DOBSON — Surry Community College bolstered its women’s golf team by signing North Surry’s top two players.
Kasie Tolbert and Gatlin Hiatt announced their decision this week to play for Coach Tom Pendergraft.
Tolbert is a two-time Northwest Conference player of the year who qualified for the state tournament all four years. Hiatt is a two-time all-conference player and a trailblazer who was instrumental in the rise of girls’ golf in the county.
Hiatt said she first tried golf at the age of 6. She played a few times while in grade school.
When she was at Meadowview Middle School, Hiatt wanted to play golf, but the school didn’t have a girls’ team. So, she and friend Sarah Holleman joined the boys’ team with Coach Josh McCrary.
Hiatt became the team’s second seed.
Mount Airy and South Stokes already had girls’ teams in place, but North Surry, East Surry and Surry Central didn’t have programs.
Hiatt wanted to play so bad, she went about trying to start a team.
Hiatt and Holleman made posters and set up a display at school to drum up interest among students, said mom Hope Ward.
Ward, a Greyhound alumnus, had returned to the school as a Spanish teacher. She went to the principal and athletic director on Hiatt’s behalf.
Hiatt said that the ruling from AD Shane Slate was that the girls had to come up with enough interested parties to field a team.
She was one golfer shy of enough, so she went around campus trying to recruit girls.
Daron Atkins, who has been a long-time supporter of North’s boys’ team, helped get the team organized and ready to go in Tolbert’s and Hiatt’s freshman year. However, because of time constraints, he was not able to coach them himself.
“Katie Bolick stepped up to coach the girls their first year,” said Ward. “Thanks to her and to Mount Airy Country Club for letting us use their course as our home course.”
Now North Surry and Mount Airy both use Cross Creek Country Club as their home course.
Tolbert didn’t play golf in grade school. She played volleyball and softball at Gentry Middle School. She was a member of the volleyball team that won its 100th straight match.
Tolbert said she played against Hiatt in sports, but they didn’t know each other until she heard about Hiatt trying to start a golf team.
The only time Tolbert had tried golf was when her church held a bunny hop tournament.
While Hiatt was teaching herself to play over years of practice, Tolbert knew she needed to catch up on ability. Dad Todd Tolbert helped her get some lessons from guys like Tommy Gibson, Charles Frost at Quail Hollow and Zim Zimmerman at Cedarbrook.
As freshmen, both girls qualified for the 2A regional tournament.
In their sophomore year, current coach Daniel Johnson came on board and provided guidance.
In the meantime, East Surry and Surry Central had heard about North’s program and started girls’ teams of their own.
Now the conference had five teams that could play together in meets.
Not only did it increase competition, the girls soon began to develop friendships with opponents.
Both girls made the all-conference team, and Tolbert was runnerup for player of the year. Tolbert went to the state tournament, but struggled in finishing more than 30 strokes off the lead.
In their junior years, Tolbert won player of the year, and she, Hiatt and Holleman all qualified for the state tournament. Tolbert was eighth and Hiatt 36th as North Surry finished sixth as a team.
This past fall, Tolbert again won NW player of the year. Then at the state tournament, she finished second, and Hiatt improved from 36th to 23rd. As a team, the Hounds were tied for third.
The conditions were very challenging that day. It was cold, windy and raining off and on.
After tying for fourth on the first day, Tolbert moved up to second when the weather was worse.
Tolbert said she loves playing in bad conditions. The other girls get distracted, while she gets more determined.
While their golf games have earned them accolades, their parents are quick to point out what fine children Tolbert and Hiatt are.
“She’s been a wonderful daughter,” Todd said of Kasie. “Not one bit of trouble.”
“She is faithful to her church,” he added, speaking of Amazing Grace Baptist Church.
Last year, Todd battled colon cancer. Kasie helped recruit people to play in a charity golf match at Cedarbrook.
While her dad says he is “free and clear” of cancer now, Tolbert likes the idea of going to SCC so she can be close to home.
Mom Patricia noted that she went to SCC for two years before matriculating and that the classrooms felt more personal than at big universities.
An A/B student, Tolbert said she wants to join the nursing program.
Coach Pendergraft said that career choice ought to please the Chatham family. The Chathams, related to Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital, provided an endowment to SCC to help fund the golf program.
The Alex Chatham Scholarship Program has been in place for five years, noted Pendergraft.
Hiatt said she received interest from some golf coaches. Catawba, Belmont Abbey and Sand Hills Community College all wanted her.
Hiatt said she is still kicking around a few ideas for her major, so she likes the idea of being in SCC’s transfer program to prepare for a university while still playing the sport she loves.
A good student with a 3.5 GPA, she has been involved in the student council all four years. She is the student body vice president.
Hiatt also has been on the yearbook staff for two years and is the editor.
She also is active in her church, Antioch Baptist.
Hiatt is so artistic, noted her mom. She plays guitar and writes her own songs. She has performed at church several times. She also has taken four semesters of art classes.
Now that he has these two prize recruits, Pendergraft said he is looking to add a few more golfers to field a full team.