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East County Tuesday, Sep. 13, 2022 1 week ago

Lakewood Ranch Invitational gives prep golfers a shot at fun format

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Postponed by lightning, the scramble event will be held Sept. 17 at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

If lightning never strikes the same place twice, let's hope that also applies to golf tournaments. 

On Sept. 17, the Lakewood Ranch Invitational will be held at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club's Royal Lakes course. It is not, like most high school golf tournaments, an individual stroke play event. The event features a scramble format.

And it was also supposed to have happened already.

The tournament was planned for Sept. 10 at the same location, but thunderstorms forced tournament organizers to postpone the event after a handful of teams had teed off. The Mustangs teed off first and were given a tantalizing taste of the scramble fun, playing five holes before the storms came.

Lakewood Ranch Head Coach Dave Frantz said he's thankful to Lakewood Ranch Country Club for being flexible and allowing him to push the event back a week. The only change is that instead of having staggered tee times as planned, the Sept. 17 event will feature a 1 p.m. shotgun start. 

The delay is an opportunity for the golf community to watch this rare event. For those that don't know, a scramble is a format where a group of teammates tee off on the same hole and then each plays the best shot of the group until they hole out. 

"I believe we're the only (scramble) in the state," Frantz said. "I don't know of another high school one, anyway. It's exciting. I'm ready to watch how our guys attack this."

The scramble format might not be around next season, except in Lakewood Ranch. Its results do not count toward Florida High School Athletic Association/iWanamaker team rankings, as it is not the individual stroke play format used at the FHSAA state tournament. That's not a big deal this season, as the rankings are currently more for bragging rights than anything else. Starting next season, though, the rankings will be a factor in determining which teams qualify for the state tournament. As a result, Frantz said, there's a chance most golf coaches opt to forego more unique formats in favor of ones that can help their ranking.

For now, high school teams want to participate in an event that offers a different format. This year's Lakewood Ranch event has 20 schools entered, with five of those schools entering two teams each. Frantz said as long as the other schools enjoy the event, as he hopes they will, perhaps they will continue to enter the tournament next year and beyond. Frantz said the event comes early enough in the season that teams have plenty of time to partake in other tournaments that will count toward the rankings. 

A non-ranking event could provide some bonuses in the future. Perhaps Frantz can waive the rule stating coaches cannot give instructions to their golfers while on a green. When combined with the ability to see all of a team's top golfers play at the same time, the event provides a great opportunity for coaches to do what they do best — coach and evaluate. 

"You can see who is hitting a wedge higher, who is lining up putts right, who is getting more spin," Frantz said. "It's not the same in practice. The pressure and atmosphere is different."

Frantz said he's excited about the chance to build bonds with his players as well. As much as golf is an individual sport, the team aspect is important in high school. Events like scrambles emphasize the team aspect of the game and, hopefully, allow participating schools to see their athletes grow closer and learn from one another. 

It sounds like it will work.

Mustangs sophomore Henry Burbee said he's excited for the event as he's only played in a handful of scrambles before this one. While the holes Lakewood Ranch played on Sept. 10 won't count on Sept. 17, it did give the team an idea of how it all works. The team was four under par through five holes and, Burbee said, the players developed somewhat of a strategy. Burbee said he would always tee off last, and as long as one person was already in the fairway, ensuring at least a decent start, Burbee would, in his words, "bomb nukes" without regard for accuracy. 

It didn't always work, of course, but the scramble format provides an opportunity for such risky shots to be no harm, no foul. And since Burbee can drive the ball more than 300 yards, it's a free pass to swing as hard as he can. 

"We were looking solid," Burbee said. "I'm feeling good about us and about my own game. I have been working on shortening my swing to make it more consistent and have been hitting with the middle of the club face more as well, which has added distance." 

In addition to the Mustangs, The Out-of-Door Academy will play in the scramble event, as will Sarasota High and Riverview (Sarasota) and top programs from around the state like Tampa Jesuit, Columbus High and Saint Stephen's Episcopal, all of which finished in the top-three in their respective classes at the state tournament in 2021. 

It will be a lot of fun to watch — provided that saying about lightning holds true. 

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I’m the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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