Garner Cleveland: Sports

River Ridge opens its course to schools

Tim Cockrell said he wishes more golf courses would take steps to help young players.

As head pro at River Ridge Golf Club, he’s trying to do his part.

The course on Auburn-Knightdale Road is home to seven teams from middle school to college, including the first-year men’s team at William Peace University in Raleigh.

It’s the home course for both Garner and Southeast Raleigh high schools, with the girls’ teams playing in the fall and boys in the spring. And teams from Raleigh Christian Academy and Sacred Heart Cathedral School also practice and host matches there.

“We do it because to me, whether it’s middle school, high school or college kids, we’re trying to promote the game of golf,” said Cockrell, 54, an Arlington, Va., native and James Madison University graduate who has been playing golf for 40 years.

“And if we can help them out, as long as we’re not too inundated, we’re glad to have them,” he said. “If they get started, maybe they’ll play the rest of their lives, and maybe they’ll play some here.”

Dr. Johnny Bagwell is owner of the semi-private club, which Cockrell said has about 200 members.

“The teams arrive at different times, so it all works out,” he said. “Some schools hit balls and others go right to the tee.”

The course’s open-arms policy does come with a cost.

“To have them here does take a wear and tear on the driving range,” Cockrell said. “They hit balls like rapid-fire. The grass takes a toll and we have to pick up the range balls. But we want to do what we can to help young people play golf.”

Garner and Southeast each host one match at River Ridge, as the entire Greater Neuse River 4A Conference assembles once on each team’s home course.

“There are probably 36 to 40 kids at a time,” Cockrell said. “That would probably cost them over $1,000 at a lot of places. Raleigh Christian and Sacred Heart each have about two matches here a season. We’ve been pretty busy with teams here since February.”

Garner golf coach Chuck Proffitt, who is also an assistant football coach for the Trojans, said free use of the course is a huge help to the program.

“It’s an awesome course,” Proffitt said. “It’s fast, and Tim does a great job. They give us anything we need – time on the range, nine or 18 holes, whatever we want to do.”

“They’ve been great about letting us come out and practice and play for free,” Proffitt said. “The old course we used charged us $1,000 for the season and only let us practice once a week.”

Of course, Garner doesn’t want to overstay its welcome, Proffitt said. “We don’t practice on Fridays, and we have two matches a week, so sometimes we’re only there two days. And they do a good job spreading the teams out so we’re not all on the tee box at the same time.”

First-year Southeast coach Jeremi Harrison, who doubles as the boys’ soccer coach, said the complimentary use of the course is a blessing for his team.

“It’s incredibly important, considering the demographic of students that we have,” Harrison said. “A lot of our kids don’t come from high-income families and wouldn’t have the opportunity to play golf.”

“It’s an excellent course,” Harrison added. “I get to play it with them a lot. It’s in great shape, and the grounds are well kept. The staff is all very pleasant and knowledgeable too. And we’re improving. Last week we shot a 385 on Clayton’s home course, which is about 100 strokes better than our average had been.”