To Cap W&J Men’s Golf Fall Season
By: Jeff Scarpone
“Playing golf in Ireland is something that every golf fanatic dreams about doing,” said Head Golf Coach Sean Dove.
Dove and the Washington & Jefferson men’s golf team are going to get a chance to live that dream in October when they make the 3,300-mile voyage across the Atlantic to the Emerald Isle. The team will spend five days competing at the first-ever Waterville Collegiate Classic on the Waterville Golf Links, located on the southwestern tip of the country in County Kerry.
“The opportunity to travel to Ireland is exciting in itself, but playing a college golf tournament on one of the world’s most famous courses is something our team will cherish. All of us have grown up watching the British Open and it will be unique to compete in similar conditions,” said Dove, who has helped his men’s team win three Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) titles in the last four years.
Playing championship links-style golf will provide the Presidents with a challenge mostly unseen in the United States. The course itself sits on a peninsula surrounded by Lough Currane and Ballinskelligs Bay. Because it is mostly surrounded by water, players expect a wide range of weather conditions throughout the day. Early weather reports have temperatures in the mid-50’s along with rain and strong winds for the October 15-16 tournament.
The tournament takes place during the college’s fall break period. The NCAA allows teams to engage in a foreign tour once every three years. The W&J women’s basketball squad also has enjoyed international tournament play during the past decade with a pair of December trips to The Bahamas Sunshine Shootout, while the men’s soccer team took a 10-day training trip to Spain (Almuñécar and Barcelona) in 2007.
“Interestingly, none of my players have ever played overseas. I think this is a great opportunity for our players to visit another country and learn about their culture,” noted Dove.
The five team members making the trip are junior Colin Izzo (Longmeadow, Mass./Longmeadow), sophomores Matthew Long (East Stroudsburg, Pa./Notre Dame) and Ryan Mazza (Pittsburgh, Pa./Chartiers Valley) and freshmen Evan Lestini (Bridgeville, Pa./South Fayette) and Tim Novic (Pittsburgh, Pa./Upper St. Clair). Izzo, Long and Mazza were members of the Presidents’ 2012 NCAA Tournament team.
The trip also will include an educational aspect, as Dove plans to take his team sightseeing throughout the historic countryside and on a “Seafari” in the Kenmar Harbor. The 10-mile excursion through the harbor includes panoramic views of the Cork and Kerry Mountains and sights of Irish monuments and buildings dating back more than 5,000 years.
The Waterville Links Golf Course is quite historic in its own right. An early, rough version of golf was first played on the then-nine-hole course in 1889. Since that time, it has evolved into one of the longest and toughest championship courses in Europe. The par-72, 7,184-yard course is ranked 18th in the world by Golf World Magazine (U.K.). Professional golfers, including Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara, Lee Janzen and David Duval, have played Waterville in preparation for the British Open.
With the help of W&J alumni, Dove has made it a priority to offer his student-athletes with opportunities to play the top courses in the world. During the team’s 2011 spring break, Washington & Jefferson played the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, home of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The stadium course is ranked 16th by the same Gold World Magazine.
Not only will the team face a rigid test from the course, but the competition during the two-day tournament also will challenge the Presidents, who will be the lone NCAA Division III group competing. Division I programs at Davidson College, Rutgers University and the University of Richmond will be joining W&J on the trip to Ireland and two collegiate squads from Great Britain may enter the tournament as well. While the trip is designed to be fun and educational for the players, Dove, who played collegiately at Division I University of Akron, knows that when it comes time to play, his team will be ready.
“My players and I are always of the mindset to win every tournament, whether it’s a Division I, II or III event. That expectation will be no different in Ireland and I am hopeful that we can put ourselves in position to win.”
The opportunity to take his squad to the international event came from Dove’s friendship with Rutgers Head Coach Rob Shutte. Shutte previously had served as the head coach at Division III Muhlenberg College, a frequent competitor of W&J throughout the fall and spring. After learning of the newly created collegiate tournament in Ireland, Dove approached Shutte about having a Division III program compete in the tournament. With the help of W&J alumni and through team fundraising, the Presidents were able to secure the necessary funding to make the trip overseas.
With just two weeks until they depart, Dove, who is being joined on the trip by his father, is making final preparations with his players. Dove knows that golfing in Ireland will be a challenging, yet thrilling experience, especially for his five golfers. “I hope that my players have an experience of a lifetime,” he said.