Georgia’s men’s golf team is not accustomed to playing events at home, but ahead of the 2020-21 season, there was a real opportunity to host a tournament in Athens.
Nothing came to fruition, even though head coach Chris Haack said he offered Athens, Georgia, as a site for an all-SEC field. Consequently, the Bulldogs have had to adjust more to playing courses they have never seen before.
While the novelty of the season may be hard on the players, Haack said he enjoys using it as a test.
“I was interested in going to places I've never seen before. … I was more interested in stretching [my players’] comfort a little bit,” Haack said. “If we can go and play in different areas of the country it helps us.”
While the players enjoy the travel and exotic event locations, they still shared support for the idea of hosting something in Athens, Georgia.
“If we did end up playing here we’d have a massive advantage,” said junior Eli Scott. “I actually think we have one of the best facilities there is in [terms of] preparing for a tournament.”
Captain and fifth-year Spencer Ralston shared this sentiment.
“Home course advantage is a huge help,” Ralston said. “I think [twice] this season the team hosting the event won.”
Ralston also said he and his teammates have mainly seen the new courses this season before but during junior golf. He stressed how much was unknown when they headed to a new event.
The Bulldogs split their preparation for events between three different courses in and around Athens, Georgia: the University Golf Course, Athens Country Club and Jennings Mill Country Club.
“The Georgia course has a lot of side-hill and uphill lies,” Haack said. “You have to be on top of your game for uneven lies. For Jennings Mill, there’s a lot of out-of-bounds [space] there, so you have to drive it pretty straight. At Athens Country Club, greens are usually pretty fast, [so] you have to have really good distance control going into those greens.”
Scott and Haack said the diversity of course type gives the team a chance to prepare for almost anything at a new event.
“[This week] we set [the course] up mainly for short-sighted shots,” Scott said. “This week we’ve been mainly working on our course because of Bentgrass greens.”
Bentgrass is the same type used at the Country Club of Birmingham, where Georgia would have played this week before positive COVID-19 tests and subsequent contact tracing forced the team to stay in Athens. Haack said that knowing information like that helps him decide which course the team will prepare on ahead of an event.
Regardless of specific preparation for an event, Scott and Ralston said that the UGA Golf Course has strengthened their ability to control their tee shots and hit shots that move from right to left.