Courtesy of Trevecca Nazarene University Larken Whittemore helped the Macon County High boys golf program to the 2012 Class A-AA state championship before continuing his playing career at Trevecca Nazarene University.

Courtesy of Trevecca Nazarene University

Larken Whittemore helped the Macon County High boys golf program to the 2012 Class A-AA state championship before continuing his playing career at Trevecca Nazarene University.

Gene and Ellen Polston didn't have to actually be on the golf course to have a significant impact on the development of area golfers at a young age.

They were close enough.

The Polston home became a temporary haven for some of the individuals who developed into some of the best golfers to emerge from Macon County.

"My grandparents live there right off the golf course," Zach Polston said. "Even when we weren't at the golf course, we were together at their house. We'd go the course for a couple of hours, and if it got hot, we'd go swim for a while at my grandparents and then go back to the course."

Others remember those long summer days at Macon County Golf Course.

"It was almost like we had our own little family there," MacKenzy Carter said. "I played I don't know how many rounds of golf with Zach and Larken (Whittemore). We all just played together. From sunup to sundown, most of the kids were there all the time.

"Zach Polston's grandparents lived close. We'd drive the golf cart over. We had a blast. You'd play nine holes for a can of Ski or a candy bar. It made it fun."

Larken Whittemore added, "It doesn't get much better. You're out there with your friends all day long. Food and drink is cheap. You're out in the sun. You don't have anything to worry about. That was one of the funner times of my life."

Carter, Polston and Whittemore all eventually advanced from the Macon County Golf Course to collegiate competition.

In fact, they are three of the 10 individuals from Macon County High who have played at the next level since 2007.

"It was luck or fluke that you had four or five or six guys within two or three grades of each other that were at the golf course every day in the summer," Whittemore said. "I remember going out at 8 a.m. and leaving at 8 p.m. We'd play 72 holes.

"If you're not on my team, I want to beat you. We just hung out together."

Polston added, "It was awesome. We'd all meet up. We might play six or seven holes, and if we didn't like how it was going, we'd go back to No. 1 start over. The people out there (running the golf course) are good and were good to us. They treated us right."

Carter - a 2010 graduate of MCHS who went on to play at Lipscomb University - calls the attraction to the golf course "getting bit by the bug."

"In my experience, what else is there to do all day long in a summer day," the 27-year-old Carter said. "If you get bit by the bug, it's a great babysitter. The kids who do enjoy it and pick it up, you can't help but to get good. The golf course was our driving range.

"For me as a female, if I wanted to beat the guys, you had to keep hitting and hitting and hitting. My parents spent many days … every Saturday morning at 8 a.m., we were at the practice facility (the Johnny Warren Golf Academy in Gallatin) getting lessons. With Zach Polston and the ones growing up underneath us, you see some kids who are successful, so you know it's possible. I saw that Chelsey (Key Coley) was successful, so I knew it was possible. Once you get out there and see the little family connection, you see it's achievable and can do it. It's just a thing you want to do and stand out."

Whittemore attributes those times as instrumental in his development.

"If somebody said to me, 'How do I get my kid to play golf? How do I get him to a (high) level,' the first thing I'd say is don't go get him lessons right away," Whittemore said. "Just go play. Learn how to hit different shots. It's different lies. It's different winds. It's different weather. You're learning integrity, discipline, patience … you're learning all these different things rather than just dropping your kid at a driving range. If you have a kid who plays for a year or a kid on the driving range for a year, the kid who plays for a year is going to beat the kid who hits on the driving range bad. This kid may hit it worse than him, but this kid who plays the course is going to know how to hit the ball in the hole better than the other kid. I'd say, go out and play.

"We were just at the course so often. It also doesn't hurt that everybody has really been friends, pushing each other. We'd play scrambles, alternate shots, nothing but seven-irons … anything you can imagine, we would play."

Polston - who now works as the assistant club professional at Old Hickory Country Club - believes there is some legitimacy to Whittmore's assessment.

"Your short game in golf means a lot," Polston said. "In my opinion, that's how you score, especially at that age group. Being with a luxury of having a short course, you chip and putt.

"At the bigger schools, they have driving ranges where they just go out and bang it. It may have helped us in certain ways."

Coley - who played at Lindsey Wilson (Kentucky) College - added, "We are given a lot of opportunities that a lot of people don't realize. We have a nine-hole golf course that we can go out to any time."

