Lumpkin County High golf coach Jeff Fleming knows about the intense golf following in Hall County.
Every season, Fleming’s Indians do battle on the green with teams such as North Hall, Johnson and Gainesville, all of which boast competitive programs out of Region 7-AAA.
"Our best four are as good as anyone else in the state," said Fleming, who has coached golf at Lumpkin County for seven years. "There’s such good golf here, and it’s only going to get better."
But playing against the Hall County talent didn’t keep Fleming from assembling a team that could play with the best. After snagging a second-place spot in the Region 7-AAA tournament, the Indians finished eighth in a 16-team field at the Class AAA state tournament, the highest of any area team.
"Overall, we’re very pleased with the season," Fleming said. "We worked really hard in the offseason and closed the gap on the other teams."
Encouraging his golfers to practice and play in tournaments during the summer and fall, Fleming believes the connotation of golf being a secondary sport for high school athletes is a thing of the past.
"It’s gotten to the point that it’s a year-round commitment to better yourself," he said. "If you start practicing in February, you’ll be at the bottom of the region."
Luckily for Fleming, that opportunity is well within reach, after making an agreement to practice and host matches at Dahlonega’s Achasta Golf Course, which was designed by golfing legend Jack Nicklaus. With the Northeast Georgia Mountains as a backdrop, the course appears to be an inviting experience for visitors.
The course layout, though, is anything but easy. The design challenges golfers, and has been a big reason for the program’s success, according to Fleming.
"When I started (coaching), golf was just a social thing," Fleming said. "Fortunately with Achasta, commitment has really blossomed."
Many of the students who play for Lumpkin County are also members of the Achasta’s club and play there regularly, giving Fleming a constant flow of new players looking to make the Indians’ top four. This past season’s lineup consisted of sophomore and Class AAA all-state selection Aaron George, freshman Austin Booker, junior Everett Huntsinger and senior Ben Jarrard, who signed on to play for North Georgia College & State University’s inaugural golf team in the fall.
With all but two players returning, Fleming is optimistic about next year’s team, and the chances of a region — and possibly state — title.
"We’re very eager to get back out there next year," he said. "The young golfers are seeing our program finish better each year, and they’re really excited about it."
Fleming may also be among the individuals leading the golf movement in the Lumpkin County area. With the recent success of the Indians, along with the formation of a team at North Georgia and nearby Achasta, he sees nothing but good things coming from the sport in the near future.
"It’s definitely headed in a positive direction," he said. "Players are seeing what commitment in golf can do for you."