Reprinted with permission from The Knox Student.
Twenty-eight conference championships. Five National Tournament appearances. Three All Americans. Nineteen individual conference champions.
No, these aren't accolades from Duke, Texas, or Stanford. These are the numbers behind the Knox College men's golf team, the most successful program in the history of sports at Knox.
And most people don't even know it.
While other men's sports teams on campus have struggled, the Prairie Fire golfers continue to churn out titles on the links. The last title any other men's sport won was in 1993, when the baseball team shared its conference crown with Monmouth and Coe Colleges. In that span, the golf team has won its conference championship 10 times.
But the student body may be less aware of the golf team's success than any other team on campus, since most have never even seen them play. Unlike other Knox sports, no events take place on campus. The closest events occur at Soangetaha Country Club, about a five-minute drive down Main Street.
"Most people probably don't know about the meets," Ryan Meier, junior co-captain says. "If they do, they either don't have transportation or they don't know how to get there. Golf just isn't as exciting to watch as football or basketball. There is a lot of down time between shots."
To put the golf team's success in perspective, consider that in the nine other men's team sports that crown a conference champion, Knox has a total of 24 conference championships all-time, or four fewer than the golf program.
So why is Knox so good at golf?
Mack Foster, this year's individual conference champion and co-captain with Meier, attributes the program's success to recruiting.
"When you recruit, it's a whole different style," Foster, a senior from Oneida, Illinois, says. "You don't try to bring in a whole bunch of numbers. You try to land maybe one or two guys who weren't necessarily all-stars, but are solid.
"It's a lot easier to go out and recruit one good golfer who can shoot 75 or even par because there are so many good golfers. One good kid out of five million can really help a program like Knox's."
Meier, a two-time individual conference champion from Normal, Illinois, says it seems like Knox gets at least one good golfer every year.
"When you only play five guys, one good recruit a year can help you sustain a program," Meier says.
Head coach C.J. Rugh cites three key factors to Knox's success: the level of involvement by alumni, the program's reputation, and the ability to recruit local talent.
"Our alumni play a big role in our golf program," Rugh says. "They help recruit, and they provide support. I would liken it to a fraternity."
Rugh commented that the golf program has such a tight-knit following that alumni often come to see meets involving players with whom they never even played.
"The rest of it kind of sells itself," Rugh says. "It's pretty easy to recruit when you're saying we've won 19 of the last 25 conference championships."
Keeping local talent hasn't been a problem for the Prairie Fire either. The golfers that played in the final six for Knox in the 2006 Midwest Conference Championship were all products of Illinois. Both Foster and Meier were the prized recruits from their respective classes, and neither is more than 90 miles from home.
"We're going to get the local kids, especially the better golfers because they have been exposed to Knox," Rugh says.
Having talent doesn't come without expectations. In fact, expectations have become so high in the golf program that Rugh comments, "any time a Knox golf team doesn't win a conference championship, it's kind of a disappointment.
"And that expectation comes from the guys within the program," Rugh adds. "You don't want to be known as the class that hasn't won a conference championship. You take pride in that when you talk to alumni. You want to be able to say that you won at least one."
Those expectations have been well deserved, and the Prairie Fire golfers don't plan on slowing down anytime soon. This past weekend, Knox captured its record 28th conference championship, beating Monmouth by 13 strokes -- even if nobody from campus was there to witness it.