The Methodist University golf team isn’t looking back on last year — or the year before that, or the year before that.
Yes, the Monarchs have won the Camp Lejeune Intercollegiate Golf Championship for the past three years, but Methodist coach Steve Conley said that this weekend’s tournament at the Paradise Point Golf Course on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is brand new to the 2019 golf team.
“We focus on winning, regardless of how many times in a row we may have won a tournament,” Conley said.
The tournament is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Friday and continue Saturday and Sunday. Some of the top NCAA Division III golf teams in the region will be competing for the championship, which also crowns an individual champion.
Methodist, located in Fayetteville, has won the tournament 12 times, but Conley said the event in which his collegiate team plays with amateur golfers for the first two days of the tournament has more meaning.
“We love the competition there and the way we are treated at Camp Lejeune,” Conley said. “The military environment is special, especially for me since my father was a LTC (lieutenant colonel) in the Army. Plus, Fort Bragg is in Fayetteville, which helps all of us appreciate the brave men and women who serve. The three-round tournament plus the guys getting to play with the Marines is really cool, and my guys love that. We look forward to the challenge.”
That challenge will come from 28 other teams scheduled to compete in the tournament. That includes top teams such as Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, ranked 14th in the country, No. 18 N.C. Wesleyan, located in Rocky Mount, No. 21 Oglethorpe, located in Atlanta, and the University of Mary Washington, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, which finished second last year.
But Methodist, last year’s NCAA Division III national champions, comes into the tournament ranked fifth in the country with four individual players ranked in the top 50. Larkin Gross, a two-time All-American, has a 72.69 scoring average, good for 13th best in the country. Chris Drysdale is ranked 17th nationally with a 72.73 scoring average. Dan Shepherd has already won two individual tournaments this year, and his scoring average of 73.25 ranks 19th in the country. Jacob Lowe ranks 42nd in the country with a scoring average of 74.6.
Other top golfers expected to play this weekend include last year’s individual champion Jacob Arnett, from Oglethorpe, who ranks 16th nationally this year. He shot a 65 in the first round last year and held off — among others — Gross and Drysdale, who shared second place.
Another highlight in the field will be Grady Anderson, a former Lejeune High School golfer who is a senior at N.C. Wesleyan and ranks 38th nationally.
Each team brings five players, with the lowest four scores each day counting toward the team score. The players will have one round each on the Scarlet and Gold courses on Friday and Saturday. The field is cut in half for Sunday’s final round, with the top 14 teams playing the Gold course, and the others competing on the Scarlet course.
John Johnson, head golf professional at Paradise Point, said the golfers skills on the green would be tested during the tournament.
“They are so long off the tee, but I think where they may find difficulty is around the greens,” Johnson said, pointing to the varying green speeds on the two courses. “The distance of the golf courses won’t be a concern for them, but like anything in golf, it’s all about the short game. If their putters are working and they can manage the speed of the greens on both courses, they’ll do well.”
Johnson also said the courses are in good shape. He said he hopes they will dry out after Tuesday’s rain, giving golfers a firm and fast course.
“If Mother Nature stays away from us, they are going to get a good, true challenge from both of these courses,” Johnson said. “Some of these schools are the tops in their fields, so we want to give them a true challenge.”
Others playing in the event will be a team of amateur Camp Lejeune golfers who will get to experience a true stroke-play tournament atmosphere. Tyler Jones, Steven Pippen, Marty Martinez, Filipo Bartley and James Simpson made the Lejeune team by finishing in the top five of a qualifying tournament in March.
In its 48th year the tournament continues to draw top collegiate golfing talent, players that Johnson hopes one day will make it on the PGA Tour.
“You get some of the best collegiate players playing in this tournament,” Johnson said. “As they advance in their careers in golf, you might see them on television and say ‘I remember when he was at Camp Lejeune and played in the intercollegiate.’ I hope some of them can make it. That’s what I like.”
Johnson encourages spectators to come out to the event. Those with base access can watch the tournament for free. The tournament opens with colors at 8 a.m. Friday. Tee times follow at 8:20 a.m. On Saturday, tee times begin at 8 a.m., with shotgun tee times at 9 a.m. Sunday.