Since he first started playing golf and first learned of the storied history of the Gainesville golf program, rising senior Pep Brown was excited to some day be a member of the Red Elephants golf team.
It only helped to have a coach like Bryson Worley to play for.
“I knew from the get go that he would be fun to have as a coach,” Brown said. “Ever since I started playing golf and I found out that Gainesville had a great team, I knew I wanted to play for coach Worley.
“He does a great job; nobody really realizes how much time he puts into our program.”
Clearly, it was time well spent.
Worley and his former assistant coach, current girls golf coach Clay McDonald, led the Gainesville golf teams to a pair of state titles earlier this month in Augusta — the first time in the history of the storied Red Elephants program that both teams won it all in the same season.
The Gainesville girls posted a score of 166 to beat Carrollton by eight shots at Applewood Golf Course, and the boys nipped Richmond Academy 294-296 to win at the Augusta Country Club.
For their efforts, Worley and McDonald have been named The Times All Area Golf Coaches of the Year.
“I don’t think we would have ever had our success without Coach Mac,” said rising junior Madeline Harr. “He’s just been amazing — the time he puts in was probably more than we do. He always kept us looking at the immediate goal in front of us. He got us to focus on Hall County, then region and then state. He helped us keep our priorities straight the whole time.”
For Worley and McDonald, golf is much more than a hobby. Both played in high school, Worley at Banks County and McDonald at Ocala Forrest High (Fla.), and both are low-handicap golfers in their own right.
Now they are focused on giving their athletes the same opportunities to improve.
“Coach Worley and myself have worked together for a long time, and have a lot of the same beliefs,” McDonald said. “He and I both play golf, are low handicap players, and were successful early on in our golf careers, and we want to pass that along to the kids.”
The Red Elephants have been able to experience a good deal of success this season, starting with each winning the Hall County Championship early in the season.
From there, the string of successes continued through a pair of Region 8-AAA titles and then to a pair of state titles in Augusta. As if that wasn’t good enough, soon after winning state, both teams were invited to the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta to commemorate their success.
For Worley, the state title was the culmination of nearly a decade of work building the boys program back to its former glory, which included five state championships before this most recent one.
Worley knew about the success and prestige of the Red Elephants golf program while playing football and golf at Banks County High. And he saw it first-hand while coaching the Elbert County golf team, telling his players after they had defeated Gainesville in an 18-hole dual match that, now, they had arrived.
So, when he got the call 10 years ago to come and be the next Gainesville boys golf coach, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“They said that the boys golf program is open and we want you to coach it,” Worley remembered. “At the time I equated it to the Valdosta football job — you don’t turn that down.”
A year later McDonald joined his staff as an assistant coach.
When the girls program came open a few years later, McDonald said he was quick to tell athletic director Wayne Vickery that he was interested in the position.
With all three of his top golfers just rising juniors, the Lady Red Elephants look to be one of the favorites even with a move up to Class AAAAA.
The boys, even with the loss of individual state champ Parks Brown to graduation, will also be well poised to make another run.
Worley and McDonald are concerned with more than just high school wins, however. Both are involved in region committees and even with the Georgia High School Association, working to improve high school golf.
The two are also active in helping their golfers reach the next level if they desire, and treat their players like they’re already there.
“(Worley’s) basically like a college coach to us,” Pep Brown said. “He helps us with all of our problems and he makes us work out twice a week.”
And both coaches are more than happy to continue to put in the work and be a part of the run.
“I can’t see going anywhere else because it would be a letdown,” Worley said. “It just doesn’t get any better.”
Unless, of course, you’re one of the Big Red golfers.
“(McDonald’s) role in our games, but also in our lives, is huge. It’s not just during golf season either. I can’t say enough about what he does for us,” Harr said. “I could spend the whole interview talking about what he means to us. He puts so much effort into all of us individually. He gets to know us, he gets to know our games and then coaches us individually.”