All three women knew they’d have to give up golf to come to Hillsdale College. None of them thought that together, they’d practice with the men’s team and compete representing Hillsdale.
“They should’ve been playing Division I golf somewhere, to be honest,” men’s coach Nate Gilchrist said.
The trio, junior Caroline Andrews, and freshmen Grace Balkan and Callie Shinkle, began practicing with the men’s team in the fall. While their group is still in the process of joining the college club team, they hit hundreds of balls and weight train just like any golf team preparing for tournaments.
“We have women who deserve opportunities to compete, so we’re going to find that for them,” men’s coach Mike Harner said. Those opportunities include an invitational in Kentucky March 17 – 18 and the G-MAC Championships April 23 – 24.
Golf was always a part of Andrews’ life. She even considered going to college on a golf scholarship. When she came to Hillsdale, she found a way to keep golfing — practicing with the men’s team her freshman year.
After one year of sports reminiscent of “She’s the Man,” Andrews said she got lonely. And of course, “life got busy,” according to Gilchrist.
But then Balkan and Shinkle also came to campus and connected through their dorm. The three started practicing together soon after.
For Andrews, this is a dream come true.
Gilchrist said, there were good women golfers on campus before, but there wasn’t a group. “Now, we can point to something,” he said.
Balkan is the one taking the bull by the horns. They’ll have team meetings, which Balkan emphasized with verbal air quotes, at Rough Draft, and lift together. In some ways, this situation is ideal: it’s no commitment, and it’s a small entrance fee to compete in tournaments.
It started with Andrews, and even with three, it’s still easy to manage, Gilchrist said, comparing how this club formed to the roots of the men’s team, which started with 12 members.
“I didn’t have to sit back and think. We need to have a women’s team. There are a lot of scholarships that go unused for women’s golf, and it’s a good marketing tool for them,” Gilchrist said. “A guy will take a good female golfer seriously.”
Andrews echoed Gilchrist with the classic golf adage, deals get closed on the golf course.
In the meantime, Andrews, Balkan, and Shinkle all agreed that this arrangement brought them together in friendships that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
“It’s fun for the three of us to be together,” Andrews said.
The fun atmosphere extends to the light banter between the women and the men’s team.
“We crashed the party,” Andrews said.
“You’re as much a part of the team as they are,” Gilchrist said.
“It’s fun, they’re great. They have to put up with all of it,” Balkan said.
Gilchrist said guys and girls do play differently. Girls play with more finesse. They control their attitudes and outbursts on the course, whereas guys play a more powerful, and in some ways more reckless, game. Traditionally, he said, women have more patience chipping and putting.
“There’s a reason campus GPA is higher,” Gilchrist said. “It’s a willingness to be taught, coached.”
Balkan said she tries to spread awareness of the club team through word of mouth, sending emails and coordinating lunches with girls who are interested.
They’re on the lookout for more women golfers. “We’re going to track ‘em down,” Balkan said.