Courtesy of Lipscomb University Athletics

MacKenzy Carter was a 2011 Macon County High graduate who continued her career at Lipscomb University.
Courtesy of Lipscomb University Athletics MacKenzy Carter was a 2011 Macon County High graduate who continued her career at Lipscomb University.

Chelsey Key Coley grew up playing golf.

She was the exception to the rule in Macon County.

“My mom (Phyllis) grew up playing golf,” Coley said. “She was from the Westmoreland area. She got my dad (Jeff) into playing golf. When I was born, my dad had really started taking up the game. He worked night shift. My mom worked day shift. They would do a baby swap every day. My dad would go out and play nine holes, and I would go with him. I literally grew up playing golf. I was on the golf course at six weeks old.

“My parents got me into. It was a family ordeal. It was something we could all do together.”

However, from a competitive standpoint, Coley didn’t have anyone to golf with.

Nevertheless, former Macon County Junior High golf coach Phillip Stafford wanted Coley to play.

“He told me that we don’t have a girls program, but, ‘I want you to play,’” Coley said. “‘You’ll have to play as a boy.’ I competed as a boy all through junior high.

“In high school, I competed as a boy until we got to district and region. Then, I could compete as an individual girl. I hit from the men’s tees. I got to hear all the trash talk.”

Coley was the first female golfer at Macon County High School.

“It is a blessing … that’s the best way that I can describe it,” the 30-year-old Coley said. “Looking back into it now, it all seems surreal. I didn’t realize at the time what all was stacked against me. I was the only girl, and I was playing as a boy. That was very, very uncommon. I was doing something I didn’t need to be doing. Girls don’t play golf. It’s a man’s game. It’s a man’s sport.

“I’m so glad that I didn’t realize that things were stacked against me … but I had so many people in my corner, who were encouraging. You’re just this 100-pound girl from Macon County … this little girl was doing big things, but I didn’t realize it at the time. It is amazing.”

An early eye-opener for Coley came while competing against Creek Wood senior Elizabeth Dotson in the district tournament. Dotson moved on to eventually claim her third state championship two weeks later.

“The level I wanted to play on, she was there,” Coley said. “I told her, ‘That’s what I want. I want what you have.’

“She could absolutely mash a golf ball. I remember thinking, ‘She’s just this freak of nature.’”

Dotson went on to play at the University of Kentucky.

Coley already had hopes of play at the next level as well.

“From a very young age, I always said I am going to play college golf,” Coley said. “I had a younger brother, who was four years younger than me. I knew I had a talent. It was just a matter of using my talent to get my college paid for. I had a brother who I also wanted to be able to go to college. If funds were tight, that wouldn’t be feasible. If they had to pay $100,000 for my college education, they might not have it for him to go to college.

“It was just a blessing to use that talent to get my school paid for. It’s something I always wanted to achieve.”

However, prior to that, Coley had to endure four years of playing as the lone female.

As a senior, she attempted to convince MacKenzy Carter – who was a freshman at the time – to join her so that Macon County High could have the two golfers required to field a team.

“I begged her (MacKenzy) to play,” Coley said. “She was very, very green. She had started the summer before. She hadn’t been playing three months. I just begged her … ‘Please play with me.’ She wouldn’t do it. She was so nervous and so scared. She didn’t want to disappoint me. She didn’t realize that I couldn’t care less what she shot. It was just being able to compete as a team.”

Carter recalls Coley’s recruiting tactics.

“I didn’t think I was good,” Carter said. “I wasn’t good. She was so good that it was intimidating to be so bad. She was really good, and she was going to college to play. I was just learning to hit a golf ball. It was intimidating.”

However, Carter did compete as a sophomore.

“I picked it up the summer before freshman year, and I played some for fun my freshman year but did not play competitively,” Carter said. “I played every other sport but golf. My brother (Zach) played golf on the team. My sister (Jaclyn Carter, a 2008 graduate of Macon County High) played soccer. I played volleyball. That was three fall sports. It always split my parents’ involvement. Volleyball was the least liked sport in our family. It got to the point where (only) grandparents were coming to my games. I liked volleyball, but it wasn’t my sport really.

“I was around (golf) my whole life. My dad (William Carter) played. My brother played. I talked to my dad about (playing golf), and he was immediately thrilled. He said, ‘I will buy you any clubs you want, and I will buy you any outfit you want.’ We immediately picked out golf clubs. I think I picked them out by the color. My irons were green. My putter was pink. He did get me lessons (with Brian Lackey). It’s a comical story.”

MacKenzy Carter and Zach Carter are twins … and they shared a closeness on the course as well.

“I fell in love immediately,” MacKenzy Carter said. “It was kind of fun for my brother and I. We’re twins. We’d go out together. We’d be the last ones on the golf course with headlights on the greens.

“In high school, I played about 54 holes a day in the summertime. It was non-stop.”

The extensive course time paid dividends quickly.

“I’m overly competitive, and I don’t like to lose,” Carter said. “I remember my very first nine-hole match against Portland, and I shot a 56. I was so mad. I remember coming off the course and telling my mom that I wanted to do better. My very last nine-hole match was with the same girl (Portland’s Katie Legge, who went on to play at Cumberland University), and I shot a 35.

“My sophomore year was my most improvement. I consistently stayed average and got better and better. My senior year, at the state golf tournament, college golf was not anywhere in my mind. I walked off the course. I placed third. All these coaches started coming up after you signed your scorecard. I told them I had no interest. Brian Lackey got wind of that and told me that should change. I put together a quick video and resume … but it wasn’t in my mind. I don’t think I signed until late April. I did everything backwards.”

However, Carter gained confidence due to others believing that she could play at the next level.

