The Greenwood Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs golf teams have concluded their 2021 seasons after playing in their respective state tournaments over the past couple weeks. The GHS ladies played on Monday, September 27th at Glenwood Country Club in Glenwood, while the GHS men played this past Tuesday, October 5th, at Mystic Creek Country Club in El Dorado. The Lady Bulldogs finished second in the state in Class 5A, but had to win a two-hole playoff to do so. The Bulldogs placed sixth overall in a field of 12 teams. The two teams are coached by Ronnie Sockey (girls) and Tyler Woods (boys).
For the third straight year (2019-21) the GHS girls have finished as state runners-up after winning their last state title in 2017. They placed third in the state in 2018. Both GHS coaches accompanied Greenwood’s top five female players to Glenwood on Sunday for a practice round before the tournament on Monday. The Lady Bulldogs had played the same course earlier in their season, hoping to get familiar with it before post-season competition began.
“That played a big part in us having a better round at the state tournament,” said Coach Sockey. “It not being our first time on that course. We had a practice round on Sunday and our girls felt better about playing on it. We had some high scores down there a couple of weeks [before], but they improved their rounds a lot.” The course is located between Lake Hamilton High School and Glenwood, he added.
“It’s nice,” he said of the course itself. “It has a great layout, but the conditions were really tough. It is similar to Vache Grass in that it sits on a hill. The fairways are hard and kind of rocky. They allowed the girls to play everything up a grip length and that helped. We haven’t had much rain and the greens were really dried out. That made them a lot harder. You couldn’t hardly stop a ball on the greens. It was tough, but the girls handled it well.”
“We took five girls and played four. We had two younger girls that we wanted to get them some experience. One of them played in the conference tournament last week, and the other girls played in the state tournament just trying to get them some experience for next year. Addison Curtis and Maleigha Carney were our number four and five girls,” said Sockey. Carney shot a 120 at Glenwood against state competition in only her second time on the course.
The tournament kicked off at 9 a.m. and for the final time in their careers, seniors Hallie Jones and Grace Woody led their teammates into battle on the links. Both young ladies have been part of a formidable tandem over the past three years to keep the Lady Bulldogs near the top of Class 5A, and both will continue their careers at the college level. They will be missed.
“Hallie Jones shot an 81 and she was among the top four finishers,” said her coach. “Grace Woody shot a 91 and she made the top seven and All-State. I think the winning score was a 76. Our #3 girl was Maggie Leonard. She shot a 101, but she made a birdie on her last hole that secured the tie for us. She made like a 55-foot birdie putt. She got one to go in and that ended up being the difference. Sometimes you just need some luck.” Two weeks earlier Leonard had scored a 118 on the same course. “She cut 17 strokes off her round and that proved to be big for us,” said her coach.
“Hallie was right there to finish in the top two or three, but she had a couple bad breaks on her last two holes that hurt a little bit,” said Sockey, who then explained the playoff procedure. “It's two-on-two and they count both scores on each hole. We played holes #1 and 18, both par fours. Us and Mountain Home were tied with a team total of 273.
“On the first [playoff] hole the Mountain Home girls had two par putts to win it, probably within five to 10 feet, and they both missed, opening the door for us. Hallie and Grace still had bogie putts they had to make. Grace had a four-to-five-footer that hit the lip of the cup and went all the way around and went in. It circled the cup and fell.
“So we tied the first hole and went to the second one. Mountain Home had a girl double bogie, and Grace and Hallie both had bogies. Grace made about a 12-foot bogie putt that really put the pressure on the Mountain Home girls and Hallie just needed to three-putt to win. It was an exciting finish. Their four years of grinding it out and taking lessons and all the practicing really paid off. They handled the pressure situation well. They had a big crowd following them, all the parents and their teammates, about 40 to 50 people watching them.”
As for the overall team standings, Sockey added, “The El Dorado girls won it with a 256. They had every girl back and had four or five solid players. They were back-to-back state champions, but they are graduating everybody. We had a 273.”
As for the Lady Bulldogs, “That’s the only two seniors we’ve got,” said Sockey of Jones and Woody. “Hallie’s going to sign with Arkansas Tech. Grace has a few colleges that have offered her, and she’s going to make some visits and make a decision about where she’s going to go.
“Watching [Hallie] transform from a softball girl to a golfer has been fun to watch,” said her coach in both sports. “She quit softball after her freshman year and found that love for golf, and it’s been good for her. She made the right decision. The time and effort she’s put into it has turned her into a really good player. She’s a good student and does well in the classroom too. She has the potential to do good things in college.
“Grace grew up out there at Vache Grass, but she really started working hard that freshman year and taking lessons. She lives there on the golf course and she and her dad put a lot of time in on the driving range. [Hallie and Grace] were our two leaders the last two years, for sure. They pushed each other and did a good job of leading and teaching the younger kids.
“The only real fulltime returner we have for next year will be Maggie Leonard. She will be a senior. Then we have a [few] sophomores and Maleigha Carney, but this was only her second year playing golf. I’m going to encourage our younger ones to play in as many tournaments as they can, and try to get them to the golf course as much as [possible].”
