From Varsity to Club: A Tale in Three Tees


Photo Courtesy of Jay Messina

The club golf team is open to anyone who loves to golf or wants to learn the sport. The team brings together athletes from a variety of backgrounds, such as men’s lacrosse, baseball, and swimming and diving, as well as non-athletes with a passion for golf.

Three years ago, two guys with a little too much free time and a passion for golf had an idea.

In fall 2016, Jay Messina — College senior and varsity men’s lacrosse player — and John Sutherland, OC ’18, started Oberlin’s co-ed club golf team. Many of the founding members were teammates from the men’s lacrosse team, but as word spread throughout campus, others joined as well. What began with two students is now at over 20, with six new players coming in this year.

While the team is predominantly composed of men’s lacrosse athletes, members also come from the men’s baseball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, football, and women’s soccer teams. Through the club sports fair and word of mouth, the team has added members who don’t play varsity sports at all.

“I’ve been into golf all my life and was hoping there would be a way to continue playing at Oberlin,” said College sophomore Thomas Kumar, a non-varsity athlete. “My roommate, who’s on the lacrosse team, mentioned his teammate runs the team and connected me. I was welcomed right away and am so happy that I have friends to golf with now,”

Part of the golf team’s goal is to provide opportunities for students with varying levels of familiarity with the sport. Some members shoot in the 80s and break into the 70s from time-to-time; others don’t keep score and are there to enjoy the outdoors with a group of friends.

Before the club team allowed students to compete in such a relaxed environment, Oberlin had a varsity golf team. However, due to low participation over several years, the school decided to conserve resources and shut the team down in 2013.

Because of the high level of interest in the new club team, many have discussed the idea of golf being reinstated as a varsity sport at Oberlin. However, members fear that transitioning to a more competitive environment would be detrimental to the club team’s relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Additionally, the commitment level would increase — currently, the team plays just once or twice a week at the Forest Hills Golf Club down the street in Elyria, and members value the club as an outlet for the stresses of school.

“Lacrosse is a very physically demanding and competitive sport, so golf is a nice complement,” Sutherland said. “Golf is really versatile and can be as competitive or relaxed as you want it to be. If you want to go out and try to set a personal record, you still get a similar type of competitive experience as lacrosse. Or if you just want to go blow off steam and relax, you can shoot a 100 and still have fun.”

Don’t be fooled by its status as a club, though — the golf team still competes. As a member of the National Collegiate Club Golf Association, which hosts tournaments for colleges all over the United States, Oberlin’s team plays schools throughout the Midwest. Past opponents have included schools like the University of Pittsburgh, Robert Morris University, Cleveland State University, Pennsylvania State University, and many more. In less than four weeks, the team will head up to the Hawk Hollow Golf Course in Michigan to play in a tournament Oct. 13–14.

“The best thing I’ve done since I got on campus was join the club golf team,” said College first-year Ryan Petraco. “The team consists of an awesome group of people, and I couldn’t be more excited heading into my first tournament with the club.”

If players perform well enough in the competition, they could qualify for nationals, which will be held at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this year. While no one from Oberlin’s club team has ever qualified, some believe this year’s new talent could change that.

While many club sports on campus have long histories of dedicated student leadership, this one in particular wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of current Oberlin students like College seniors Jacques Forbes, Jack McGowan, and Elie Small.

Forbes, who has been the club’s treasurer multiple times, has spent countless hours with president Messina handling paperwork and logistics to provide golf outings with a suitable atmosphere for all skill sets. “The ball eventually goes in the hole,” Forbes jokes throughout rounds.

McGowan has also been a treasurer in the past, and has played an important role in atracting new members. His genuine, welcoming personality and great ideas for outreach have really pushed the club to expand every year.

For his part, Small finds his niche in tournament play and helps coordinate player participation in various matches. Much like Sutherland, he is always eager to get in a round of golf and is a pleasure to play with.

While the golf team will say goodbye to many senior leaders this spring, a very eager group of students are ready to rise up and take the club to new heights. College junior and student-athlete Tyler Hartman holds rank as one of the team’s strongest players, and he spends summers working on a golf course in New York.

“I want to continue building upon what Jay has created,” Hartman said. “I’ll be putting in effort to keep expanding the club with outreach for new members. I would also like to start exploring new courses in the Ohio area to help prepare us for the courses we’ll see in tournament play.”

The team has high hopes for College first-years like Petraco and Mike Muldoon, who have demonstrated their commitment by coming to every outing thus far. While the seniors’ Oberlin golf journey will end in the spring, the club will continue on and hopes to grow for years to come.

Students who are looking to join or would like more information are highly encouraged to contact club president Jay Messina ( [email protected]).