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The Age of Excellence: The different strokes of COC women's golf

COC’s remarkable state champion golf team was a diverse group of women

Posted: December 20, 2009 11:13 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Susan Latch was a mother of three in her early 30s when she helped COC win the 2001 state championship. On a team with two mature women and three young girls, Latch fit right in to the motley crew.

 
It’s arguably the most remarkable tale of nothing-to-something in the history of Santa Clarita Valley sports.

In the summer of 1998, College of the Canyons President Dianne Van Hook tasked men’s golf head coach Gary Peterson to start a women’s program.

“Our first season, we were horrible. I think we finished 0-52,” Peterson says. 

The next year, Peterson coached a talented group of six golfers to a second-place finish at the state’s invitational in 2000.

The following season, the Cougars were 52-0. Susan Latch, Peg Stratton, Carla Loomis, Courtney Erdman, April Markham and Rene Smith earned a state championship trophy, the school’s first-ever state title in a women’s sport.

The team’s almost overnight rise to the top of community college golf is atypical.

But so was this group, Peterson says.

“The interesting thing about women’s golf is that each year, we have to accommodate what we’re given,” Peterson says. “And we supplement that with a diverse makeup of the team.”

He says community college teams in smaller sports often feature an eclectic mix of athletes. But that team’s combination of diversity and talent had a special draw.  

It attracted the attention of everything from the local news to national outlets like the USGA’s magazine.

“That was an unusual year, because we had two mature women, (Latch) was in her early 30s and then three young girls,” Peterson says. “That team got a lot of publicity.”

Latch was a big part of the program’s turnaround the year before the championship.

In the summer of 2000, Peterson managed to recruit Latch, a golfer that would eventually earn a spot in COC’s Athletic Hall of Fame for her course accomplishments, which include winning the Western State Conference’s Golfer of the Year award twice.

Peterson found her at Vista Valencia Golf Course, while Latch was on the driving range with her 5-year-old son and his friend.

“He asked me if I would be interested in playing for the golf team, and I kind of laughed and thought, ‘There was no way,’” Latch recalls.

Latch says she missed competitive golf, which she hadn’t played since high school. But Latch’s family moved to the SCV the year before, and the self-described stay-at-home mom felt she was too busy with her three kids.

“I was concerned I couldn’t go back to school full-time, but my husband was very supportive,” Latch says.

She says Peterson helped out too. She recalled an away match at Santa Barbara City College where Peterson let Latch bring her youngest child along, and then took her daughter to the Santa Barbara Zoo afterward.

“We were talking about anything from high school to early college issues to having kids to older-adult issues,” Latch says of the team’s camaraderie. “But we were always talking, laughing and joking together. Even though we were different ages, we had no problems getting along.”

Peg Stratton, now 66, was running her own wallpaper-hanging business back in 2000 when she was recruited by a friend who worked at Vista Valencia and was also joining the team.

“It was still a new program and it was hard to recruit,” Stratton says. “(Peterson) was trying to formulate a team with whatever he could put together and he was scrapping along. I had already graduated college, but I loved taking classes at COC.”

Stratton remembers taking online courses and going at night to manage the coursework around her business schedule. But what stands out for her is the ironic togetherness that the team felt.

“It was so unbelievable. I would never have imagined that a woman my age could play someone who, I think April was 17 or 18 when we started, but it was incredible,” Stratton says. “We had the maturity, and we also had the young, energetic wackiness of youth. They learned from us, and we learned from them.”

And they also won. A lot.

Stratton still remembers the 2001 win at the state semifinals at La Purisma Golf Course in Lompoc that pushed the team to 51-0. It was so rainy, the greens were virtually unplayable.

“It was pouring, and the wind was so bad you couldn’t use an umbrella,” Stratton says. “The course was a lake, the greens were a lake, but it was such an important round they couldn’t reschedule.”

The Cougars ended up edging Mount San Antonio College by a stroke for their title shot.

Erdman says she remembers being a high school senior excited for an opportunity to play golf for Peterson.

She said the team’s age differential provided some funny moments, like on trips when the younger women would sing hip-hop songs on team bus rides and draw some funny looks and laughs from their elder teammates.

“I came (to COC) from high school and I was 18 years old and some of the other ladies were in their 30s, 40s and 50s. But we were all friends, we didn’t pay attention to age,” Erdman says.

Like a few of her teammates, Erdman remained connected to golf after COC as well.

Erdman, whose name was Renfro before she got married, played at Cal State Northridge for a semester before leaving to fulfill her dream of professional golf, which she still plays today.

Erdman narrowly missed the cut twice at the LPGA’s qualifying school, which is a series of tournament rounds a professional golfer must compete in order to earn a tour card that qualifies a golfer for tour events.

She spent some time on the Duramed Futures Tour, which is a level below the LPGA.

Last season, Erdman was on the Canadian Tour with her husband, Kevin, who supported her as a caddy. Both currently work as course instructors at the Altadena Golf Course, where the couple met in high school.

The Erdmans also competed separately on recent seasons of “The Big Break”, a reality television show on The Golf Channel in which players compete for a spot on the professional tour.

Courtney was on The Big Break two seasons ago and made it to the final six, and Kevin missed the final cut on a season finale that aired last Tuesday.

She described golf mixed with reality television as a fun, whirlwind experience that was filled with 10-hour days, some tricky golf challenges and a lot of pressure.

“We were cranking them out, it’s usually one show filmed in a day,” Courtney says. “They would do a challenge and there would be a lot of time where we were just standing around waiting. It was kind of hard to get into a rhythm,” she says.

Courtney Erdman says she plans on resuming the Canadian Tour when it picks up again next year.

Latch stayed on for four seasons as an assistant after graduating, before stepping down to concentrate on the nursing program at COC.

Stratton and Loomis are still involved with the COC golf program as assistant coaches, both taking roles after Latch left.

Latch says the sport has grown tremendously since her time as player, both at COC and in the Western State Conference.

“It’s easy to look back and see how the program has grown,” Latch says, crediting the guidance of Peterson.

But even after eight years, it was hard for her to describe the special team chemistry that championship group shared.

“I just think that you have to have, I don’t know the word I’m looking for, but we had that common thread of being competitive, having fun and enjoying golf,” Latch says. “And we all really wanted to win for Gary. I don’t think if I had played for (Peterson) I would be in the nursing program right now. I bet I’d still be trying to figure out what I was going to do.”

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