Not to be fore-gotten: Golf teams reflect on community

by Ethan Strauss | 10/6/20 2:00am


Peter Williamson '12 was named Ivy League player of the year three times, won three individual Ivy League championships and was an All-American.

by Andy Mai / Courtesy of Hanover Country Club

After playing over 150 seasons combined, the men’s and women’s golf teams’ trajectories came to an abrupt end as part of the athletic cuts this summer. Reflecting on the legacy of the programs, both current golfers and alumni fondly recalled the sense of community they found through the sport.   

The official Big Green men’s golf team was founded in 1904, following the creation of the Hanover Country Club in 1899 as a nine-hole course. The women’s team only started playing in the early 1980s, several years after Dartmouth began co-education. Though small, the teams had plenty of talent, with a history of All-American and All-Ivy League selections.

Within 20 years of the team’s founding, Dartmouth men’s golf took home its first and only national championship title in 1921. That team included A. Pollack Boyd ’22, who in 1922 became Dartmouth’s first and only individual national champion.

Over the next century, Dartmouth claimed three additional conference championships: an Eastern Intercollegiate Tournament title in 1970 and two Ivy League Championships in 1978 and 1983. In total, the team had seven All-American golfers and four Ivy League players of the year. Sandy McWilliams ’70, Mark Trauner ’83 and Peter Williamson ’12 each took home both honors. 

Coach William Johnson guided the team through its most successful season, coaching from 1966 until 2001 and amassing a 163-73-1 record en route to enshrinement in the Golf Coaches Association of America’s Hall of Fame. At least one Big Green golfer earned an All-Ivy First Team selection during 11 of his final 12 years.

Dartmouth women’s golf, founded within a decade of the College admitting female students, contributed one All-American, Susan Johnson ’85. Additionally, the team has produced five First Team All-Ivy League golfers, with Lauren Epstein ’00 bringing home the honors three times. Most recently, Kaitlyn Lees ’22 and Catharine Roddy ’19 earned spots on the All-Ivy First Team, while Jessica Kittelberger ’18 and Maddie Nelson ’20 garnered Second Team spots.

The team was on the rise, having just completed its best season in 2019. That year, the team finished second at the Ivy League Championships, and coach Alex Kirk was named Ivy League Coach of the year.

“I think you can tell that just from the emotion of the team, we were gonna win an Ivy League Championship this year or next year,” Kirk said. “That's how strongly I feel about this team. … [With] the recruits that were coming in, we were a team to reckon with right now.”

For members of both teams, golf at Dartmouth was about the close-knit team dynamics and vibrant alumni network. The Big Green community, isolated deep in the New Hampshire woods, is the reason why many players chose Dartmouth. Premier academics and the ability to play for a storied program also played an important role for Williamson, a three-time individual Ivy League champion.

“Dartmouth gave me the opportunity to come in and really make a difference for a program,” Williamson said. “It was a great opportunity to be able to play on a consistent basis … and really work to build up a program that had had a long history.” 

Angela Zhang ’23 said that the ability to play Division I golf for Dartmouth’s award-winning coaches was a privilege. 

“Out of all the colleges I’d been to, all the coaches I’d interacted with, Coach Kirk by far was the one who stood out the most because he was very understanding and compassionate,” Zhang said. 

Despite the rosy memories, playing golf during the cold New Hampshire winters proved challenging when outdoor practice became impossible. To overcome this natural disadvantage, the team practiced on the virtual range in the Leverone Field House and made long trips to compete further south, especially at the start of spring. According to men’s captain and All-Ivy Second Team selection Jason Liu ’21, these long hours in the car epitomized Dartmouth golf; they were bonding experiences that made the team a family. 

“That experience of traveling with the team and playing with [the team] ... combined with the fact that our Dartmouth team is so close — we were just basically an extended family at this point,” Liu said. “I think that's what made us really unique, and I just really couldn't have found a better family here at Dartmouth.”

This community has lasted well beyond graduation for many players, with a dedicated golf friends and alumni network. The Friends of Dartmouth Golf network has become even more involved since the teams were cut, according to Zhang. 

“The alumni community for golf has always been really strong, and I think even after we graduated it got even stronger,” Williamson said. “... It's sort of a mixture of alumni and people that support the program, and having support like that while you're in school, I think you take it a little bit for granted as a student.”

Alumni also play a role in helping players find internships and jobs after graduation. Kirk said that the alumni “would do anything” for the team, discussing career plans with members of the team whenever Kirk asked them to.

Although their varsity athletic careers with Dartmouth may be over, many players are continuing their golf careers on the individual tour. After refining their craft for thousands of hours, golf has become more than just a hobby or sport.

“I feel like I really want to at least give competitive golf a shot professionally,” Liu said. “And even if it doesn't work, I'll still be competing on the amateur level because I really think that golf [has] become so much of my life that I really can't just put the clubs away.”

The golfers expect that the community will persist beyond formal team recognition. Even as players go their separate ways, Zhang said she expects the family created during practices and tournaments to remain.

“I miss having that drive to fight for something,” Zhang said. “These are people I consider as my family, and having that common goal and being so close to reaching the Ivy League Trophy. ... I really missed that because it's not the same fighting for yourself as it is fighting for an entire team.”