By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
The state tournament for boys golf, started back in 1927, is the third longest running tournament for high school athletics in Ohio. Only the tournaments for boys track and field (1908) and boys basketball (1923) have been in existence longer. From 1927 thru 1970 there was only one state championship that the boys were playing for. From 1971 thru 1988 the schools were divided into three Classes of A-AA-AAA, which were renamed as Div. I-II-III in 1989.
The tournament has always been held in the Columbus area. From 1927-1937 the participants were instructed to meet at Ohio State University, at which time they would find out where in the city the tournament would actually be played. Since 1938 the tournament has been held at Ohio State University, with the exception of 2005, when it was temporarily moved to the Foxfire Golf Club in Lockbourne due to construction at the OSU course. Also, for its first seven seasons the tournament consisted of one round of 18 holes, but ever since 1934 it has been a tournament that has consisted of two rounds of 18 holes each, unless curtailed by weather.
While 75 schools, covering the width and breadth of the state, have won golf championships, five of the eight schools with the most championship trophies have come from the Columbus area. This includes the state’s top winner, Upper Arlington High School, which has won 16 titles, a total that is fifth highest in the country for state golf championships by a single school. Home field advantage for those Columbus schools? One would wonder. However, that did not seem to deter the boys from Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, who became the only team in state history to win four consecutive state championships when they captured the Division III title in 1991-92-93-94.
Playing “on the road” has not hampered the performances of many of the state’s top schoolboy golfers when they participate in the state tournament, especially when it came to setting records. The all-time low individual score in the tournament, 134, is shared by Jason Kokrak, Warren J.F. Kennedy (2002), and Drew Balser, Hillsboro High (2003). The all-time low team score of 564 was set in 2003 by the team from University School in Hunting Valley, just east of Cleveland.
Many fine golfers have participated in the state tournament down through the years, but it would be hard to top the accomplishments of two of the best. Fred Jones, who golfed for Youngstown Rayen High School from 1950-1952, never saw his team take the state title, but that was certainly not Fred’s fault. In his three years in the tournament, Fred Jones became the first Ohio schoolboy golfer to take medalist honors three consecutive times.
Ralph Guarasci, playing for Columbus Bishop Waterson High School, just may have done Jones one better. Guarasci also took medalist honors three consecutive years, 1972-73-74, but in doing so Guarasci led his team to three consecutive Class AA state team championships as well.
Only 32 boys in the nation have taken medallist honors three or more times, and Ohio can proudly boast of having two of them.
No story of Ohio boys high school golf would be complete without mentioning its most famous alumnus, Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus attended Upper Arlington High School, where he lettered in golf all four years and was captain of the golf team as a sophomore, junior and senior. Jack led Upper Arlington to its second state championship in 1956, and he did it in grand style by blistering the course for a then state record score of 144. Nicklaus again took medalist honors in 1957, with a score of 148. However, this time it was not good enough to carry his team to the championship, which was won by Cincinnati St. Xavier, with Upper Arlington finishing third.
Many probably assume that Nicklaus picked up his nickname, the Golden Bear, because of his association with Upper Arlington, whose nickname, coincidentally, is the Golden Bears. Such is not the case, however. Jack received his distinguishing nickname compliments of a golf writer who tagged him with it because of his blonde hair, his bear-like stature and the aggressive nature of his play.
Golf has been one of the most popular of high school sports in Ohio, and advancing to play a couple of rounds in Columbus has always been the goal of every high school golfer in the state.