Words by Richard Allen
Photography by Killingsworth Photography
Nowhere is this tradition more evident than Granbury High School. They begin each school year with the same goal, reaching the state tournament. And though a state title has eluded the program, they continue to have their sights on the ultimate goal.
The Pirates have reached the University Interscholastic League Class 5A State Tournament two consecutive years, finishing seventh in 2017 and fifth this past spring. And while the program has never sent a team in three straight years (they also went back-to-back in 1997-98), with all five seniors who competed in Austin last season returning, hopes are high to accomplish that feat.
“I’m very lucky to be a part of this legacy,” senior Canyon Winters said. “I have a great coach (Steve Ward) and great teammates. A lot of schools don’t even have a golf program, but we are fortunate to have one of the best in the state.”
Senior Jake Holbrook, who has committed to play for the University of Oklahoma following his career at GHS, leads the Pirates. He tied for 10th individually at state in 2018, shooting 147 for two rounds, after tying for fifth in 2017 with a 146. In 2016, he became the first freshman in the program’s history to qualify for state individually. “It was cool going as a freshman, but it’s so much better to have my teammates there with me,” Holbrook said. “I think we’re poised for our greatest year yet.”The Pirates’ best finish at state was second in 2000. Individually, Travis Benson has the top finish, third place and a bronze medal in 2012, and going on to play at New Mexico State University.
Ward has been the coach of the Pirates for 11 years. And at only age 46, there is a lot more time in his career, but he realizes he has something special with this group of players.
“I just get them there. They enjoy playing, and they enjoy being teammates,” Ward said. “And they are just good players, all of them. These past couple years these guys have been winning trophy after trophy.”
In all, Ward has taken the Pirates to state three times, including 2013. The past two seasons, however, his A and B squads – or perhaps more appropriately A and 1A – have both qualified for regional play with 1-2 finishes in district.
“That’s been fun to take all those kids to regionals. You take alternates as well, so they all get that experience,” Ward said.
In fact, the Lady Pirates also qualified two teams for the Region I Tournament this past spring. Coach Becky Addison has taken two teams to state, in 2003 and 2009, the latter led by Paloma Nunez, who tied for fourth individually and later played for the University of Texas.
With almost everyone back on her squad, Addison is optimistic this could also be her program’s greatest season to date.
“Winning year after year instills pride and a need to keep the tradition going for years to come. No one wants to be the group that didn’t live up to expectations, so kids come into the program knowing what is expected, and they work hard to get to the next level,” Addison said. “This past season was a year of full of excitement. Granbury girls and boys both won first and second at the District tournament, a feat never done before.”
Pirate junior Lawson Berry agreed with Addison.
“That tradition definitely drives us. We make sure to work harder than the year before, and before that, and in the future we’ll work even more to build on that tradition,” he said.
“A lot of people around here follow golf. There’s a tradition that goes back a long time, and these guys run into some of those guys who went to state before. It pushes them,” Ward said. “We were driving back from a tournament and Jake (Holbrook) asked me, ‘How many state tournaments did Travis go to?'”
The answer was two, so Holbrook has already eclipsed that mark and can become the only player in school history to reach state four straight years – an unbreakable record that can only be tied.
The community of Granbury and Hood County loves its golf. Subsequently, they love their Pirates and Lady Pirates, opening golf courses throughout the county for the teams to practice on regularly at no charge.
“Granbury’s success is due to the amazing community support our golf program receives. Our local golf courses and communities have opened their arms to our young athletes. We could not be more grateful,” Addison said. “Without the use of our local courses and the amazing instruction our local professionals provide, Granbury would be sorely lacking in skills acquired through hours of practice at the range and on the course. So thank you Harbor Lakes, DeCordova Bend Estates, Pecan Plantation, Nutcracker, Granbury Country Club, and Hidden Oaks for your continued support year after year.”
Ward said the variety of courses keeps the team from getting used to the same style, and offers them different looks that they will see throughout the season.
“They get to play so many courses, they don’t get bored,” he said. “At regionals this year at Rockwall, we saw a mix of DeCordova and Harbor Lakes. Next year, when we go back to Lubbock for regionals, it’ll be a mix of Hidden Oaks and Harbor.”
The depth of the program is perhaps its most ever. That is also a driving force as perhaps the toughest competition they face in a given week is their own teammates trying to earn a spot among the top five for the next tournament.
“There’s been so many of us in the top five, it makes us better,” senior Jake Piland said. “Qualifying is just as much pressure or more than playing in a tournament.”
Senior Ryan Ziegler remembers watching his older brother Cory play as a Pirate and later at Hendrix College.
“It’s pretty cool keeping the tradition my brother was a part of going,” he said. “When I was younger watching him, I couldn’t wait to play for the Pirates, seeing how fun it was. It was like a family to him, and now to me, also.”
Christian Keto joined the Pirates family for his junior season after his family moved from Euless. He said the transition made him a better golfer in all forms.
“Coach Ward does a great job of humbling us, keeping us remembering where we came from,” he said with a laugh. “Mentally, I’m a better golfer, as well as physically. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to stay calm and collected. There’s always that next hole.”
Along with their success, the Pirates hold a memorial tournament for one of their players who passed away from a rare illness in 2014, Briggs Berry. The format is different than most tournaments, 19 holes of medal play (taking the best score on the first hole), and then match play.
“Nobody plays match play. The kids love it,” Ward said. “Briggs would have loved this tournament.”
Senior Dustin Anderson said the best part of being a Pirate golfer is the camaraderie.
“We’re all just real good friends pulling for each other to be successful,” he said. “It’s a great experience I’m never going to forget. It’s always great to be part of a team, especially a team like this.”