Rick Ruffin posted a notice that echoed through the Northern Nash High School intercom for a few days just after the start of the school year.
Any girls who wanted to play golf this fall needed to come see him. Ruffin had a few girls show interest, but none stuck around, leaving the Knights without a girls’ golf team this season.
Northern Nash is far from alone in managing a sport still looking for its identity in the Twin Counties. Nash Central, Rocky Mount High and Southern Nash each have just three golfers this year, the fewest allowed to field a complete team.
“You almost have to talk people into coming out,” Southern Nash coach Jeff Flowers said before the season. “You don’t have a lot of kids saying, ‘I can’t wait to play high school golf.’”
There are plenty of issues plaguing girls’ golf in the Twin Counties.
It’s an expensive sport, costing more than $200 to start playing.
There are plenty of other options as volleyball, cross country and girls’ tennis run coincide with the golf season.
The season officially starts Aug. 1, leaving most first-time golfers to choose between laying by the pool or learning a new – usually frustrating – sport.
In a world of immediate gratification, a four-hour round of golf is a long time for first-timers to wait.
“The pace of play and the way the generation has grown up in the world, I think that has a little bit to do with it,” Nash Central coach Randy Davis said. “... It’s not rewarding enough. It’s a lot of frustration.”
But the feeling for many coaches in the Twin Counties is that the sport will rebound.
“I do think it’s cyclical,” said Davis, who also worked at Birchwood Country Club for 20 years. “The business as a whole is cyclical. Eight or nine years ago, Birchwood had 500 members and a waiting list of people to get in. Today, there’s less than 200 members. You see the impact that the economy has had on the country club, and it (has) filtered down into all other aspects of golf.”
On a state-level, the sport of high school girls’ golf isn’t struggling.
It’s not surging, either.
Last year, 267 schools had female golfers, and there were 1,232 golfers according to the NCHSAA.
NCHSAA associate commissioner Rick Strunk said that since 2006, the number of golfers has remained between 1,200 and 1,400 despite the number of teams changing.
“At least at this point on the state level, we feel good about it because the number of schools that have indicated an interest in the sport has continued to grow and stabilize,” Strunk said.
Throughout history however, girls’ golf at the state level has shown fluctuation. Girls’ golf became an official sport in 1969, lasting just 10 years before changes had to be made.
From 1980 to 1986, there was no champion decided at the end of the season.
The NCHSAA tweaked the format, most notably by reducing the required roster number to just three golfers. However, in 1990 girls’ golf was eliminated completely.
It was added again in 1995, and in 1997, individual and team championships were re-added to the end of the season. The sport has been the same ever since.
In 2003, the state championship was divided into two classifications – 4A and 1A/2A/3A. Two years ago, the championship was divide again by giving 3A its own championship.
But the underlying factor is that the sport of golf, which usually is cultivated within country clubs, is suffering in recent years. Davis said that the PGA Tour tracked that one million fewer rounds were played last year than in 2011.
The reduction in overall play, which usually mirrors star-driven results on the professional level, trickles down to all sects of the sport causing high school roster numbers to drop and disappear completely in some cases.
“It’s not a money-making sport, so they don’t get a lot of activity and attention,” Davis said. “I have two girls. How many girls (that play golf) does Nash Central have? I’m not sure, but I know it’s more than two.”
Sometimes there are none, just ask Ruffin, who lost pay because of the lack of interest.
“In some years, it’s going to be better than others,” Ruffin said.
Just to the south, Wilson County has been able to maintain significant numbers in both girls’ and boys’ golf with Wilson Fike routinely the top team in the Big East Conference and a consistent contender for the East Regional Championship.
The reason for the differnece is Wilson County’s country clubs, to which most of their golfers are members. Youth golf is not as prevalent in Nash County, causing children to migrate toward other sports.
Once they reach high school there are just too many other draws. Girls’ golf just doesn’t wind up high on the priority list.
“There’s just not enough love for the game inside the school system,” Davis said.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com