The Georgia Military College golf team had quite the road trip since leaving its campus in Milledgeville — located 90 miles from Atlanta — on its way to Chautauqua County in early June.
Along the way, it has stopped at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and played 18 holes at the home of the Greenbrier Classic, an annual PGA Tour event; and then, immediately after checking into their condominium, it took off for Niagara Falls to see all its grandeur and beauty.
Oh, and by the way, the Bulldogs seem to find the Lake Course at Chautauqua Golf Club to their liking, too.
In the first round, sparked by an even-par 72 by Ashton Denton and a 73 by Vloris Veth, Georgia Military College shot 300 as a team in the opening round of the NJCAA Division III National Championships. Their collective outstanding performance — all five players shot in the 70s — propelled the Bulldogs to a 13-shot lead over Columbus (Ohio) State CC. Sandhills (North Carolina) CC and Minnesota State Community and Technical College are tied for third at 314.
"It was definitely worth the drive," Georgia Military College first-year coach Josh Miller said. "That's the best we've played since September. … The guys have been working hard all spring and things are finally coming together. It's a great day and we've got three more to go."
But the most impressive numbers on the scoreboard, located just off the 18th green, belonged to Georgia Military College. In addition to Denton and Veth, Niklas Frimodig had a 77, Tanner Casey had 78 and Adam Price had a 78. One of the 78s was tossed out, giving the Bulldogs an even 300 for the day. Veth hails from Holland, Frimodig is from Sweden and Price is a native of Ireland.
"This is the biggest smile I've had on my face in a while," Miller said. "It's been a lot of hard work. We're just going to try and improve on that tomorrow."
With the second round of the NJCAA Division III Golf Championships complete, Floris Veth of Georgia Military College approached the scoreboard near the 18th green at Chautauqua Golf Club late Wednesday afternoon.
He had a question for Chautauqua GC pro Troy Moss.
In so many words, Veth wondered if he could take a photo of his scorecard. It was uncertain exactly what the Holland native planned to do with the image, but it's reasonable to assume that he was planning to share it with friends near and far.
It was that good.
Veth shot his second straight 1-over 73, teammate Ashton Denton added a 74 and the Bulldogs shook off a couple of difficult holes early to remain in the lead at the midway point of the tournament.
"It was definitely tougher out there today for us," first-year coach Josh Miller said. "We always stress no double bogeys and playing the par 5s well. We actually had a triple (bogey) and a (quadruple bogey) on the par 5s today. You know, if it wasn't for those two big numbers we're right where we want to be."
Although they were seven shots shy of their 300 goal for the round, the Bulldogs did enough to stay in the lead on a day that started with very cool temperatures, but grew considerably warmer as the day went along. Tanner Casey added a 79 for Georgia Military College, Adam Price shot an 81 and Niklas Frimodig's 82 was tossed out as the Bulldogs' two-day total stood at 607, 14 shots in front of Columbus State (Ohio) Community College and 22 strokes ahead of No. 3 Minnesota State Community and Technical College.
"These next two days should be good for scoring, so we're going to try and go low and try and extend the lead going into that final round," Miller said.
Going into the final round there was not much suspense at the NJCAA Division III Golf Championships. What was lost in edge-of-your-seat excitement, however, was replaced by some outstanding performances on the Lake Course at Chautauqua Golf Club
"I think I was more nervous than the guys were," said first-year coach Josh Miller. "I didn't sleep well (Thursday) night, but when everyone just piped it right down the middle on No. 1 that's when I knew it was going to be a good day."
Fielding an all-freshman team, the Bulldogs led from start to finish, highlighted by a tournament-best 299 on Friday and a 1,215 over four days to down Columbus (Ohio) State CC by 24 shots and third-place Minnesota State Community and Technical College by 33.
"It's one thing when you survive and hold on, but it's another thing when you go and just take it," Miller said. "That's what we did today. It's not that somebody else lost it, we won it."
In addition to Veth's 2-under 70, teammate Ashton Denton shot a nifty 3-under 69 for medalist honors, Niklas Frimodig had a 78, and Tanner Casey and Adam Price each had an 82, one of which was thrown out.
