By: Ben Zacher (Volunteer Athletic Communications Assistant)
On Sept. 11, 2017, Hunter Brown stepped foot onto the green at the Bay Creek Invitational as the first head coach in Goucher College men's and women's golf history. Three years later, after guiding the Gophers to multiple conference championships, he is stepping away to begin the next chapter of his life: studying theology at the University of Oxford.
In just his first head coaching stint, Brown has experienced nearly all there is to endure. He has led the men's golf program to three-straight Landmark Conference Championships, been named Coach of the Year in the Landmark Conference and has had student-athletes for both the men's and women's golf programs land on all-conference teams. All of this has happened in just the first three seasons of Goucher College men's and women's golf history.
For Brown, he admits, "since college, my life has been a blend of competitive golf and Christian ministry." While he has been leading Goucher to unprecedent heights for a golf program in its beginning seasons, he has also been desiring to pursue a passion of studying theology at Oxford in England. Although he believed that to be a "dream for the distant future," the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed for that dream to become a reality.
"Due to the pandemic, there was a reopened application cycle at Oxford and I was encouraged to apply given how competitive it is to get in. It has been an extremely tough decision to make to leave Goucher," Brown said. "Prior to the pandemic, I intentionally wasn't looking at applying because we were in the midst of so many things I wanted to see to completion at Goucher. But, as with so many other things, the pandemic has brought unexpected changes and changed the timing of where I thought I was headed."
Brown's path to this moment has "success" written all over it. His story began at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas, where he immediately showcased his talent and professionalism in golf. He helped lead his team to district and state championships and won championships himself at the Texas Legends Junior Tour.
Success followed Brown when he made the commitment to play golf at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2009. While there, he garnered all-conference honors three times and All-America Scholar accolades twice. The Mavericks won the Southland Conference Championship during his time there, and Brown had the opportunity to compete in multiple NCAA regional championships.
After graduating, Brown took his skills to the professional level, where he triumphantly competed with the best in the game. Most notably, he was a Monday qualifier for the 2014 PGA Tour's Valero Texas Open. Although Brown shifted his focus to coaching, his competitive nature and drive to succeed is what steered him to accept his greatest challenge yet: being named the first head coach in Goucher golf history. For Brown, however, that challenge was fueled with excitement.
"It was an exciting situation at Goucher to be able to start a golf program—the athletic department had put together a great plan for launching the golf programs and they really set things up for success before I arrived," Brown said. "I was coming from playing professional golf after UTA, and I felt like there was an opportunity to bring professional level coaching to the DIII golf world and carve out a unique niche."
Brown was brought on board at Goucher in September of 2016 and was given the year to recruit the inaugural rosters for both programs. By the start of the 2017 season, the rosters were set, with five men and six women proudly taking the green. With Brown's instructions and consistent belief that they could defy the expectations for a first-year program, the goals for the season were set.
"The key was to establish a vision for what the programs should become, make that vision unique, and then communicate that widely," Brown said. "For me, I felt like the best path for us to go was to be a player development focused program and to style what we do off of the way academies run. Then, it was an intense amount of startup work to try to make it all a reality."
After Brown nailed down some of his first commitments, optimism set in and players began to believe in what Brown, and each other, could build at Goucher. That trust and confidence, as the next three years would prove, paid off.
In the first year, success came to the Gophers almost immediately for the men's program. At the Bay Creek Invitational, their first event in program history, the team finished just 36 strokes behind nationally ranked Christopher Newport. A month later, they earned their first tournament victory ever at the Revolutionary Collegiate Classic at Ursinus College.
Come May, the squad won their first-ever Landmark Conference Championship, defeating Scranton by three shots. A week later, the Gophers finished 35th at the 2018 NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships, as Evan Yue narrowly missed out on the cutline to advance. But, for Brown, the experience of having his freshmen thrive in the national spotlight was one of his proudest moments.
"One of the best moments was being at the men's golf national championship in year one, with five freshmen, and then having Evan almost make the cut as an individual," Brown said. "He was in a playoff so there were a lot of people watching and it was an amazing experience to be there and for people to say, 'I've never heard of Goucher' and then realize that we were at nationals, in the first year of the program's history, with five freshmen, and that we were having success."
