Catching up with Head Women's Golf Coach Carol Rhoades
March 2, 2011
You are in an interesting situation in the fact that you took over the job in August 2010, but you don't begin competition until August 2011. Give Flames fans a synopsis of what the job has been like up to this point.
Since we started the program in August, we've completely started from scratch, in all components. Our number one priority was to get enough players to play in year one. We had to decide how many players we needed, how many we could sign to National Letters of Intent, and what the financial ramifications were. In golf, normally the squad size is less than 12 players; most schools don't sign more than two or three student-athletes per year. We knew that we were going to have to go out and get at least five; and we've accomplished that goal.
The second goal was to find out what kind of foundation we wanted to lay for our program's future. We've done quite a bit of work in that area, and now we're working on selecting a golf course to practice and play on; I believe that we'll be able to announce where that will be in the next 30 days. We are also working on finding an indoor facility to utilize for our practice and skill development throughout the year.
We've spent a lot of time talking to students that are already on our campus that may be interested in playing golf for the Flames. It's important to me to provide opportunities for our current students, as well as the community. Beyond that, we're finalizing our schedule for both 2011 and 2012. We can't begin practicing until August 22, so we won't play our first official event until after Labor Day.
During the interview process, what interested you the most about being the head coach of an upstart program?
I had coached at the collegiate level before (at William and Mary), but I work here locally in Oak Lawn, and had been very heavily involved with golf in Chicago. I had known (athletic director) Jim Schmidt for a long time before this process, and he had asked me from a consulting standpoint what I thought it would take to get a program started at UIC. I told him what I thought would need to be accomplished and the commitment it would take; and he told me that I could be the person for the job.
For me, it's the right time in my life. I'm at a point where I am eager to do something a little bit different than what I have been doing in my career. I've always enjoyed building teams, whether that is in the corporate venue, or in athletics. The opportunity to start something new, and to be able to build it from the ground up, is obviously very attractive. There is no legacy here, no tradition. The slate is clean.
We get the opportunity to take this thing and build it to the level that we think it can be at, which is highly successful and competitive. It's been really exciting up to this point. Every coach here at UIC has been very supportive of what I've done so far, and have offered their help - I really appreciate that.
I want our team to be the golf team of Metro Chicago. I want our kids to be visible on our campus and in the community. It's a great golf community, and for recruits in this area to have the opportunity to attend UIC, receive a fabulous education and have a chance to win a Horizon League Championship is pretty special.
How did your passion for the game of golf begin?
I was a multi-sport athlete. Many, many years ago, when I was growing up, women's golf wasn't much of an organized sport. I don't know of any women from Pennsylvania during that era that played on the women's golf team, because there weren't any. I played on the boys' golf team, and worked at a golf course. My dad played golf, and I was always around it. I went to a very small school that really pushed you to achieve. As a sophomore, I played golf at the same time that I was lettering in another sport, went to the sectional championship and qualified for the state tournament.
That's when I realized that it would probably be in my best interest to take this golf thing seriously. I was very fortunate to go play at a very successful college program (Longwood), and play for a Hall of Famer. Some of my teammates went on to play on the LPGA Tour, and all of us are still in the golf business in some capacity. So I had the opportunity to be around a lot of people that loved the game of golf. I love to teach, whether it be the golf swing, or coaching other sports, which I've had experience in as well. The opportunity to teach was really something I wanted to do, so it's been good for me. I was always a competitive athlete, and still am very competitive. If our program and the university can provide even half the opportunities that I had in college, our players are going to have a great experience.
I stressed to our new players in the recruiting process, and will continue to stress, that it's important to be well-rounded when you're representing a university and an athletic department. I was recently at a certification conference, where some pretty telling stats were revealed. There are 2.2 junior golfers in America between men and women; 550,000 of those play in some sort of a competitive event. 5,100 of those prospects go on to play Division I golf, and 246 play golf for a living. So I think it is really important that we keep focus on our university's initiatives: to turn out socially responsible, well-adjusted young people. That's exactly what we're going to do, and we're going to have some fun doing it.
What are the biggest challenges of starting a new program, and what are the most noticeable advantages?
I think the greatest challenge is laying a foundation for recruiting, which now really seems to be such a long, drawn out, very early process. But all coaches deal with that; on the recruiting trail, I don't care as much about their skill level when they are 17 years old; I'd rather envision what they're going to be like when they are 22. So recruiting is certainly a challenge, and an imperfect process in golf. I am going to focus on a body of work, rather than one good or bad day on the course; 18 holes of golf doesn't make or break someone's career.
A drawback for us is that we're urban. It's certainly an advantage to have your own golf course sitting on your campus, and we obviously don't have that. But many universities don't either, and we won't use that as an excuse. I'd say 75 percent of Division I universities do not have access to a golf course right on their campus. But it's still a challenge; with the amount of traffic that is in and around Chicago, it will be challenging to get to and from practice every day. But on the other side of that coin, we live in one of the biggest golf meccas in this country. We have all kinds of different opportunities at various facilities, and we're going to utilize them.
What selling points have you used to entice recruits, and what recruiting bases do you plan on targeting?
We're recruiting worldwide, truthfully. I have an unbelievable amount of interest from prospective student-athletes outside of the country. I wouldn't say that we have a select recruiting base, but I want to own Chicago. There is a lot of great talent here. We're going after the best players we can get, but I want Chicago to be our own story. That's part of the charter of our university; to provide opportunities for Chicago Public School kids, and the surrounding suburban areas.
But overall, I'd say we are a worldwide recruiter, because UIC is a world-class institution. The students that are interested in coming to school here are really good students, and that really lends itself to golf. They are going to enhance their academic career with golf. I'm excited about that part of it.
What characteristics are you looking for in a potential recruit going forward?
I would say it's not necessarily about the type of golfer they are; it's more about what type of person they are. That's really what we went after with our first class, and what we'll continue to do. Integrity is very high on the list, along with passion and dedication. We also looked at players that could find their way out of a difficult situation, because we're going to be challenged and face some adversity here; so perseverance is very important.