One of the bigger local events to get hit with the COVID pandemic shut down was the annual Schenkel Invitational. The annual collegiate golf tournament hosted by Forest Heights Country Club was forced to shut down the day before teams were set to tee off.
The Georgia Southern golf team rolled into Schenkel week looking to defend their 2019 title and were heartbroken with the news that not only the tournament was cancelled, but that their season was shut down as well.
The good news for spring sport seniors was the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility allowing the seniors who thought their careers were over to have the opportunity to play another season. Georgia Southern seniors Jake Maples and Brett Baron were happy to get that chance, and for Barron the chance to play in the Schenkel was a huge factor in his decision to return.
“It is without a doubt my favorite tournament of the year,” said Barron. “I think if I had been able to play in the Schenkel last year, and maybe like one or two other tournaments I probably wouldn’t have come back. The atmosphere at the Schenkel with our friends and family being out here is so special. The chance to win as a team and to do well individually means so much to me.”
Eagle head coach Carter Collins feels missing the Schenkel last year hasn’t added any more motivation to winning the tournament this year but admits it has made them appreciate it much more.
“We got through the practice round last year, and then found out that everything was done for the spring,” said Collins. “Uncertainty was in the air through the fall as well. To be able to have a fall and a whole spring, especially with our two seniors in Jake Maples and Brett Baron is so special."
"It’s like Disneyland for many of the guys this week," said Collins. "Some of these guys came here in order to compete in the Schenkel at our home course at Forest Heights against the kind of competition the Schenkel brings to town.”
For Maples the decision to come back was something he jumped at regardless of getting to play in the Schenkel again. The tournament does however have a special place in his heart and is something he is looking forward to playing this week.
“It’s a big deal, especially to have everyone we know be able to come watch us and support us,” said Maples. “I feel like we are playing well, and it is such a treat to be able to play here at Forest Heights this week."
The Eagles don’t typically play another tournament the same week as the Schenkel but this week Georgia Southern is coming off a 12th place finish in an impressive field at the Auburn Invitational.
“I don’t feel playing earlier this week will hurt us in any way,” said Collins. “Golf is such a rhythm sport. When you can catch some rhythm and catch some momentum, I think you can capitalize on a bunch of things. I’m excited to see how they transfer what we did well this week into the Schenkel.”
The Eagles have been without assistant coach Crawford Simmons this week as he has been with his family following the death of his father, former Statesboro baseball and softball coach Jim Simmons.
“Coach Jim Simmons holds a special place in all of our hearts,” said Collins. “We love him tremendously and he has been a great mentor, role model and friend for a lot of us. Our hearts go out to coach Crawford Simmons and what he is going through. He has been taking care of his family which is what he needs to be doing. We have missed him and thoughts and prayers continue to be with him and his family.”
The Schenkel will get things underway Friday morning with tee time scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. This year’s field includes: Army, Campbell, Cincinnati, College of Charleston, ETSU, Florida Gulf Coast, Furman, Georgia Southern, Kentucky, Memphis, Middle Tennessee State, N.C. State, Troy and Rutgers. Four teams are ranked in the top-50 nationally and 12 are ranked in the top-100 according to Golfstat. The tournament continues Saturday with 18-holes and concludes with 8 holes on Sunday. The tournament is open to the public and live stats can be found at golfstat.com.