However, neither Polston - a 2014 MCHS graduate - nor Whittmore - a 2015 MCHS graduate - was expecting to play college golf.

"I was wanting to play basketball," Polston said. "I had no plans to play golf. To me, basketball and golf ran together. In the summer, you have (basketball) camps. I kind of had to make a decision. I felt like it would have been easier to get a scholarship in golf than in basketball

"It's one of those deals … not see the floor much (playing college basketball), or do you want to play at a smaller school and get to play golf and enjoy it."

Whittemore added, "Golf was never my way to go to college. I always thought it was going to be baseball. I played a ton of travel ball in my life. As I got older, my shoulder started to mess me up. I lost all my power in pitching. In eighth grade, I grew a bit and my eyes adjusted to that. I went from cracking it solid (at the plate) to hitting the grounders and pop-ups. The level of difficulty went up too, and I never adjusted. Golf was something we did once baseball season ended. You played from the end of summer until baseball season. I started taking it more seriously my sophomore year. The next thing you know, we win the state. I'm like, "Well, I'm pretty good at golf.'"

Whittemore led the Tigers to the state title as a sophomore in 2012, posting a two-round total of 149 (74-75) to place fifth individually. As a senior, he placed seventh in the state individually as Macon County finished fourth in Class A-AA.

Junior teammate Austin Williams shot 150 (77-73) in 2012 to tie for sixth place as the Tigers finished five strokes ahead of Alcoa to win its lone state golf title.

Williams eventually played at Cumberland University, graduating along with Polston (who shot 154 at the state in 2012).

"Everybody just stepped up even though they were playing with the kids from Alcoa," Macon County High golf coach Beverly Shoulders said. "We were definitely an underdog, especially at that time. Ian (Whittemore, another Cumberland golfer) was the only senior that played that year.

"Having successful programs creates interest in younger kids in the community. It definitely created higher expectations and more interest."

Coley tied for fifth in the state as a junior and placed 11th as a senior, and Carter placed third in Class A-AA as a senior.

"Every person is so competitive," Carter said. "Once one person is good, you all want to be good. It was kind of a group effort. If you put in the work, you could get there."

Coley added, "Seeing past golfers succeed and just saying, 'They did it … I can do that too. They're from the same town I'm from. They're playing the same golf course I always play. I see them practicing, so I'm going to go practice.' I think it's just evolved over the last 15 years or so."

Larken Whittemore benefitted from that, with his older brother - Ian Whittemore - graduating two years earlier and going on to play at Cumberland University.

"He was someone I was trying to beat," Larken Whittemore said of his brother. "I was always trying to one-up him. I'd see Ian out there playing. So, I'm going out there playing."

Rick Shoulders has helped his wife, Beverly Shoulders, with the program since she took over as the head coach in 2002.

"The teams, being held to such a high standard that Rick and Bev had laid for a team, is huge," the 30-year-old Coley said. "Who doesn't want to be a part of that? It's just a desire and drive of seeing those other players come up and compete.

"I'm sure (two-time Schooldays champion and rising seventh-grader) Maddox Crowder will tell you that he grew up watching Larken or watching Ian or watching Zach. They say, 'Wow, that's awesome. He plays for Cumberland or he plays for Trevecca (Nazarene University).' Any time they see someone else do it, it makes that desire burn that much hotter."

Beverly Shoulders calls her husband "the coach" and herself "the manager."

"She does a great job, her and Rick both," Whittemore said. "They set an atmosphere. Everybody enjoys being around them and playing for them. They've always been willing to help you or stay away from you. If they know someone like Maddox who goes and takes lessons all the time, they're not going to and step in (and give stroke instruction). They do a great job of setting up tournaments, timelines, practices, fundraising, making sure the kids have bags, golf balls. They do a great, great job."

Polston added, "It was getting us against better teams. It may be making us take a loss early in the season so that we'll practice a little bit more. Another example is getting there a day early for the district or region (tournaments) so that we see the course an extra time. She always made sure we were prepared. She was big on making sure we were focused from the beginning to the end … she was big on that."

Beverly Shoulders attributes the program's success to a variety of factors.

"The support that we have had from parents from unbelievable," Beverly Shoulders said. "The kids love the sport. We love the game. We love being around the kids. They develop a passion for the game. All the kids who have gone to college are athletic kids, but because they were so passionate about golf, they have concentrated just on golf. They wanted to be out there all the time. You never had to make them go practice. As we got started and more kids were interested because of the success, then I expected and hoped that the next group coming up would have one or two to work hard and be disciplined and want to be the best coming up.