Other players listed on the Lady Bulldogs’ 2021 roster with the potential to return next season include sophomores Jessica Williams, Addison Curtis, Laci Cox, Aliana Garcia, and freshman Lauren Oler.
Replacing six departed seniors who finished third in the state last season was a tall order for Head Coach Tyler Woods, who wasn’t certain he had the players to make another appearance at state in 2021. But a remarkable finish in the 5A West conference tournament provided a one-stroke victory over Mountain Home and Russellville to earn third place for the Bulldogs and a return to state competition. They parlayed that opportunity into a sixth-place finish among a dozen teams.
Woods was effusive in his praise for this year’s team, which had several players step up their games, not to mention a couple of newcomers that made a real difference. Unfortunately, many of this season’s top players are also seniors and will be departing the program, leaving the door wide open for a few returning veterans and a promising group of incoming freshmen, according to the coach.
Four Bulldogs traveled to El Dorado earlier this week for a practice round on one of the toughest courses in the state, if not the country. Mystic Creek Country Club plays very long with tricky greens made even more inscrutable by the recent dry weather. Overall, the scores were generally high among all 12 teams with only a handful of players able to shoot below 80. Hot Springs Lakeside won the tournament with Van Buren second and El Dorado third.
Both coaches had agreed on their top five players for state – four seniors and one junior – but one fell ill the day of the tournament and did not compete. “Deacon Drennan did not play,” explained Woods, but Drennan was very instrumental in getting his teammates qualified for the state tournament.
Two weeks earlier Drennan had the best round of his career (82), parring his last seven holes at the conference tournament at Cabot to help the Bulldogs earn their state tournament berth. Fellow senior Chris Daggs also sank a putt from about 40 feet on the 18th hole for par that also loomed large in getting the ‘Dogs to state.
At El Dorado this past Tuesday the Bulldogs’ top trio all finished in the low 90s. Jake Spoon led the team with a 90, followed by junior Harrison Adams with a 91, and Daggs with a 93. Senior Joe Russell carded a 103 to round out the quartet with a total score of 378, leaving them 21 strokes behind fifth-place Little Rock Christian and 37 shots behind first-place Lakeside (341).
On the team’s Facebook page, Coach Woods posted the day’s results and added some brief comments, saying, “We are so proud of the [Bulldogs] golf team. They finished state sixth out of  teams. Maybe not the outcome we wanted, but we are so proud of each of these young gentlemen. It was a very tough course.”
Woods amplified his comments in a phone interview two days later. “A lot of people were saying that course adds about 10 strokes to your average, and it did. That’s about all our averages with about 10 strokes added. The coaches got to play it as well during the practice round, and it’s the truth. [That course] will tear you up.”
“Lakeside had the medalist, and he shot a 73 and no one could believe it,” revealed Woods. “Van Buren (346), who won our conference, finished second. Lakeside beat them by five strokes. There were 12 teams, but one (Vilonia) was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Twelve teams competed and we finished sixth.
“A lot of people might look at it and think we didn’t do that well, but we were rebuilding this year,” explained the coach. “We graduated six seniors out of our top seven players last year. If we made it back to state [in 2021], it would be a successful season, and our guys made it. They were just thrilled to be there. It was an awesome experience.
“They loved the course, even though it was challenging. It’s a reward for those guys and all the work they put in. They all showed a lot of progress this season. Everyone got better and they had good chemistry. They loved each other and are all good friends. I was just real happy for them,” said Woods.
The coach also revealed that he and Coach Sockey are brainstorming ways to get younger kids involved in the game of golf. “I’m about to put some stuff out on social media about ways that younger kids and their parents can get involved in golf. I just want more kids to get involved at a younger age. The sky is the limit for some of these kids. We’ve just got to get them involved earlier.”
Woods and Sockey hope to enlist the local Boys and Girls Club along with Greenwood’s Vache Grass Country Club and possibly Ben Geren Park in Fort Smith. Their goal is to reach children as young as six years old to cultivate a love for the game, and as they grow to teach them the skills needed to compete as teenagers in high school.
As for next season, Woods is hopeful that Harrison Adams will return after a strong junior campaign. The multi-sport athlete also plays baseball and has played football in the past before being sidelined by injuries. He also has a younger brother who plays well and could join the team as a sophomore. Other possible returnees include current sophomores Aiden Sockey, Ben Bryan, and Railin Jordan, along with senior-to-be Jack Golding, according to the current roster. The son of Coach Sockey, Aiden showed flashes of promise in his first season on the links, said Woods.
“I’m actually really excited about a group of freshmen coming in,” said the coach. “Mr. Hogeland, our art teacher, has two sons that are home schooled. They are eighth graders, and they’re twins, and both have been playing [with their dad] at Vache Grass for the past year.” Woods also mentioned the son of Greenwood schools Superintendent John Ceisla and the younger brother of Deacon Drennan as possible new additions next season.
“We’ve got a really solid group of freshmen coming in next year,” he added. “They may not actually be ready to compete with the big boys, but we’re going to work them as hard as we can and get those guys ready. We’ve got some blocks to build on, and you never know. We’ll see what happens.”