Buff golfers helping build new practice green at Pine Oaks

Dave Ongie • Updated Sep 8, 2016 at 5:40 PM

A handful of Milligan golfers were on hand at Pine Oaks Golf Course on Thursday afternoon laying down sod around a new practice green.

The green is the first step in the development of a practice area that will allow the Milligan men’s and women’s golf teams to fine-tune their skills between tournaments. Milligan athletic director Mark Fox said the facility is simply a continuation of a strong partnership between the school and the City of Johnson City, which runs the municipal golf course. The new green will also be a huge asset for Pine Oaks golf pro Mike Jennings as well as the First Tee program.

During the design phase of the project, Johnson City’s director of golf Jim Hughes reached out to Milligan golf coach Tony Wallingford as well as his players to figure out what they needed in order to help them prepare for competition. The result is a sprawling, undulating practice green that is starting to take shape in the area between the 8th and 9th holes at Pine Oaks.

“The one thing that I really appreciate from Jimmy is his willingness to actively seek input from coach Wallingford and our players on what will help them improve their game,” Fox said. “It’s really an exciting time for our golf program, both our men and our women, to be able to individually improve their skills and collectively improve our team.”

As big of an undertaking as the project has been, it is only the beginning. There are plans in the works to construct an entire short-game area that will allow the Buffs to work on a variety of shots from 100 yards in that are crucial to scoring well in tournament conditions. The plan for the rest of the practice area is still in the works, but Fox expects that Milligan will partner with the city on the rest of the project as well.

From a recruiting standpoint, Fox said the completed project will give Wallingford a big edge over other NAIA schools on the recruiting trail.

“There are not many NAIA schools of our size that have access to these kind of areas,” Fox said. “They allow you to fine-tune your game and make improvements. These kind of things are critical in the recruiting world.”

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The nationally-ranked Milligan cross country program is off and running after competing in an event at Western Carolina last weekend.

The women, who are ranked 10th in the nation among NAIA schools, finished third in the event despite the absence of Hannah Segrave and Amber Grello, both top performers on last year’s squad. Meanwhile, the 26th-ranked men came home fourth despite the fact that four of their top seven runners didn’t compete in the event.

The fact that the Buffs weren’t at full strength is all part of Milligan coach Chris Layne’s master plan to have both squads peaking at the NAIA Nationals, which will be run on Nov. 19 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“This is a unique sport,” Layne said. “We don’t have to worry about wins and losses early in the season. You really have to manage those opportunities (to compete) if you’re going to have gas left in the tank at the end of the season.”

Layne said he anticipates having his top runners all compete in the same meet together for the first time at the Bulldog Stampede in Wingate, North Carolina, on Sept. 24. That event will also mark the first time Milligan’s runners tackle a full course (8K for men, 6K for women).

From there, Layne said the Buffs will begin their late-season push in earnest with the Sandshark Invitational in Beaufort, South Carolina, on Oct. 22.

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With a freshman setter running the offense, the volleyball team is currently on an eight-match winning streak.

Milligan beat Bluefield in a thrilling five-set Appalachian Athletic Conference road match on Tuesday night to move to 9-2 overall and 2-0 in league play. Kellee Geren, a freshman from Cleveland (Tenn.) High, handed out 47 assists in Tuesday’s win to help both Samantha Bruinius and Bailey Thomas record career highs for kills in a single match. Bruinius had 19 kills while Thomas had 11 and Marissa Langford recorded 12.

Next up for the red-hot Buffs is a trip to Chicago for a tournament this weekend before they return to AAC play at home against Truett-McConnell next Tuesday.

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