"We don't even have to worry about rebuilding," Miller said. "Today was a building process. When we talked in our first meeting we told them, 'You're the start of something great, and it's up to you to be great. You're laying the foundation for the program.' We want to build and turn it into a perennial power and this is just the first step. I hope I'm standing here talking to you next year."
It's a 14-hour drive one way from Milledgeville to the small town of Chautauqua, N.Y., but the added passenger in the form of an NJCAA National Championship trophy on the team van surely makes that return trip feel a lot faster.
The Georgia Military College men's golf team made the long haul to the Empire State last week for the Division III championship tournament bringing home the junior college's second-ever title and with the first coming in 2004. The Bulldogs (+63) were at the top of the leaderboard at the conclusion of each round and posted the lowest score three out of four days. Columbus State Community College out of Ohio finished in second overall 24 strokes behind the Dogs. GMC golfers Floris Veth (E) and Ashton Denton (+6) led the way for their team and earned All-American status for finishing near the top individually.
First-year head coach Josh Miller says the season got off to a strong start in the fall even though their opponents were largely from bigger programs, but the spring months were a different story for his team.
"We knew these guys had the potential," Miller said. "In the spring, for whatever reason, we just could not get it going. We shot our worst scores in the spring. It was a very frustrating time. We knew we were good, but we were still playing in these bigger tournaments. We finally played in a big JUCO tournament and we finished around 10th in a 20-team field, which is OK because we were one of the only two Division III schools there."
Then in mid-April GMC hosted the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association tournament in Macon where the coach said his team played its "worst golf of the year," which wasn't exactly great timing with nationals rapidly approaching.
"We took a few days off and then had a big team meeting where I just challenged the guys," said Miller. "Assistant coach Stephen Shipes and I asked them what they wanted this team to be and everybody's moods changed. It was great to see them come together and really put forth the effort in practice each day."
The time to qualify for nationals came in the middle of May and the Dogs really answered the challenge. They turned things around and played some of the best golf they had all year in order to earn the trip to national championship being held at Chautauqua Golf Club. The road was a long one, but included a practice round at The Greenbrier in West Virginia and a quick trip to see Niagara Falls once they made it to New York. Some research into last year's results at the national championship revealed the level of performance necessary to bring home the trophy.
"I told the guys from day one that if we could shoot a 300 average over four days we should be able to win the national championship," the head coach said. "Other than those first two rounds of the year we hadn't sniffed 300."
Cloudy and windy conditions met the golfers on Day 1, but the Dogs hit that very number to take a 13-stroke lead into round two of the 13-team field. Day 2 saw them widen their lead to 14 at the conclusion before surrendering one of those strokes in round three. Miller admitted he didn't get the best sleep of his life Thursday night heading into the final round, but put on a good face for his athletes.
"We woke up Friday and had breakfast at the same spot we had it all week. The boys never seemed nervous. I tried not to let them see me nervous. I'm not an anxious person, but I was anxious. Everybody was good on the range then we walked out on the first tee and everybody piped it right down the middle. I felt good about it then."
Through nine holes the GMC golfers were either tied or leading their respective groups, but had struggled on the back nine through the first three rounds. Coach Miller said his confidence grew by hole No. 15, and he decided to walk the final hole with each of his players knowing something special was coming.
"Every one of them had a smile on their face no matter what their score for the round was. When they were walking up 18 I just knew we had it. I don't think I've ever had that feeling of satisfaction before."
Veth and Denton led the way, but Tanner Casey, Chad Fopiano, Niklas Frimodig, and Adam Price all had a hand in GMC's second golf national title. Veth putted out on No. 18 to close out the round and was mobbed by his teammates as they celebrated their accomplishment on the green. Although Veth, the team's top performer, might return to his home in the Netherlands instead of playing again next year, Miller says he expects his team will be right back in the championship hunt.
"We've got a great class coming in next year and the rest of the guys will be back," he said sitting in GMC's less than one year old Mason Golf Performance Lab. "We think we're actually going to be deeper as a team next year where we won't have to rely on just one person."
Miller added that the new indoor practice facility definitely contributed to the team's success this season.
"There was never a day of missed practice because of weather," he said. "There were a lot of times where I would have to run the players out of here late at night because they want to be here all the time."
For now, the Championship trophy rests comfortably on the desk of Coach Miller as a reminder of the work that was done but also the work that is in front of the Bulldogs as they gear up towards another National Championship run.