Rising to the Challenge: Hanover Golfers Up to the Task in D-I

  • Hanover senior Peter Lukovits follows the trajectory of his ball from the sixth tee during a game with Pinkerton's Nick Tufts, left; Bryce Zimmerman, not pictured; and Hanover's Jack Meehan, at the Hanover Country Club in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, August 28, 2018. Lukovits shot a 37 on nine holes. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover High golf coach John Donnelly tallies up the scores of the leading group in a meet with Nashua High North and Pinkerton Academy at the Hanover Country Club in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, August 28, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover's Peter Lukovits looks up to the second green to see the lie of his ball during a match with Nashua High North and Pinkerton Academy at Hanover Country Club in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, August 28, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hanover — John Donnelly has had quite the offseason.

The longtime Hanover High golf coach navigated his Marauders into a new division. He helped oversee a significant change in the postseason schedule. He helped bring an alteration to the way the bulk of the NHIAA’s golf schools score their matches.

Being the math teacher he is, he even produced a spreadsheet to help affected schools with their addition.

Now comes the time to see change in action. Although, truth be told, if Donnelly’s squad were to again claim an NHIAA state championship — in Division I, no less — he’d probably not mind.

“We wanted to challenge ourselves a little bit more and see how we would stack up against Division I schools,” Donnelly said on Tuesday as Hanover topped Pinkerton and Nashua North at Hanover Country Club to improve to 4-0 on the young season. “But also for us, with a lot of schools in our area — on this side of the river — the travel is always a concern. … I took a look at it and realized that we would be traveling the same amount in Division I as we were in Division II.

“Now that Lebanon, Kearsarge and Stevens are no longer in Division II, we no longer have any close matches in either division. That was even more a motivating factor than the whole competition aspect.”

So far, so good for a program that claimed eight D-II or Class I crowns in Donnelly’s first 15 years at the helm. Behind a 3-over-par 37 from captain Peter Lukovits, a 4-over 38 from senior Caleb Hamblen and a 5-over-39 from junior Patrick Daley, the Marauders’ team 194 narrowly outpaced Pinkerton (202), with North (209) a little further back.

All four Hanover wins to date have come on the comfy Hanover CC confines upon which the Marauders have spent an entire summer playing. The fun really starts on Thursday, when Hanover heads to Bretwood Golf Course to play four-time defending D-I champ Bedford and host Keene, two other teams with bona fide title hopes.

“One bonus of being in D-I is that, in years past, we had a lot of pressure being one of the top teams in D-II and having to almost feel like (we) have to win every time,” Lukovits said. “I think, moving up to D-I, we definitely have the strength to compete with all of the teams, and we won’t have that pressure on us, so we can play around a little more, work a lot off the course. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re being successful so far.”

As a member of the NHIAA golf committee, Donnelly had his hands in all of the changes affecting Granite State high school play beyond OKing the division his own squad joined.

Seeking to draw more players into the game and keep the ones already there, the committee approved a one-year scoring experiment for the state’s three lower divisions in the offseason. While D-I remains stroke play, the remaining leagues will decide their matches with Stableford scoring, drawing points for eagles, birdies, pars, bogeys and double bogeys and losing nothing for blow-up holes.

Donnelly said the committee surveyed coaches in all four divisions. Even D-I largely liked the idea, but not to the extent that D-II, -III and -IV did. The one-year scoring experiment will be re-evaluated after the season; all state tournaments will still be decided by standard stroke play.

“We’re seeing programs disappear, we’re seeing golfers not enjoy the game as much, and we’re seeing golfers not coming back again to play golf,” Donnelly said. “For newer golfers, to go out and shoot 60, 70 for nine holes, it’s just not a fun experience.”

New Sunapee High coach Gary Summerton sees plusses and minuses with the scoring change. He understands it’s designed to speed up play and realizes young golfers take no joy in seeing big numbers on their scorecards.

“More teams in D-IV are small; they don’t have the numbers for a full team,” Summerton said in a phone interview last week. “I might have one or two beginners playing matches this year. They might make a single point with the new system; they might have a big, fat zero and lying more than a double bogey, they’re still not near the green and they’ll have pick up and go to the next hole. They’re not going to have as much opportunity to try and make a good shot or practice chipping and putting. That’s one of my concerns.”

In another switch, the NHIAA’s individual champions will all be determined at one course, Derryfield Country Club, on Oct. 13. Schools will play their team tournaments at four divisional sites that week — Hanover is bound for The Oaks in Somersworth on Oct. 11 — before cut survivors move to Derryfield. The decision helps the New Hampshire Golf Association from a staffing standpoint, Donnelly said; the NHGA took over operation of NHIAA state tournaments a couple of years ago.

In a sport where change frequently comes at a glacial pace, that’s a lot to digest. At least one of Hanover’s opponents on Tuesday thinks they’re ready for the new situation.

“The kids I played with today are pretty solid,” said Nashua North sophomore Bryce Zimmerman, who won the individual medal at even-par 34. “Hanover will be up there in the team competition. They’re definitely going to make it to the state championship. “Bedford’s a solid team; Timberlane has some good players. Hanover is probably in the top three schools.”

So the pressure may still be on the Marauders after all.

“It’s not a terrible pressure to have,” Lukovits said.

Divots: In what spare time he has, Donnelly built a spreadsheet for lower-division coaches who need only enter hole scores for their players’ rounds, with the program calculating Stableford tallies from there. … Zimmerman competed in the New Hampshire Amateur at Hanover in July but missed the cut for match play. … Pinkerton, which took runner-up behind Bedford by six strokes at last year’s D-I states, was led by No. 6 Jacob Tinker’s 37. … No. 7 Kyle Rozzi and No. 8 Cameron Woods rounded out Hanover’s tally with matching 40s. … Bedford has won five of the last six D-I state crowns, finishing second to Bishop Guertin by two shots in 2013 to account for the one miss. … All of Hanover’s remaining matches will be on the road with the exception of its regular-season finale on Sept. 28 with Alvirne and Spaulding. … Lukovits’ father, Tim, waited with other parents by the ninth green while monitoring the family’s 1½-year-old Tibetan terrier, Palmer, named after a certain Arnold Palmer. … Wild critters adorning club head covers included a gorilla, a gecko and a trout.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.