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Eastern men’s golf legacy lives on despite elimination

For a school that scrapped its men’s golf program six years ago, Eastern Washington University has managed to leave a remarkably large footprint on our region’s courses.

Seven EWU graduates serve as head golf professionals at some of our best local courses, while two others have landed jobs at prestigious resort courses in California and Hawaii. Several others are employed as assistant pros at local courses.

“It’s really amazing, when you think about it,” said Eagles women’s coach Marc Hughes, who was also in charge of the men’s program in 2002 when university officials decided to gas it for financial reasons. “We’ve had a lot of former players and alums who have stayed around and carved out careers in the golf business.

“I can’t really pinpoint why we’ve produced so many golf professionals, but it might have something to do with the culture. Eastern is a small regional institution, and it draws – for better or worse – more of the local-type players who just don’t seem to want to leave the area.”

Among the local head pros who have degrees from EWU are Indian Canyon’s Gary Lindeblad, Hangman Valley’s Steve Nelke, Avondale’s Dan Porter, MeadowWood’s Bob Scott, The Fairways at West Terrace’s Kris Kallem, Twin Lake Village’s Darin Vaughan and Hayden Lake Country Club’s Matt Bunn. All but Scott are former members of the Eagles’ now-defunct men’s golf team.

In addition, Kyle Kelly is the head pro at Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and Scott Carroll serves as the head pro the Kapalua Resort’s prestigious Plantation Course in Maui, where the PGA Tour’s Mercedes-Benz Championship is held each January.

EWU graduate Brad Rickel is the women’s golf coach at Gonzaga University after having worked as an assistant pro at Manito Golf and Country Club and The Creek at Qualchan.

“As far as being in the golf business, there’s just a ton of guys from Eastern,” said Vaughn, who is in his sixth year as the head pro at Twin Lakes Village Golf Club in Rathdrum. “You start talking Pac-10 and some of those kinds of schools and you’ll probably find more guys who are making a living playing golf. But I can’t think of many that have produced as many club professionals as Eastern.”

Mark Poirier, who is an assistant at The Creek at Qualchan and a junior on the Eagles golf team when it was mothballed, feels he and his teammates benefited from practicing at various local courses.

“Just through practicing at all the different courses, our team became fairly close with the head professionals around here and made some contacts that way,” he said. “We all loved the game and wanted to stay in it, so a lot of us got in the golf profession by kind of knowing the right people.

“It gets your foot in the door.”

Poirier recalled the day he first learned his college golf team was being shut down.

“Mark told us, I believe, after our first tournament in the Tri-Cities that year,” he said. “I just remember all of us being bummed out about it, because we were all pretty passionate about the game.”

When the program folded in spring 2002, it was among the best in the Big Sky Conference, which also dropped men’s golf as a team sport that year. Vaughan was an assistant coach under Hughes at the time and remembers being disappointed in hearing of program’s demise.

“It was a program that seemed to be producing a lot guys who either stayed in golf or became successful businessmen in our community,” Vaughn said. “It was really disappointing to see it all end, because it gave an outlet to a lot of local guys who wanted to play competitive golf.”

Several former Eagles got together during this year’s Rosauers Open and Hughes does his best to stay in touch with all of them.

That makes sense on several levels, including fundraising. But Hughes admits not all of his former players are eager to contribute because of the bitterness some still feel about the decision to drop the program they helped develop.

Poirier, who was born and raised in Wenatchee, still harbors some resentment, even though Eastern did honor his golf scholarship during his senior year. But he has no regrets about the time he spent in Cheney.

“It was great,” he said. “I had the time of my life in college. I liked the smaller-school atmosphere and the golf here in Spokane was great. And even though I’m still disappointed that they dropped our program, I came away from there with some new lifelong friends.”

And a chance, perhaps, to eventually add his name to Eastern’s growing number of head golf pro alumni.