Darton College head men’s golf coach Bill Jones, back row, far right, and director of golf operations Dale Dover, back row, left, pose for a photo with their 2012 signing class Thursday that included, from left, Tyler Vaughn of Douglas, Madison Turner of Canton, J.P. Pearce of Jacksonville, Fla., Taylor Martin of Braselton and Von Stripling of Moultrie.
ALBANY — It made sense for Taylor Martin to initially look at Gordon College, which was right in the backyard of the Atlanta-area golfer.
“But then we looked at (Gordon’s) website and saw that Darton was the school that beat Gordon in everything,” Martin said.
That’s all it took to convince Martin to move a little farther from home.
On Thursday, he was one of five golfers to sign national letters-of-intent to Darton College, and it’s a group that Cavs coach Bill Jones III said can continue the tradition of a program that won NJCAA National Championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Jones said the larger-than-normal signing class will also give the team more competition within itself next season.
“That gives us more competition, and there are more possibilities of having different teams to advance,” Jones said. “Right now we only have seven, so I can’t swap too many people out if they aren’t playing good or if they need to stay here for class. This gives us a little more flexibility next year.”
Headlining the 2012 signing class is Jacksonville, Fla., native J.P. Pearce, who had initially committed to North Florida before walking away from the Division I school because of a coaching change.
“He fell in our front door,” Jones said of Pearce, who didn’t play competitive golf last year while waiting to transfer. “He hits it really good. He is more mature than the other guys because he is already 19. He is much more mature in golf and should be more like a sophomore coming in. We are lucky to get him.”
And Pearce felt lucky to find Darton, which is currently ranked 10th in the nation.
“Winning is really important to me. I want to get here and win some more of those,” Pearce said as he pointed over his shoulder to the case full of NJCAA National Championship trophies. “I came up here, fell in love and just wanted to be here for the next couple years. What attracted me was the level they play on, and they also win.”
Martin, Von Stripling (of Moultrie), Madison Turner (Canton) and Tyler Vaughn (Douglas) also signed with the Cavs and will join current freshmen Neil Graham, Nick Green, Chase Jones and Robert Robertson to make up the 2012-13 roster.
Jones called Martin and Turner, who are both from the Atlanta area, a pair of “solid golfers.”
“They haven’t won anything in junior golf, but their scores are really solid,” Jones said. “They are kind of like the 3-4-5 on the golf team where they might not shoot 65 or 66 like (Darton No. 1 golfer Joe Sakulpolphaisan), but they aren’t going to blow up and shoot 82 or 83.”
Consistency and potential are the two things that Jones says he looks for during recruiting, and Stripling and Vaughn are two more players who fit that mold. Vaughn is the third Darton golfer in three years from Coffee County High School, following in the footsteps of current Darton golfers Graham and sophomore Austin McNeill.
“Von and Tyler are great local talent,” Jones said. “I know they had interest and probably some offers from other schools in Georgia and the Southeast, but I think both of them wanted to stay close to home but go to a really solid program.”
It’s a solid program that just got sturdier, and Jones said he isn’t done yet.
“I had a sixth player in mind who didn’t come down today. He is an international kid and has some issues with his visa,” Jones said. “We are trying to get back to between nine and 11 players. When you have 10 guys, you have to beat out five guys (for a starting spot) instead of two or three. The scores should go down.”