"The friendships they develop, the closeness … it's just an accumulation of a lot of things. It starts with the parents and the support the kids have gotten. Golf is an expensive sport and an individual sport too. The majority of the kids have taken private lessons. They've wanted to get better. A lot of them have gotten lessons from Johnny Warren. Their love for the game, more than anything, and the desire to want to be the best they can be … yes, we push them to be and try to instill in them the desire to be the best they can be … but it's their love for the game really. We've been very blessed with great kids and parents."

Beverly Shoulders developed a love for the game later in life.

"Rick played golf in high school," Beverly Shoulders said. "I didn't. I really didn't start playing until back when the kids were little to do something after softball that Rick and I could do together. It's such an easy game to love and to be passionate for. We're both competitive. It's a game you can play all your life. I'm 60 years old, and Rick is 61.

"It's a different game. It's a different sport. It's a gentleman's game they say. The kids build character. They just develop so much more than the knowledge and the skills for the game."

Rick Shoulders said that it's often evident which golfers could develop into next-level material.

"We put a lot of time and effort in it," Rick Shoulders said. "We can usually tell at an early age if they're going to be good enough and try to help them along."

The Tigerette golf program has experienced considerable success as well, though Coley and Carter had both graduated by the time that the girls golf program finished as the Class A-AA state runner-up in both 2012 and 2013. Those teams were led by Kaitlin Cartwright, Kaleigh Chitwood, Lauren Gammons and Savannah Knight. Both Cartwright and Chitwood played at Cumberland University.

The success for many of those golfers continued at the next level.

Whittemore departed Trevecca with five school records, including most career birdies (260), most career eagles (8), most birdies in a season (92) and the lowest round (64).

"I've never been one to look far in the future," Larken Whittemore said. "I'm a day-to-day, routine kind of guy. I would never think of holding a trophy down the road. I never thought I'd be having the level of success that I did. It definitely is surprising, just to keep up with your scoring average from when you started to where you ended. My freshman year, I averaged somewhere around 75. My senior year, I didn't play as good as I wanted to. I was around even par, a little over 71."

A back injury hindered his senior season.

"A week before spring break my senior year, I slipped a disc in my back," Larken Whittemore said. "I spent almost my entire spring break lying in bed. It happened on the eighth green on the Nashville Golf and Athletic Club. I was playing in pain, but I reached to mark my ball and it slipped. It caught, and I couldn't really get up. I sat in the golf cart for the rest of the day and went back home."

He was the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2017-18, his junior campaign.

"Competition within the team, rivalries against my own teammates (helped my development)," Larken Whittemore said. "I came in to Trevecca as the best player. I was playing the one spot my freshman and sophomore year. I didn't really have much competition. Therefore, I didn't work as hard as I could have or should have. I started to obviously not play as good.

"My junior year came, my first semester, I played the typical golf over the summer and got some lessons … but I came back my junior year and couldn't even qualify to make the team. I couldn't even qualify for the fifth spot. We brought in some really good guys, but the guys who we had on the team stepped up their game (too). That made me mad. It set me off. I started practicing more … and definitely quit studying as much. It was more lessons and putting in the hours needed and then started having some success. I rode it out throughout the year. I definitely shot lower scores my junior year than my senior year, but my stroke average was about the same."

Polston is one of the six golfers to play at Cumberland, including Ian Whittemore, Chitwood, Cartwright, Williams and current Phoenix golfer Bryson Smith (a 2017 graduate).

Chance Presley was another 2017 graduate to advance to the next level, playing for one season at Lindsey Wilson before now transferring to Campbellsville University-Harrodsburg (Kentucky) for the upcoming season.

Polston was a two-time First Team All-Mid-South Conference selection and a second-team selection as a sophomore, and Williams was a second-team all-conference honoree as a senior. That duo helped the Phoenix to back-to-back Mid-South Conference Tournament championships over their final two seasons.

Like Larken Whittemore, Polston was surprised by the success as well. Both were late signees with their respective schools, signing during the final semester of their senior years at MCHS.

"It was a kind of unbelievable," Polston said. "We had a good team my freshman year. We had a pretty good year my sophomore year. To win the conference my last two years was pretty unbelievable. To be first team all-conference, it was pretty awesome."

Though many of those college golfers have graduated, they still remain in contact.

