In November of 2015, Holly Clark arrived as the head coach of the new founded women’s golf team. Two years later, with her team assembled, the first tournament is upon them.
Golf has always been a part of Clark’s life, beginning at a young age.
“I grew up in a family full of golfers. My grandad really got me started, it started out where I would go out to the golf course with him at night and ride around in the golf cart. He would cut down clubs for me and let me play around with time to the point where I decided I would really take this sport seriously,” Clark said.
She played junior golf competitively, then went to the University of Tennessee and played. Wanting to be a doctor, Clark got her undergrad in medicine. Instead of pursuing med school, an opportunity was presented for her to help start up the women’s golf program at Carson Newman as an assistant coach.
“I thought ‘I’ll try this for a year and see if I like it,’” Clark said. “After a year I thought ‘well I want to do this for another year,’ two years went by, three years went by, and I said ‘school can wait because this opportunity might not come back.’”
Though initially it wasn’t a priority, coaching became a passion of Clark’s. After spending three years with Carson Newman, Clark made the jump to a competitive Vanderbilt team.
“When I went to Vanderbilt it was a whole different athlete. It was intense, I loved it. I loved the pressure, I loved the intensity. It was a whole different animal to deal with, but it was great. I was given a lot of responsibility, that’s how I best learn, it was awesome,” Clark said.
Clark remained with the Commadores for six years. Then she was approached to take on the head coach position for the Charlotte 49ers. Though she had already worked for a start-up team, her experience at Carson Newman didn’t compare to what Clark faced in the Queen City.
“Starting here, I can’t compare the two, there’s been so much that’s happened to me from 21 to 31. You grow a lot during that time, so I grew as a person. I think as I’ve grown as a person, my thoughts and views as a coach have changed. How I approach golf and athletics and my team is so much different than I did then,” Clark said.
For two years, Clark has been working to set up the inagural season of the women’s golf team. She has taken advantage of the time and set up the framework for a successful program.
“I had time to think about it and figure out really what it is that we want to do. People keep saying ‘oh my goodness, you have this blank canvas, you can do whatever you want to do,’ I can it’s wonderful, but I don’t want to mess it up,” Clark said.
In addition to building the team, Clark has used this time to improve herself as a coach.
“I’ve had more time to reflect on what’s important to me as a person, as a coach, and how I’m going to incorporate that in our program. I’ve never had that time before and it’s been wonderful. It’s been great reflection time and it’s reminded me why I do what I do and why I love it,” Clark said.
Recruiting for a startup was very different than recruiting for a team like Vanderbilt. The lack of history in the program caused convincing girls to come to Charlotte to become a difficult task.
“It was harder than I thought it would be. I think it’s super exciting that there’s something new and something great and wonderful about being a part of something that hasn’t ever been here before,” Clark said. “I love the challenge, I love that opportunity. I’m learning that there are a lot of people that don’t. A lot of you strong, talented players want to be a part of history instead of creating their own history.”
In November of 2016 the program received its first commit: Siarra Stout. Stout, a native of the Nashville area, had already been on Clark’s recruiting radar from her time in Vanderbilt.
“As soon as I got this job, I called her. I had to convince her that she should just come look at Charlotte,” Clark said. “She’s the type of person any coach would want on their team. She’s a great student, she’s a great player, she’s a great person, she’s a great teammate. She’s super coachable.”
The key to team growth is, said Clark is “comradery,” and her team had it before they even arrived on campus. Over the past year, the girls have taken trips to each other’s homes to spend time with each other, build a relationship and play golf.
“This is a tight-knit group who was really close before they even got here. That’s really special and unique in itself. Team chemistry is so important in your success and I think it’s critical in the growth as they continue to develop and move forward. These girls are super coachable. They’re just good people, they’re wonderful to be around. As a coach, you’re around them more than you are your own family so you want to make sure you’re surrounded by good people,” Clark said.
The 49ers women’s golf team had their first tournament the weekend of Sept. 15-17. After setting the foundation of the program, Clark is excited not only to get back on the course, but for her players to finally get the exposure of playing in a college tournament.
“I’m excited because I’ve been waiting two years to get going. This is back home for me,” Clark said. More than anything I want them to just enjoy the process and learn from the experience and grow each day. There are going to be bumps in the road that they’re going to have to jump over. There are going to be set backs and there are going to be big leaps forward. There are going to be small victories and they’ll be able to hopefully learn from all of this.”