The 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons played out much the same for the men's program. The Gophers punched their second ticket to the NCAA tournament after claiming the 2019 title by 15 strokes and were well on their way to a third-straight appearance in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Courtesy of a first-place finish at the 2019 Landmark Fall Preview in October, Goucher claimed their third Landmark Conference title in their third year of existence.
While the women's program has not yet claimed a conference championship, they have enjoyed significant success in their three years of existence. The team finished in the top five of each event they participated in during their inaugural season, concluding the year with a third-place finish at the Landmark Conference Championships. They repeated with a third place finish the following year, as Christina Pevey and Emmie Starchvick nabbed All-Landmark Conference accolades both seasons.
For the seniors on the women's golf team, this season was meant to be their swan song, and Brown admitted that the pandemic prevented any of the squad's 2019-20 and 2020-21 aspirations from coming to fruition.
"One of the things that was really difficult last year was not getting to have a women's conference championship. We were the hosts and we would have had Emmie and Lauren (O'Leary) returning from studying abroad in the fall," Brown said. "I felt like we were making some big leaps last year with the girls and we were excited to try to put it all together at conference."
And while their championship hopes were dashed, Brown remained adamant about one thing: "I'm very proud of the seniors and look forward to following all of the great things that they are going to do post-graduation."
While Brown has laid the groundwork for success and, hopefully, for more championships to come for the golf program, he is also excited to finally pursue a passion that has been with him all his life.
Just as he mentioned that his life has been a blend of golf and Christian ministry since college, Brown also believes that his faith – and his passion for theology – have impacted all facets of his coaching at Goucher.
"Theology has impacted all of the ways that I coach—at least I hope it has," Brown said. "Jesus's way of life and ethical teachings are full of profound insights for leaders; he never asked someone to do something he wasn't willing to do himself, and he taught and demonstrated that the leader is responsible for taking the greatest amount of sacrifice for the good of others. I've tried to operate based on those principles."
Brown hopes to use his theological studies for the greater good of Christianity and the world, by tackling the economic issues that face both.
"My proposed research project is a study of the economic teachings of the apostle Paul; in particular, what he said about poverty and how he wanted the church to be working to alleviate it," Brown said. "I'm hoping that my research helps to address some of the bigger economic challenges facing global Christianity—especially those in the developing world."
This is not a final goodbye for Brown from Goucher – he plans to remain "on the coaching staff as an assistant coach to support the transition to a new head coach and to continue to support the team in whatever ways [he] can" – but he also did not rule out returning to coaching once he concludes his time at Oxford.
"My studies at Oxford are intended to lead to the ability to teach theology at the undergraduate and graduate level," Brown said. "I could definitely see myself teaching at a university while simultaneously being a part of the golf program coaching staff."
No matter what Brown decides to do as he enters the next stage, his work ethic, faith, and resume all speak for themselves, and all point toward a future of success. For him, loyalty and faith have been the most instrumental parts throughout, not just his career, but his life. He has provided opportunities for several of his UT-Arlington teammates to serve as assistant coaches at Goucher, utilizing a level of commitment and care to those teammates that he credits to Jay Rees, his coach at UTA.
Brown credits learning "a lot from seeing [Rees's] heart for his players," and that heart is what has led Brown to succeed at Goucher and to pursue studying theology. His care for ensuring that his student-athletes have the best possible experiences, his drive to win championships and allow them to make memories, and his hopes that his research will help address economic challenges facing Christianity throughout the world are all brought on by the teachings he has received throughout his life – whether they be from his athletes, from his old coach, or from Jesus.
And as Brown steps away from the helm of the Goucher men's and women's golf programs, one thing remains true, and that is his heart, faith, and loyalty will remain with those programs and the student-athletes that he has had the honor to coach and instruct.
When Brown arrived at Goucher in 2016, the vision he and his players set seemed impossible for a first-year program to tackle. Safe to say, four years later, those visions and expectations have been exceeded. And, although the teams have been unable to gather to celebrate all that has happened in the last four years, Hunter Brown is leaving his players with the same care, commitment, and encouragement he has given them since that day on the green on Sept. 11, 2007.
"What I told them when I first let them know I was stepping down as head coach is the same encouragement I would give them now," Brown said. "I always believed that they were worthy of receiving the best coaching in college golf. I gave it my all to provide that to them. And they were indeed worth it."