County golf tournament a lengthy test

Aug. 27, 2013 @ 11:40 AM

When the county’s high school golfers embark on a three-day, three-course quest today at Gatlinburg Golf Course, they’ll need to keep one thing in mind.

It’s tough to win the title on the first day, but way too easy to lose it.

“Basically, it’s a long haul,” said Sevier County coach Chad Owenby. “You can’t go out there and get frustrated. If you play real poorly and get behind the eight ball the first day it’s hard to come back.”

Owenby’s Smoky Bears will be one of six teams teeing off this afternoon in the annual McNelly-Whaley Sevier County High School Golf Championship. The tournament, which includes boys and girls teams, moves to Creekside on Wednesday before wrapping up at Sevierville Golf Club on Thursday.

McNelly-Whaley General Sales manager Joe Whaley said his dealership has been sponsoring the tournament for nearly a decade. The tournament typically draws county dignitaries for the awards ceremony and the dealership, led by owners Daniel and Seth Webb, has tried to make improvements each year.

“Some past players go on and play college golf and that’s a big deal,” Whaley said. “You remember them playing as a freshman in high school. It’s a big thing just to watch these kids develop throughout their four years of high school. ... It just makes you feel good just to watch them, watch their golf games develop. It’s a lot of fun.”

This year the dealership will post a scoreboard on its website (www.mcnellywhaleyfordlincoln.com) after each day.

Seymour coach Gary Householder said he feels like his defending champion Eagles can compete near the top of that leaderboard. The problem could be a lack of experience. With several young players, some Seymour golfers will be seeing courses for the first time.

“We’ve tried to just minimize their mistakes,” Householder said. “Hit some shots out of trouble. (Simulate) the challenges they’re going to face on these golf courses.”

Wes Jones has been Householder’s most consistent boy while Katelyn Witucki, just a freshman, can claim that title on the girls side.

Rick Rollar is feeling good about the tournament at nearby The King’s Academy. Rollar said his golfers may not be shooting super-low scores, but they aren’t high either. The Lions are extremely consistent this season.

“We have a consistent regimen as far as practice,” Rollar said. “They put a lot of dedication into their game.”

Rollar is hoping that dedication will help his top three of Eli Davis, Josh Keller and Griffin Gantte compete with the likes of bigger schools like Sevier County. The Bears have been led early by Ben Huskey, who shot a 32 earlier this year at Sevierville Golf Club, and Spencer Cross, who has been under par a couple times this season.

Coach James Risser's G-P team enters the first round following a four-team match last week where Will and Terry King as well as Connor Sise led the Highlanders in scoring. Risser is also entering two senior girls in Chelsey James and Mason Green.

"This is the one event that all the kids in the county really enjoy," Risser said. "There’s always that in-county rivalry. ... I think it's going to be fun to watch."

Today’s round will also be on Pigeon Forge’s home course. Tigers coach Mitchell Whaley said that’s an edge.

“That’s good for us to start out on our home course,” the coach said. “You hear a lot about home-field advantage in other sports. It’s so true in golf. ... The kids are excited to stay in the county and play on the courses they’re familiar with.”

The Tigers are expecting Tyler Bohanan to be in the mix. Mitchell Whaley said the junior struggled early but has come on strong recently. The coach is also expecting a good showing from freshman Derek Campbell, who has a nice swing.

Joe Whaley is hoping all the golfers will get a memorable three rounds of golf in.

“It’s something all these young men and young women, it’s memories they can take with them throughout their life,” he said.