For the Gainesville High boys and girls golf teams, winning is not just a goal. It’s an expectation.
This season began with a coaching shuffle within the Gainesville golf program, but despite the change in leadership, the results have thus far been the same. Both teams took home first place in this week’s Hall County Championship, defending their titles.
Clay McDonald, who is in his first year as the director of the Red Elephants golf program, said the early season event is one the team has had circled on the calendar from the get-go.
“It’s our home county,” he said. “It’s where we live and where everybody is from. We know everybody is watching. It takes on another meaning, another level of importance, if you will, because it is so near and dear to our hearts and right at home in our backyard.”
Gainesville’s players are largely in agreement.
Zayne Hilderbrand, who took home the individual boys title at the event, said the win sends a message to other teams in the area.
“A lot of people around Gainesville really cherish this tournament and really see it as a very important tournament,” he said. “A lot of our friends play in it. We know every school that’s there. We know the caliber of teams that are there. We work really hard to keep defending it, because we want everybody to know that Gainesville is still on top.”
The Red Elephants have held that spot for quite a while.
Gainesville’s boys have now won 10 straight Hall County titles, 24 overall since the event started in 1990, while the girls have won four in a row. McDonald, who has had a hand in several of those wins for both groups, said the biggest key to sustained success is constantly staying prepared.
“Once upon a time, we were all decent players ourselves, so we know and understand what it takes to prepare a player to go out and compete on any given course in any given tournament,” McDonald said. “You add that along with depth and talent, and that’s a pretty deadly combination there.”
As the program developed a reputation of success, that compounded into even more winning. Now, according to McDonald, practicing hard is an easy sell to young golfers who are all too eager to buy in to what Gainesville has built over the years.
“The past success and traditions that we have and that we hold near and dear to our heart, no question kids want to be a part of that,” he said. “And we want them to be a part of it.”
The Red Elephants boys team lost four seniors from last year’s team, so competing at the highest level was always going to be an uphill climb.
But with a Hall County Championship victory already under its belt, the Gainesville squad has plenty of confidence as the bulk of the golf season proceeds.
“Our main goal this year is to win state,” Hilderbrand said. “And I think we have a really good chance to do that.”