Gainesville athletic director Wayne Vickery has been at Gainesville High since 1978, and in that time he has witnessed numerous Red Elephant state championship teams, including basketball, baseball and golf, among others.
But he’d never seen two state champions on the same day. That is, until last week in Augusta, when the girls, and then the boys, won Class AAA state golf titles within a few hours of one another.
“That ranks up there with the best memories at Gainesville in my time here, and there have been a lot of great memories,” Vickery said. “Seeing those girls come down the stairs at the Augusta Golf Club with those medals, and knowing that Gainesville had won both state championships, it’s hard to compare.”
It was the convergence of two storied golf programs succeeding together for the first time in school history, and while it was certainly unusual for both to have won the same year, it’s little surprise that of all the schools in the state to have a pair of golf state champs, that Gainesville would be the school.
Much of the reason comes down to one simple point: The Red Elephants take golf seriously.
“Gainesville has a rich golf history,” Vickery said. “Traditionally, we’ve got a very strong tradition in golf.”
Gainesville boys golf coach Bryson Worley looked to that tradition when he was first hired specifically to coach the boys golf team nearly a decade ago.
“Tradition is huge. The golf program has always been very good, and a lot of people take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “When I came in 2003 I tried to get the alumni together.
“I think you have passionate people involved in the program.”
The focus on the program has shown through for a while now, with the Lady Red Elephants winning state titles in 2003 and 2004, and the boys winning five state championships prior to this year.
Having a long-time home course in the Chattahoochee Golf Club has only helped that tradition.
“It’s helpful to have a nice facility like Chattahoochee,” said Gainesville girls coach Clay McDonald, who added that playing at a high-caliber course regularly helps the teams prepare for bigger tournaments. McDonald started as Worley’s assistant before taking over the girls program.
Worley added that the two teams are in very select company in the entire state with having their own locker rooms at the course. He also credits the long list of successful alumni of the Gainesville golf program who have stuck around to help future teams.
Of course, success in any sport starts with the players, and in that regard Gainesville is well positioned for a few more runs.
On the girls side, each of the top three golfers during the season are sophomores, with two more years ahead to continue this run.
And the depth on the team will be even more rewarded next season when the Georgia High School Association implements a rule that will count three girls golf scores for each match as opposed to the two that have been counted.
It will only help the Lady Red Elephants, whose third-best golfer at region, Morgan Reece, actually finished with the third best score overall at the tournament before going out and posting the second-best score at the state tournament at Applewood Golf Course.
“I think its going to play into our favor,” McDonald said. “Knowing this was coming I’ve spent more time looking at the third scores this year, and I think we’re going to be hard to beat.”
The boys, too, return many of their top golfers — excluding Class AAA individual champion Parks Brown — off of a team that was favored to win in Augusta.
“We knew we were going to be pretty good,” said Worley, who added that the record-setting performance at the Hall County Championships early in the season raised expectations even further.
That event served notice of just what Gainesville could do, as both the boys and girls teams grabbed wins.
“We set a lot of records,” Worley said. “On paper it’s the most successful season we’ve ever had.”
McDonald said that the success of the program breeds future success, that young golfers see what the varsity is doing and want to be next, meaning that a big drop-off isn’t likely, even with a move up to Class AAAAA.
“The thing is, they’re mostly underclassmen on both teams,” Vickery said. “I know we’re probably going to be the favorites.”