TWIN LAKE – After winning the 2020 Division 4 state championship, one might wonder just how excited the Montague girls golf team was to repeat as champion at Wednesday’s Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Golf Tournament.

The answer is very excited. Montague Coach Phil Kerr has great respect for the long history of high school golf in Muskegon County, and he’s thrilled that his team has proven to be the best in the neighborhood for the past two years.

“Oh my gosh, for me it’s a really, really significant championship,” Kerr said. “There’s so much history in golf in the Muskegon area, on the girls and boys side. To get these girls’ names up there with some of the greats in Muskegon County history is awesome. I’m excited for the seniors. Years from now somebody will be talking about that Montague team.”

The top 10 individuals in the tournament (from left): Whitehall’s Karli VanDuinen (champion), Montague’s Orianna Bylsma and Mackenzie Goudreau, Reeths-Puffer’s Paige Anderson, Montague’s  Gabriella Moreau and Claire Meacham, Mona Shores’ Dezmin Merwin and Mayson Southland, and Whitehall’s Ava Garcia.

Montague dominated the competition for the second straight year, finishing with a team score of 345 at Stonegate Golf Club. Whitehall was second with 367, followed by Mona Shores (384), Reeths-Puffer (404), North Muskegon (453), Western Michigan Christian (467), Fruitport (469), Holton (508) and Oakridge (525).

Usually great teams like Montague also have the tournament medalist in the lineup. But for the second straight year, the Wildcats ran away with the title without having the top individual golfer.

Instead they won by showing off their depth, with all five golfers finishing among the top 10 individuals. They were Orianna Bylsma (83, second place), Mackenzie Goudreau (84, third place), Gabriella Moreau (87, fifth place), Claire Meacham (91, sixth place) and Natalie Kellogg (95, ninth place).

So how does one high school team end up with so many quality golfers on the roster?

Whitehall’s Chloe Essebaggers tees off. Photo/Tyler Morey

“We have really good numbers, with probably about 20 in the program, and we spend all summer with them,” Kerr said. “Some schools get together with their players on Aug. 8, the first day of practice, but June 9 is our starting date. The last day of school is our start. We give them lots of opportunities to get better with their games, and it’s just kind of snowballed. There’s a lot of competition to get into this lineup.”

Kerr expects to have good teams for years to come, but said future Wildcat squads may not match this one.

“This is probably the most talented team we will have for a long time,” the coach said. “This is an amazing group. The senior leadership has been amazing. We expect to be competitive for years, but it’s going to be impossible to replace what we have right now.”

The top individual golfer in the tournament was once again Whitehall’s Karli VanDuinen, who won her third city golf championship. She also won as a freshman and sophomore, but missed the event in her junior year due to school transfer rules.

Montague’s Natalie Kellogg lines up a putt. Photo/Tyler Morey

VanDuinen won her latest title with ease, shooting a 76, seven shots ahead of Montague’s Bylsma. Others in the top 10 were Reeths-Puffer’s Paige Anderson (85, fourth place), Mona Shores’ Dezmin Merwin (94, seventh place), Mona Sbores’ Mayson Southland (94, eighth place), and Whitehall’s Ava Garcia (96, tenth place).

“It was rough today – I was all over the place, but then I scrambled and got back to where I needed to be,” VanDuinen said about her performance.

She said the conditions on Wednesday – cool, windy and very fall-like – did not bother her at all.

“I really like fall golf more than when it’s warm,” VanDuinen said.

This season will mark the end of VanDuinen’s spectacular high school golf career, but she says that really doesn’t bother her. She prefers bowling to golf (she’s also a GMAA city bowling champion), and recently committed to Arkansas State University to join the bowling team there.

From here on out, golf will just be a passtime for VanDuinen, despite the fact that she’s really, really good at it.

“I’m excited that it will be over, kind of, so I can start focusing on bowling, my true passion,” she said.