BURLINGTON, Iowa — It wasn’t the grand finish Darton State golf coach Dale Dover was hoping for, but Friday’s final round of the NJCAA Division I national tournament was still historic for the Cavs.
It was also the end of an era.
After watching the Cavs shoot a 306 in the final round to finish in fourth place — the team’s best finish since moving to Division I in 2011 — Dover announced his retirement from the program that he helped build.
Dover, who took over the program in 2003 and served as either head coach or Director of Golf Operations for the past 11 years, said assistant coach Gary Hilton will take over next season and that the Cavs will be heading back to Division II after spending the last four seasons in the NJCAA’s highest classification.
“It’s been my baby,” Dover said of the program, which he led to three straight Division II national championships from 2005-07. “It’s my baby, and I am proud of it. I think Gary will take it on and do what needs to be done.”
It was a fitting finale for Dover, whose Cavs fought back from a disappointing first round on Tuesday to claim their best finish at nationals since winning it all in 2007.
Indian Hills led the tournament wire-to-wire and cruised to victory with a four-round total of 38-over. Wallace State Community College, which was just three shots back of the lead entering the final round, faded on Friday and finished a distant second at 54-over. Iowa Western Community College came in at 61-over to hold off Darton for third place. The Cavs finished at 66-over, nine shots in front of fifth-place Odessa.
“After the start we got on Tuesday, that was a reasonable finish,” Dover said. “I would have liked to shoot under 300 again (Friday), and we very well could have.”
Macon native Seth Sanders started the final round just three shots out of first place and in good position to secure a Top 10 finish and All-American status, but the freshman shot an 8-over 80 and finished the tournament in a tie for 15th.
Being in contention for medalist honors was nerve-wracking, Sanders said after his round on Friday.
“I think nerves did play a part in it,” he said. “I made one tournament all fall and didn’t even make the team in the fall, and I was within three shots of the lead (Friday). I knew that Top 10 would get me All-American, and I think the nerves got the best of me.”
Darton sophomore Taylor Martin was also on the cusp of becoming an All-American, but he also struggled on Friday with a 5-over 77 to finish in 17th place among 113 golfers.
“I told them (Thursday) night not to think about getting All-American,” Dover said. “They made a few mistakes (Friday). Seth in particular made a fee mistakes, and I saw him get tentative. He was swinging so good for three days, but hopefully he will learn from this and get better. Taylor just three-putted his way out of it.”
Other Darton scores on Friday were Jake O’Bryan 73, Madison Turner 78 and Tae Kim 78. O’Bryan tied for 18th individually, while Turner and Kim tied for 36th and 49th, respectively.
Friday was the second time Dover stepped down as head coach in the past three years. He resigned back in 2011 when he handed the team over to assistant Bill Jones III, who stepped down last June and forced Dover to resume his duties as head coach. Dover stayed on as Director of Golf Operations and had his hands in the program with Jones as coach, but this time Dover said he is stepping away for good.
“Last time I enjoyed hanging around and helping Bill, but I told Gary back in the summer that he had better learn the ropes because after this year I was gone,” Dover said.
Dover never formally told his players that he was planning to resign, but by the end of the season Sanders said it was understood that the national tournament would be Dover’s last.
“We wanted to send him out with a bang,” Sanders said. “But we came up just a little bit short.”