Basalt golf preps for state with Glenwood-heavy group
Calling it the Basalt High School boys golf team is mostly ceremonial at this point.
Of the four players headed to the Class 3A state golf tournament — held Monday and Tuesday at Saddle Rock Golf Course in Aurora — three attend Glenwood Springs High School and the fourth Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.
Only somewhat jokingly, the combined team likes to go by “Basalt Valley” in homage of the union the three schools have created on the golf course.
“It’s really a nice mixture. The kids get to meet some other kids they probably would never meet,” Basalt golf coach Kenny Doerrer said. “It forms a nice camaraderie among all three towns in the little valley here. It’s really kind of a cool thing.”
Of the dozen or so junior varsity players, the majority are Basalt High School students. However, this fall’s varsity squad is again heavy on Glenwood Springs’ golfers, led by sophomore Holden Kleager. Kleager, with his older brother Linc Kleager, a senior, and junior Tanner Korn, also of Glenwood, will join junior Drew Broadhurst of Roaring Fork High School in representing Basalt at the state tournament.
Even three of the next four varsity golfers not headed to state — senior Brandon Benzel, freshman Blake Exelbert and sophomore Matt McGarry — attend Glenwood Springs High School. Junior Nithin Prakash, an exchange student from India who joined the team midway through the season, was one of the few Basalt High School students to spend time on varsity.
“It’s a little different, but I don’t mind it,” Holden Kleager said of playing as a Longhorn. “There is a lot of school pride still. I’m still happy getting a win for Basalt.”
And Holden Kleager did just that Monday, shooting 73 to win the 3A, Region 4 tournament at Devil’s Thumb Golf Course in Delta, his first win of the season. The Longhorns tied for second as a team with Delta, only to lose in a playoff; only the top two teams automatically qualified for the state tournament.
“He is really on the rise. He’s got a lot of talent; can hit the ball a long way,” Doerrer said of Holden Kleager. “When he puts together a full round, he’s capable of shooting under par really any time he tees it up. He is definitely going to be fun to watch, not only this next week, but the next few years, for sure.”
The rest of the team was left scrambling to qualify as individuals. Even with Korn needing to win a three-hole playoff to secure the final spot after shooting 88, all four players did just enough to earn a ticket to Saddle Rock.
All four golfers went to state a year ago as well, after the Longhorns took second as a team at regionals.
“I feel I have improved since last year at this time,” Korn said. “It means a little bit more to me, because last year I was just going because the team was going. I didn’t feel like I earned it quite as much as I feel this year.”
Last fall in Eagle, Basalt took fifth at state as a team, shooting a two-round total of 492. Holden Kleager was 11-over for the two days to finish tied for sixth. In contention for an individual title most of the tournament, Linc Kleager struggled over the final four holes to finish 15-over and tied for 13th.
Broadhurst finished 46th and Korn tied for 70th.
Basalt has no experience with Saddle Rock, so Sunday’s practice round will be critical to getting the Longhorns off on the right hoof in Monday’s opening round.
Expectations vary from player to player, with Korn preferring to go without any and the Kleager brothers wanting nothing less than a top-10 finish, if not better.
“My goal is top five. That’s what I want to do,” Linc Kleager said. “It means a lot, just to have the opportunity to play as a team at state instead of just individually — it kind of gives us two things to go for instead of just one.”
Korn will be the first to tee off Monday for Basalt, starting on the 10th hole at 9:36 a.m. The other three will tee off in the three groups to follow.
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Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.