Why Not a Fall Golf Season for High Schoolers?

While weekday vacationers become scarcer after Labor Day, avid local golfers and golf-addicted travelers know late summer and early fall might just be the best time to play Door County courses.

Temperatures moderate, and fairways, greens and tees improve. On cool days, orange and yellow fall colors contrast with green fairways, which more than makes up for any discomfort from a little chill.

And, unlike at some courses in neighboring states such as Iowa and Illinois, which have high school golf seasons in fall, Wisconsin golfers won’t get rerouted to the back nine by team golf practices or meets.

But should it be that way? Maybe high school golf teams should be on the courses in late summer and fall.

The high school boys golf season – at least in northern Wisconsin – takes place in spring and officially begins when some greens are still frozen or muddy. Snowflakes fall on many early-season meets, and tournaments on courses with still-dormant grass. Many more meets are canceled, or rescheduled, making for a pileup of make-up events in early May – when snow still often falls in Door County.

More than 30 years ago, former Gibraltar High School student Jason Daubner and some of his golfing schoolmates appeared before the school board to persuade board members to start a golf program at Gibraltar High. Soon after, the Daubner and Viking teammates became Gibraltar’s first to qualify for the state meet, finishing fourth in Class C in 1990. While in high school, he also did some recruiting for the Viking team, talking with middle school students about why they might want to go out for golf in high school.

All of these years later, Daubner still questions why Wisconsin has boys golf in spring and not fall – or why it doesn’t have a fall season as well as a spring season. He said in addition to most courses being in the best shape all year by autumn, athletes who play on the baseball team but also are good at golf could join the team. Further, he said he thinks more high school-age baseball players are likely to have golf skills than the football players.

Daubner takes a position that the young golfers who play in junior tournaments and Junior PGA series events would come into a fall season sharp and focused after those competitive events.

To be clear, he’s not making a case or campaigning for fall golf – he has enough on his plate as general manager of Peninsula State Park Golf Course. We asked him what he thought, and he answered.

But it does seem strange that the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has girls golf in fall and boys golf in spring – when boys also can go out for baseball, tennis, and track and field.

WIAA has always had boys golf in spring, starting in 1923. Wisconsin didn’t have state tournaments at the peak of the Great Depression in 1933; in the war years of 1943 and ’44; or in 2020, due to COVID-19 precautions. Through 1974-85, Wisconsin had a fall and a spring season. A WIAA spokesman said the state dropped the fall golf season because of low participation levels and because the spring season had better numbers.

Jamie Christianson, PGA Head Golf Professional at Horseshoe Bay Golf Club, played other sports in high school in a northern Wisconsin area that didn’t have a golf program. He said he can see value in having the golf season in spring, despite the cold weather early in the official season.

Idlewild owner and PGA Head Professional Brandon Hansen likes hosting teams and practices in spring and finds it much more practical than fall from a business perspective. 

“As a business owner, it would be tough to reserve time for high school players to take up these tee times that are very valuable financially,” he said.

Christianson said he likes that the WIAA state tournament takes place in late May or early June, rather than at potentially colder times, such as late October or early November. Plus, golfers can come into a spring season bigger, stronger and older than in the fall.

“Most teams have volunteer practices during the wintertime in gyms, or local rec centers hitting nerf golf balls or real balls into nets,” he said. “This allows the players to keep the muscle memory over the winter months and work on swing technique and mechanics,” Christianson said. “What also happens during fall and winter sports are workout routines that don’t generally happen over the summer months.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have seen high-school players come back in the springtime for golf hitting the ball 15 to 30 yards farther than the previous year because of muscle growth and increased flexibility. If players are putting in work during the winter months and mentors/coaches are helping along the way, maintaining your golf swing is feasible over the shoulder season. It just takes commitment.”

Gibraltar team members displayed that commitment during the 2023 season, not only working at the game but persuading five more schoolmates to join the team after just two players represented the school during the 2022 season.

That’s a nice rebound for Gibraltar, which sent seven Viking teams to the state meet between 1990 and 2015 (finishing second in 2000, when Bob Spielman took second in Class D as an individual). A combined Gibraltar/Washington Island team qualified for state in 2012. Sturgeon Bay qualified teams for state three times since 1993 and Sevastopol sent teams to state in 2008, 2009 and 2012.

Gibraltar High School golf coach Matt Meacham said he’s seeing increases and decreases in numbers of golfers at the various local and Packerland Conference schools. Sturgeon Bay and Southern Door had good turnouts for their teams this past spring and finished in the top two spots in Packerland Conference play in 2023, but Meacham said some schools barely had enough players to score as a team. 

“Peshtigo went from a team that went to state a year ago to only having one [player] make state,” he said.

As for teens playing golf, Meacham said he believes the interest in the game goes through up-and-down cycles.

This reporter, personally, can’t see how a fall season – even a couple of meets and a state or regional tournament – wouldn’t pique interest in the game and build golf and coping skills.