Seventy-two schools begin play at six NCAA Women’s D-I regional sites starting Monday, but no program has more reason to be grateful for its tee time than the Dartmouth women’s golf team. The Big Green are making their maiden NCAA postseason appearance after winning the Ivy League title last month for the first time in school history.

To say this week at Spanish Trail Golf Club in Las Vegas will be a watershed moment for the program is an understatement, particularly when you consider the fact that just four years ago the team had been dropped as a varsity sport.

In 2020, citing recruitment and budget issues, school officials announced they were cutting the men’s and women’s golf teams along with three other sports. The college’s golf course, Hanover Country Club, was also shut down.

Alex Kirk, head coach of the team since 2012, and all of the players were blindsided by the news. Some went on to transfer in order to continue with their college golf careers, with Kirk helping players find new places to play.

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Meanwhile, incoming first years were suddenly faced with the decision whether or not to go to a school that now didn’t have the golf team they were planning on playing for. Among them was Katherine Sung.

“I thought about potentially taking a gap year or trying to transfer to a different school,” said the 21-year-old from Palo Alto, Calif., “but at that point, it was so late in the process that you couldn’t really apply to a different school and get in and start in two months that fall.”

Sung decided to enroll that fall at Dartmouth, as did Penelope Tir. The decision to press on would prove pivotal in the eventual happy ending at the New Hampshire school.

Katherine Sung finished tied for second individually at the Ivy League Championship, helping lead the Big Green to their first team title in program history.

Brian Foley

While Sung and Tir navigated their strange, socially distanced first semester of college in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, current students and alumni joined forces to file a Title IX lawsuit against the college in hopes of getting the program reinstated. The legal pressure worked; in January 2021, the school agreed to bring back the golf teams, as well as the other sports that had been cut.

Kirk also returned as the women’s golf head coach, but when competition began in the fall of 2021, the Big Green roster was small. Sung and Tir were among just four players that were D-I caliber, but the team needed five to compete in events.

“I was literally searching the club golf team and walking around the cafeteria and we found two girls that literally shot a hundred,” Kirk recalls.

Without any depth, each player had to bring their best every tournament. “It was definitely high pressure in terms of the fact that every time we were teeing it up, you would know it would count,” Sung said.

It was a hard year, followed by another difficult season in 2022-23 as the team continued to grow. But the players never talked about the struggles explicitly, Kirk says. In true New England fashion, they did what had to be done: They got to work. They didn’t win any tournaments, but they had a program. And because of that, they had a future.

With the program back in existence, and a place to practice in Montcalm Golf Club, about a dozen miles from campus, Kirk was able to recruit and rebuild. The result is the strongest team Dartmouth had ever assembled, Sung and Tir become senior leaders who helped the school beat Yale by two strokes to claim the Ivy League title at Stanwich Golf Club in Greenwhich, Conn., two weeks ago.

It was an emotional moment.

“We just did our job and just worried about golf and academics,” Kirk said. “Once this happened, that’s when the emotions pour out. And I feel like it’s almost like a thorn in your arm that the scab overgrew it, but finally we took the thorn out and now it can heal.”

Dartmouth is the 12th seed in the 12-team Las Vegas Regional. The team has to finish in the top five in the 54-hole event to earn a spot at NCAA Women’s Championship later this month at Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., which won’t be easily done.

“We’re just trying to play our game and see what happens,” Kirk said. “I mean, anything’s possible.”

With this team, anything certainly is.

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