Cullowhee, N.C - The Western Carolina men’s and women’s golf teams open their respective seasons this weekend, competing independently for individual and team titles, while also charting a combined overall score as a part of the unique Golfweek Program Challenge. Both squads will compete for a tournament championship in their independent 54-hole events. The men's and women's final score will be combined to crown an overall event champion.
The 54-hole event includes a women’s stroke play tournament at the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawley’s Island, S.C., while the men’s tournament will originate from the True Blue Plantation. The Golfweek Program Challenge, which began back in 2011, gets underway with practice rounds on Saturday, Sept. 10 with the first 18 hole round on Sunday, followed by the second and third rounds on Monday and Tuesday.
Western Carolina will be joined in the 16-team field by four-time event champion, Campbell, as well as fellow Southern Conference member, Mercer. The field also includes Boston College, Elon, Gardner-Webb, Houston Baptist, Jacksonville, Jacksonville State, James Madison, Morehead State, Radford, Stetson, Tennessee Tech, Valparaiso, and Xavier.
It is the third-trip to the one-of-a-kind, season-opening tournament for Western Carolina. The golf programs opened the 2012 season at the same event, finishing seventh out of 12 teams combined as the Catamount men finished fourth and the women were tied for eighth. The following year, former WCU men’s golfer J.T. Poston claimed his first-ever individual medalist honors in leading WCU to an event-best, fifth-place program finish.
Second-year head men’s golf coach Tim Eckberg enters this season with a full year under his belt atop the Catamount program. The WCU alum feels that his squad made progress through the spring semester a year ago, and entered this fall with more focus and purpose.
“After an intense and competitive week of qualifying for the Golfweek Program Challenge, our team is ready to get this season started on the right foot,” said Eckberg before his squad departed for coastal South Carolina. “Everything I’ve heard about this event and about True Blue Plantation has been great. I know the guys are excited to tee it up and start this season long journey towards improving and competing for the SoCon Championship.”
He added, “This first week will be a battle against 15 other strong programs – but we are ready. We have put our guys in a high-pressure environment already through our qualifying tournament, so I have a good idea of what we are going to get out of them. Our focus is to play strong, smart, team golf, and see if we can bring home a title.”
Eckberg’s scoring five includes the squad’s lone senior in Evan Smith; two juniors including the squads returning leading scorer from a season ago in Jackson Bishop, and transfer Dylan MacQueen. Sophomores Mark David Johnson – who will play in the first flight for the Catamounts on the opening day – and classmate Lawson King round out WCU’s entries.
Bishop finished with a 75.26 scoring average last season, a mark that was second on the squad and ranked 26th in the Southern Conference. He paced the squad in scoring a combined four times last year and will be counted on as an upperclassman leader. He is flanked by MacQueen, who joined the Catamount program from Cardinal Stritch University where he was originally recruited by Eckberg. The Woodstock, Ontario, native has fallen right in line with his teammates, and the NAIA PING All-America selection will be an invaluable addition to the squad.
This weekend’s Golfweek Program Challenge raises the curtain on a five-event fall for WCU’s men that concludes with the annual Hummingbird Intercollegiate at the beautiful Country Club of Sapphire Valley in Cashiers, N.C., Oct. 31 through Nov. 1.
For WCU first-year head coach Sara Anne McGetrick, the season-opening event will prove to be “on-the-job training” for the veteran coach. Officially announced as the sixth Catamount women’s head coach on Thursday, McGetrick and her new squad have had around 48 hours to bond prior to making the trek to the Myrtle Beach area.
In addition to a new skipper, the Catamount women’s scoring five will have two new faces as it hits the links. Transfers Alyssa Morahan – a native of North Reading, Mass., who most recently played at the University of Tampa – and Swedish-born junior Amanda Floberg, who began her career at Pfeiffer University before transferring to Cullowhee, comprise part of WCU’s contingent.
Floberg was a two-time Carolinas Conference selection who posted nine, top 10 finishes at Pfeiffer with a pair of medalist honors including the 2016 Carolinas Conference championship event. Morahan likewise comes in with collegiate playing experience as a transfer.
Three familiar faces to Catamount fans comprise the remainder of the squad including seniors Bethany Galloway and Ashley Thompson, and returning leading scorer from last season, sophomore Maddi Caldwell. WCU lost its top two scorers from a year ago as both Kim Mitchell (76.11) and Mariah Hopkins (77.12) – staples in the scoring lineup over the past 3-to-4 years – have both graduated. In her freshman season, Caldwell averaged a 77.32 with 22 rounds posted in the 70s. She led the team in scoring in the final three events of the 2015-16 schedule.
The Golfweek Program Challenge opens a five-tournament fall for the Catamount women that culminates in late-October, and includes hosting the Bill Berg Invitational at The Ridges Country Club in Hayesville, N.C., Oct. 16-18.
Live scoring of both events is available online through GolfStatResults.com, and linked through CatamountSports.com. Complete recaps and statistics of each round for both the men’s and women’s teams will be made available following the conclusion of play.