PAWTUCKET — When Tolman High’s golf team gathered at Pawtucket Country Club on Thursday afternoon for a dual-meet with North Providence, the Tigers represented a varsity sports program whose success is not based on its win-loss record.
“In the case of golf, our first goal is to just expose the kids to the game,” Tolman athletic director John Scanlon admitted. “A large number of kids (at Tolman) have not played golf. We’ve always felt golf is a lifetime activity.”
The sport is among the least expensive to fund in the school’s athletic budget, Scanlon admitted.
“Pawtucket Country Club does not charge us for the golf and we’re really grateful to them for that,” said Scanlon. “The kids provide their own equipment. We pay a $300 fee to use the driving range (in South Attleboro). That’s where the team practices.”
Scanlon, who grew up in Pawtucket many years ago, remembers when Tolman produced some legitimate players.
“Russ Ainsworth was an all-stater back in the 1960s,” Scanlon recalled. “Jimmy Cherry finished second in the state back in the late 1980s. But the city has changed over the years. The kids from Countryside who used to grow up playing golf at Pawtucket Country Club, they now usually go to private schools.”
None of the city players from either Shea or Tolman are going to break 40 for nine holes during the scholastic season. Scanlon said the object is to see the players improve from the start of the season to the end.
“We’ve got some kids shooting in the low 50s,” he said. “The kids who come out for golf as freshmen and stick with it usually improve quite a bit. This year, we have a few hockey players on the team. We’re holding our own.”
Greg Barker has been the Tolman golf coach for 12 years. He coached Shea basketball for a few years before taking a break to raise his family. And he plays golf on the side.
“As much as my wife lets me,” he said with a smile on Thursday afternoon before sending his players out to the first tee.
“Coaching golf is a lot less stressful,” Barker admitted. “I’ve taken a few lessons and understand the mechanics of a golf swing. I can help the kids out in practice. Most of my players play during the summer and they might get some special instruction at their own golf courses. We have 15 kids on this team and they’re all at different levels. When we go to the driving range, I try to work with the kids who need the most help. We’re really trying to introduce some of the kids to golf. If they want to stick around for four years, they usually improve their games a lot by the time they graduate.”
Barker, who is also a school teacher, believes golf offers some basic lessons that can be carried over into real life.
“Golf teaches players to be honest,” Barker said. “They learn about integrity. Cheating is not allowed in golf. Each player is on his own and must learn to be honest about playing the game according to the rules. And they also learn about friendship. Some of my best friends are the guys I play golf with.”
Tolman took a 2-2 record into Thursday’s match with North Providence. A brisk wind blew across the golf course as the players waited to tee off. Wind is the enemy of young players who are still working on the mechanics of their golf swing.
“I don’t look at our win-loss record as much as the players’ individual scores,” Barker said. “We’re basically looking for improvement as the season goes on. It’s tough to play well this early in the season. I wish they would switch golf to the fall because the weather is better then.”
Six of Tolman’s golfers are members of the school’s hockey program. Barker reads off the list: Ryan and Jared Pedro, Alan Benoit, Jared DaSilva, Ryan Deighan and Andrew Howe.
“There are some similarities between the golf swing and taking a shot in hockey,” Barker conceded. “We’ve got a lot of hockey players on the roster. They know how to compete.”