“That someone thought I could (play collegiately) helped,” Carter said. “Also, the fact that when you lay it out there, my parents put us all through school. When you have a full scholarship on the line, my parents encouraged me to think about it, how much that would help out. It was one of those things to where they kind of put it in perspective. It was golf … and I would do four more years of it. It was one of the best decisions.”

Coley witnessed Carter’s transformation first-hand.

“She worked extremely hard, day in and day out,” Coley said. “She was alongside me, (saying) … “What can I do to get better?’ She knew she had her work cut out for her. She did great things.”

As Coley watched Carter’s transformation, she made another pitch to entice Carter to become a part of her team … at Lindsey Wilson (Kentucky) College.

“She was pushing for me to be a freshman at Lindsey Wilson,” Carter said. “I played a round of golf with her and the coach (Chris Wells). They were looking (at me) strongly, and I backed out again. I did it to her twice … I kind of abandoned her two different times.”

Carter moved on to play at Lipscomb University instead, graduating in 2014.

“I don’t look back on it very often, but I look back on it (now) and think, ‘That was my life,’” Carter said. “It was great. I have no regrets whatsoever. Everything falls into place for a reason. It has led me to a career now. Looking back, it is great. It’s a God thing. I was supposed to start all those things late. It was a fun ride.”

Carter believes that it paved the way for her current professional career as a certified public accountant.

“Being in Nashville and creating relationships at Lipscomb, as big as Nashville is, when people hear that you went to Lipscomb, it kind of gets you in the door a little quicker,” the 27-year-old said. “My very first job … I walked into a professor’s office. He said, ‘I have three e-mails (of professional contacts) here.’ I got a job out of the first e-mail I sent.

“Lipscomb’s name carries a lot of weight. It has led to a great little run.”

Golf led to a great little run for Coley as well. She reached the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Tournament in all four of her seasons at Lindsey Wilson.

“I called her C.K. since we had a Chelsey, Cheslee and a Kelsey on the team,” Wells said. “She had a tremendous career. She was such a bulldog on the course, incredibly fiery. Off the course, she was one of sweetest, most genuine people you would ever meet. C.K. epitomized what we look for in a student-athlete. She was an outstanding teammate and developed into an outstanding leader. Of course, she was also a terrific player. She was one of the reasons we had great success during the years she was at Lindsey Wilson.”

During Coley’s career (spanning from 2007-11), she was a three-time medalist, broke two school records and set one NAIA record (shooting 68 at the Pines at Lindsey Wilson in Columbia, Kentucky).

“The day she broke the school scoring record, I just got out of her way,” Wells said. “It was so much fun watching her at the top of her game that day. Then again, it was also fun being on the course with her. She was very coachable and simply a joy to be around. I would take a team full of her every year.

“I continue to exchange texts with C.K. even today. That's the type of person she is. I will always consider her part of my extended family.”

It kept her in the game even after her career concluded.

“When I walked off the golf course for the very last time at Lindsey Wilson, we were in Greeneville, Tennessee, and there was a void,” Coley said. “I thought, ‘What do I do from here?’ I’m so passionate about this game and am so competitive. What can I do to replace that feeling? Playing on the qualifying tours … I wasn’t that good of a player. I knew that. I sat down and said, ‘What can I do to replace that?’

“I can give other girls my knowledge and my expertise and maybe get them farther than I got. That’s why I did what I did at Lindsey Wilson and East Tennessee and even moreso in at the golf academy. I wanted to get them to love the game the same way I always loved it. When these kids would look at you and say, ‘Miss Chelsey I’ve never hit a ball that well,’ it means so much. It won’t ever burn out as long as I live.”

Coley was a graduate assistant for one season at Lindsey Wilson, served as a club professional at Maryville’s Royal Oaks Golf Course and then moved back to the area to serve as an instructor at the Johnny Warren Golf Academy in Gallatin.

Coley began going to Warren for instruction after her freshman year of high school.

“Johnny is a saint,” Coley said. “He is one of the best people I know. He is phenomenal.”

Coley worked at the Johnny Warren Golf Academy until September of 2017, when she suffered a severely-broken leg during a hiking accident.

“I had to learn how to re-walk,” Coley said. “I was down for a little over four months. During that time, I realized that there were more important things than golf. I made a career change to banking, and it’s been a blessing.

“I still give lessons (to 10-15 students) to some of the youth in the area. It’s just trying to help their knowledge and understanding of the game. I tell them I’m prepping them for Johnny Warren.”

While Coley was at Lindsey Wilson, she also gave lessons to Macon County High 2013 graduate Kaleigh Chitwood and MCHS 2014 graduate Kaitlyn Cartwright McClard. Both of those golfers played at Cumberland.

Coley, Carter, Chitwood and McClard comprise four of Macon County High’s 10 golfers since 2007 who have played at the college level. Coley and Carter were the first two of that group.

“It is very humbling to see that I helped that become a thing,” Coley said. “It makes me proud that those kids have the desire and burn that I had. They’ll go further than I ever thought about going. I’m so proud of them that I could bust for having those same dreams and never giving up on them. These guys are out here day in and day out to try to achieve those goals and reach those dreams. It makes me proud of every one of them.”

Carter added, “Is it surprising (having 10 college golfers over the past 13 years coming from MCHS) … yes, very much so. There’s definitely pride. To this day, if I know if any of them are playing in golf tournaments, I try to keep up with them … little Maddox Crowder (a Lafayette 13-year-old who is a two-time Schooldays Golf Tournament champion) included. We’re all rooting for him.”

And Coley is still passing down the torch.

“I’ve always loved it,” Coley said. “I grew up out there. It’s really all I ever knew.

“I have a little girl (2-year-old Peyton) who is following in my footsteps. She goes to the golf course with my dad every day. It’s a family affair.”