The golf team may not be well known on Eastern’s campus, but they have been making big waves in the PAC. But the man in charge of this progress is making this year his last season. Eastern alumnus Derek Ritchie, who has been the team’s head coach for the past three years, will be leaving.
Ritchie graduated from Eastern in 1989 with a degree in Business. He then accepted a job as the Head Women’s Basketball coach in 1992 and held that position for five years.
Ritchie moved on to become the Director of Relations from 1996-2001 until he was offered his present position of Director of Development.
Ritchie began coaching golf in the spring of 2002 when the team was playing at the club level. In 2003, the team began to compete in the PAC where they came in second place. In 2004, they held onto the position of second place and this year finished sixth. According to Ritchie, the team presently practices on three different courses.
On Mondays, they play at the St. Davids Golf Club, Tuesdays at Glen Mills Golf Club, which is ranked the number one golf club in Pennsylvania and Fridays at Paxson Hollow Country Club.
“We play so many different types of courses in matches,” Ritchie said. “I like to give the guys a variety.”
Another factor that helped the team succeed was the opportunity to attend the Widener University Invitational earlier this year. This allowed the team to play against Division I players from schools like Villanova as well as some from Division II and III schools.
Though Ritchie has helped the team progress from a club sport to a team that challenges a variety of division teams, some circumstances will not allow him to stay.
“Due to the rapid growth of Eastern University and expanding responsibilities in the development office, the school has decided it would be better to focus all my time on fundraising and cultivating donors,” he said.
Mark Birtwistle, sports information director and head women’s volleyball coach, will be assuming the position of head golf coach.
Birtwistle is very excited about taking on the new position; this is not his first experience with a golf team. Before Ritchie, he coached the team when it was still a club and before it became a member of the PAC.
“Coach Ritchie has done a great job over the past few years getting the golf program to a solid level,” Birtwistle said.
“My goal will be to continue making the program both respectful in the conference and make playing golf for Eastern a memorable experience for the guys.”
Though female golfers are welcome to join, the golf team is currently all male, a fact which may be a bit of a challenge for Birtwistle, who has been coaching women’s volleyball for the past 15 years. Birtwistle will now be in charge of two very different Eastern teams. However, he is confident in his coaching philosophy.
“In any team scenario, unity has always taken precedence to me, and I don’t see why things will be any different between sexes,” he said.
Birtwistle already has a coaching strategy for golf.
“Golf is a pretty individual sport,” he said. “There aren’t half-times or timeouts to motivate and strategize. In fact, I may not see my golfers at all until they’re done. My golfers will need to be prepared mentally before they tee off.”
Both Ritchie and Birtwistle care for their players on a personal level so there will be some commonalities in their coaching styles.
The success of his players in life is more important to Ritchie than success on the course.
He loves the game because he finds that in the sport of golf, there is plenty of time to socialize and he utilizes that time to get to know his players personally and spiritually.
Sophomore Jared Krupp currently leads Eastern’s team in the number one spot.
“Coach Ritchie encourages and motivates [the athletes] to play to the best of [their] ability. His on the course and off the course demeanor are attributes worthy of any person and it’s sad to see a person like him leave the golf program,” Krupp said.
Ritchie shared that he appreciated the time that he was able to spend with the team and hopes that he can stay connected to the program in any way possible.
One of the memories Ritchie will take with him involves junior Lucas Ramirez. In the middle of a match, an opponent made a bad shot and used the Lord’s name in vain.
Lucas approached the player privately, explaining that he believed in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and would appreciate it if he would try to refrain from using that language.
The young man admitted to being a Roman Catholic and said that he didn’t believe those words should be used, either. He apologized and refrained from doing so from then on.
“Those are the kinds of moments where coaching really matters,” Ritchie said.
Krupp felt the same way.
“I’m sure the next coach will do a good job, but these will be some tough shoes to fill,” he said.