published Monday, May 19th, 2014

North Georgia high school golf programs build into state contenders

  • photo
    LaFayette junior golfer Jacob Morgan watches his putt during a practice round with teammate Kurt Ingram Thursday at LaFayette Golf Course. The Ramblers are one of six teams competing for a state championship today.
    Photo by David Uchiyama

The LaFayette golf team has already established itself in the school record book. The Ramblers last won a region championship when most of this team was sporting diapers.

They're going for more history today.

LaFayette has not won a state championship golf tournament since 1976. That banner hangs inside the gymnasium next to championship banners from other sports.

"We talk about that a lot," LaFayette coach Tom Langford said. "I think this generation of golfers could win one too.

"Heck we treasure the region championship because they don't happen all that often."

The Ramblers will be joined by familiar faces for the Class AAAA championship today at Westlake Country Club in Augusta, Ga. Both Dalton and Heritage advanced as teams, and Ethan Hayes of Northwest Whitfield advanced as an individual through a sectional tournament two weeks ago.

Teams from Gordon Lee and Trion will be competing today Forest Hills Golf Club. Calhoun and Dade County individual Chase Cole will be playing at Applewood Golf Course. Jordan Estes of Ringgold and Branton Bailey of Gordon Central are playing in Class AAA championship as individuals.

"We're looking forward to it," Dalton coach Hunter Johnston said. "Heritage has some great players, and our guys have buddied-up with them this season. LaFayette has a lot of talent and is capable of scoring low rounds.

"All three teams belong here and deserve to be here."

All three also are similar in that they're playing for schools that have developed a program that begins -- even though Heritage is a young school by comparison -- before golfers are freshmen. Most play together in middle school and improve as they age.

At LaFayette, Langford will shoot the breeze with middle school players who are siblings of his players as much as he talks to the high school kids.

"It just feeds itself," Langford said. "They become buddies, families get involved and they see it in a social way. Once they leave other sports, they stay with golf."

LaFayette junior Jacob Morgan has won three tournaments this season: the Gordon Lee Invitational, the Nob North Invitational and Fields Ferry Invitational. He has a brother on the middle-school team. Cole and Kurt Ingram will hit the Ramblers first tee shots today.

"Most of us started about sixth grade and kept playing," Morgan said. "[LaFayette Gold Club head pro] Eddie Jackson puts together a lot of summer stuff, and its fun out here."

Kurt Ingram, a senior, joined the program as a freshman.

"It's paid off over the years," he said. "My freshman year, I was shooting high 80s, and this year I can get it down to three or four over. Everybody plays what they can."

Johnston uses Dalton's tradition as motivation and support. The Catamounts most recent state championships came in 2004 and 1998.

"I tell them that they're part of something bigger than themselves to let them know they've got a lot of people rooting for them," Johnston said. "There are so many people interested to see how we do."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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