Beyond The Bend: Notre Dame’s Odyssey to the Home of Golf
For the first time in St. Andrews history, four American universities were invited to compete in the inaugural St. Andrews Links Collegiate. Notre Dame, one of the most storied universities and sports programs in the world, was among them. From South Bend to St. Andrews, the GOLF Team embedded with the men’s and women’s golf teams to document their journey to Scotland for “Beyond the Bend: Notre Dame’s Odyssey to the Home of Golf”
The Fighting Irish faced stiff competition against some of the most respected academic schools and decorated golf programs. Vanderbilt, North Carolina and Georgetown joined Notre Dame for this first-of-its-kind event.
“For the inaugural event, we wanted to make sure we had some great schools coming,” said Laurie Watson, Director of Engagement for St. Andrews Links. “A school like Notre Dame is renowned across the world. A historic university at the Home of Golf? It doesn’t get any better than that.”
It’s hard to step on campus at Notre Dame and not feel a sense of historical significance. From the Golden Dome to Touchdown Jesus to the Grotto, there’s an aura that cannot be described – it must be felt.
“When recruits come here, they say there’s nothing quite like Notre Dame,” said John Handrigan, Notre Dame Director of Golf and Men’s Head Coach. “The Notre Dame monogram that we all wear with pride means so much more than ourselves. It’s recognized worldwide. The most important thing we do is make sure we find student-athletes with the right fit for Notre Dame. That means someone that is a great player for our program, but also someone that’s going to properly represent Notre Dame at all times.”
Since taking the reins, Coach Handrigan has led the Irish to new heights. In recent seasons, the men’s team has won its most events in a season, earned a Top 20 national ranking and developed several golfers now playing at the professional level. Handrigan, along with assistant coaches Zac Zedrick and Andy Serketich, has the program on an upward trend.
Led by co-captains (and roommates) Palmer Jackson and Angelo Marcon, Notre Dame has a strong foundation. Sophomore Nate Stevens and the freshman class of Jacob Modleski, Rocco Salvitti and Christopher Bagnall create a well-rounded roster for current and future success.
“Just to go play golf in Scotland is one thing,” said Marcon. “To play at St. Andrews is another thing on its own. But to do both and have it on Golf Channel while competing against some of the best college golfers in the world? It’s special and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Caroline Powers Ellis, who recently became women’s head coach, brings a track record of championships and developing All-American talent to Notre Dame. Powers Ellis has a familiar face on campus in Kari Bellville, a former Notre Dame golfer, as her assistant coach ready to jumpstart the women’s team. For now, their eyes are set on the competition at St. Andrews.
“We’re happy to be part of this event but that’s not the Notre Dame way,” said Powers Ellis. “The Notre Dame way is to enjoy the experience, but we want to go win.”
Fortunately for the coaching staff, a strong duo of upperclassman leadership is in place with graduate student Lauren Beaudreau and senior Chloe Schiavone. Another trio of freshmen, Anna Heck, Mimi Burton and Alexsandra Lapple are ready to rejuvenate the program. Beaudreau has had the St. Andrews Collegiate circled on her calendar since Notre Dame was announced as part of the event.
“When the St. Andrews Collegiate was announced I was really excited,” said Beaudreau. “It became my focus to prepare during practice to make sure my game is in top shape for it. My dad said he wouldn’t miss this event for the world.”
The trifecta of cold, wind and rain welcomed Notre Dame in Scotland.
As fate would have it, the St. Andrews Collegiate aligned perfectly with the school’s fall break. Both Notre Dame teams would travel together a week early to get the full Scottish experience. To make the trip even more memorable, family members from every student-athlete and the coaching staff joined them. This was truly a Notre Dame family experience.
“For our players to experience this with their families and the Notre Dame golf family together, it’s extremely unique and special,” said Powers Ellis. “This will stick with me for a long time. It was one of the most surreal coaching experiences of my life.”
Each day, the men’s and women’s teams changed pairings to play with each other, something rarely done at home, to deepen their bond.
“To be here with the men’s and women’s team and compete in the first St. Andrews collegiate, it’s special,” said Schviavone. “The team plays better when we’re having a good time and our team culture here is as great as it’s ever been.”
Over three days, the four teams would play two rounds of stroke play on the Jubilee Course, a Top 100 Course in the UK and Ireland, to determine medal match seeding for the final day on The Old Course. The Irish kept pace with Vanderbilt and North Carolina over Day 1 but would fall back on Day 2. On the final day of play, Notre Dame would square off against Georgetown.
Notre Dame entered the day equal parts motivated and excited. This was the moment they had waited for, a stroll on the Old Course. By day’s end, Notre Dame did what they set out to do: win.
This wasn’t a consolation prize by any means. The week served as a litmus test for the players and coaches against the best college golf has to offer. The verdict? There’s work to be done, but they aren’t far off.
“We showed that we can hang with the best, but just hanging with those teams isn’t good enough,” said Handrigan. “We expect more and we know what we need to do to beat the best in the country. Our student-athletes don’t want to come here because it’s easy. Notre Dame is not meant to be easy. It’s meant to challenge you academically and on the course.”
There is work and challenges that lie ahead for the Notre Dame golf program. But after the final putt dropped on the famed 18th hole on the Old Course, it was a time to celebrate where Notre Dame, golf and life had taken their families.
“One of the most important values with Notre Dame is family,” said Handrigan. “Having all the families here to celebrate this moment was surreal. I saw tears from parents as their child was walking up No. 18. Having this experience as the Notre Dame family has been great. There’s nothing better than family.”