"We did keep in touch," Polston said. "It is kind of crazy. Coming from Macon County, to have four or five kids who have great careers in college, it's just good to see. There's kids coming up in the next five or six years … they have something to shoot for."

Larken Whittemore added, "I would keep up with them. My sophomore through senior year, I lived in Lebanon. I saw them all the time. We practiced a lot at the same golf courses, in the Old Hickory, Hermitage area … at Foxland (Harbor Golf and Country Club in Gallatin) and Fairvue (Plantation in Gallatin)."

The 23-year-old Larken Whittemore is set to graduate this fall with a business management degree. However, he is contemplating an attempt to play professional golf, though he plans to keep his amateur status until the end of the year.

"I always said that if I improve every year that I would give golf a shot after school … if I still had a love for it and a want-to," Larken Whittemore said. "It didn't matter how good I got … but I didn't want to have it feel like a job."

Polston now gives lessons … despite rarely taking lessons while growing up.

"I kind of self-taught," Polston said. "I had a few people at the club teach me a thing or two. When I decided to go play college golf, Scott Wilkerson (the Cumberland University coach and a Lafayette native) started working with me a little bit.

"Being self-taught, I had kind of gotten good at teaching and understanding the golf swing. I give lessons. It's crazy to think I didn't go through that (taking lessons). Now, I'm on the other end of it."

The 23-year-old is interested in a potential career as golf club sales respresentative. However, Polston never intended to take the route that he's taken.

"I went to school for education," Polston said. "I actually planned on being a high-school P.E. (physical education) teacher.

"To be honest, I had planned on going back to Lafayette and living there the rest of my life. Now, I'm teaching, looking to be a (club) rep on tour and traveling a little bit more. It's turned out kind of crazy. I'd never really have thought that as a kid."

Coley was a graduate assistant coach at Lindsey Wilson for one year, was a golf professional at Maryville's Royal Oaks Golf Course and then was an instructor at the Johnny Warren Golf Academy until the fall of 2017.

For Beverly Shoulders, it's been fulfilling to see the opportunities that continue to present themselves to her former golfers.

"I have big expectations for these kids," Beverly Shoulders said. "Golf has given them so many opportunities. They meet so many people in this game. It's coaches and people at the golf courses … I'm not really surprised at the things that have opened up.

"I did not even dream of having the opportunity this many years to coach and be a part of so many great teams and so many great individual golfers and them having the opportunity to go play (collegiately). It's very fulfilling. I'm very proud. We've all worked hard. It's so much fun. We've enjoyed the time with these kids. It's not like work. That's part of the reason for the success. You love it so much that it's not work. We're very proud of what the kids have been able to accomplish."

Who is the next golfer in line to continue the pipeline to the next level?

Though there could be others to emerge before then, Crowder still has six years before he can enter the collegiate ranks.

However, many of the area golfers are aware of his accomplishments and caliber of play at 13 years old.

"He's different," Larken Whittemore said. "For one, he has a great family. He has a dad (Chris Crowder) who pushes him. Maddox doesn't seem like one who shies away from being pushed. Not everyone is like that. He has a want-to. You have to have that to begin with. There's nothing wrong with playing golf 365 (days a year) … if you can do it. I was never one to do that. I would 100-percent recommend time off.

"Right now, live it up. Then, it's how to go get recruited. You have to go out and try to get recruited by these coaches. I thought they'd come find me. That's true … if you're one of the top 1 percent in the nation. That was not me. You have to make contact (with college coaches). If you have success, they'll start noticing and start paying attention … and it will be somewhere besides Middle (Tennessee State University) and Western (Kentucky University). You can say that's a lot of pressure on a kid, but I think (Crowder) likes it. That's something he wants to do."

Collegiate golfers from Macon County High since 2007

Golfer, High-school graduation year, college/university

Chelsey Key Coley, 2007, Lindsey Wilson (Kentucky) College

MacKenzy Carter, 2010, Lipscomb University

Ian Whittemore, 2013, Cumberland University

Kaleigh Chitwood, 2013, Cumberland University

Zach Polston, 2014, Cumberland University

Austin Williams, 2014, Cumberland University

Kaitlyn Cartwright McClard, 2014, Cumberland University

Larken Whittemore, 2015, Trevecca Nazarene University

Bryson Smith, 2017, Cumberland University

Chance Presley, 2017, Lindsey Wilson College, Campbellsville University-Harrodsburg (Kentucky)