NOTRE DAME, Ind. - While its 2014-15 season tees off on the west coast of Ireland, the Notre Dame women's golf team hopes its season will end on another west coast -- the Gulf shores of Florida at the NCAA Championships.
Between their preseason visit to the lush, rolling hills and historic links of Eire, and the anticipated year-end appearance on college golf's biggest stage, the Fighting Irish will criss-cross the country on a demanding eight-tournament regular season schedule that includes the program's annual Clover Cup spring tournament in Mesa, Ariz., as well as trips to the high-powered Mercedes-Benz Championship and The Landfall Tradition in mid-October. It all leads up to a tricky three-step postseason journey for Notre Dame that starts at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in Greensboro, N.C., potentially continues back home at the Warren Golf Course with an NCAA regional, and then winds up in Bradenton, Fla., at the Concession Golf Club in the NCAA Championships.
Led by two-time Capital One Academic All-American and senior captain Ashley Armstrong (Flossmoor, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor) and the reigning Washington State Women's Amateur champion/2014 U.S. Women's Open qualifier in sophomore Jordan Ferreira (University Place, Wash./Bellarmine Prep), the Fighting Irish return five monogram recipients from last year's squad that finished fifth at the ACC Championship and advanced to the NCAA regionals for the seventh consecutive season, placing 18th at the NCAA West Regional. Notre Dame also adds two highly-regarded freshmen to the mix this year, as Kari Bellville (Granger, Ind./Penn) and Alison Snakard (Collegeville, Pa./Mount Saint Joseph Academy) makes their collegiate debuts.
"We are very excited with the tournament schedule we will be playing this year," Fighting Irish head coach Susan Holt said. "There is a nice mix of familiar courses and several new venues that will be a great test. The competition we will face throughout the season will keep us battle-tested and require us to be ready to compete every time we tee it up. This schedule will keep us sharp and we will certainly never have a false sense of where we stand relative to the competition."
Notre Dame will get an early start on its 2014-15 season this weekend, as it embarks on an eight-day trip to Ireland, highlighted by visits to some of the country's most historic landmarks, such as Blarney Castle (home of the legendary Blarney Stone). Along the way, the Fighting Irish will play six rounds of golf on many of Ireland's premier links courses, including four of the country's top 10 -- Waterville (4), Tralee (7), Old Head, Ballybunion (5), Lahinch (6) and Doonbeg (the latter now technically known as the Trump International Golf Links).
This marks the second time the Notre Dame women's golf program has visited Ireland. In August 2009, the Fighting Irish also spent eight days playing one many of the same courses they will play this year. It was a unique experience that helped build the foundation for Notre Dame's first NCAA Championship finals qualifying team a season later in 2010-11.
"It is a real treat for our program to be taking its second foreign trip to Ireland next week," Holt said. "It will be a whirlwind tour, playing six rounds of golf in eight days! We are so grateful to the donors and benefactors that have made this trip possible for our student-athletes. To be able to go and experience the game of golf where it all began is an amazing opportunity and one that our student-athletes will cherish forever."
Once they return to the States, the Fighting Irish will be less than a month away from the start of their regular season schedule that gets underway Sept. 13-14 in East Lansing, Mich., at Michigan State's Mary Fossum Invitational on the Forest Akers West Golf Course. Notre Dame will be playing in MSU's annual fall tournament for the sixth time in seven years, having won the 2010 event and earning third-place finishes on three other occasions, including the past two years. What's more, Armstrong took runner-up honors at last season's Mary Fossum Invitational at four-over par 220, punctuated by a final-round 69.
The Fighting Irish will be busy during the month of October with three tournaments on the docket. Notre Dame begins the stretch Oct. 4-6 in Norman, Okla., for the Schooner Fall Classic at the Belmar Golf Club, playing in Oklahoma's tournament for the first time. The Fighting Irish then travel to Knoxville, Tenn., and the Cherokee Country Club Oct. 17-19 for the program's fourth appearance in the Mercedes-Benz Championship, all within the past six years (Notre Dame's best finish being a fifth-place showing in 2010).
The Fighting Irish wraps up their October stretch, and the fall portion of the schedule, Oct. 24-26 on the Atlantic shores of North Carolina, taking part in The Landfall Tradition, hosted by UNC Wilmington at the Country Club of Landfall. Considered one of the premier stops on the college golf circuit, Notre Dame will be visiting Landfall for the fifth year in a row, having posted top-10 finishes in three of its four previous appearances, including a fifth-place result in 2012.
Notre Dame's spring schedule starts with a pair of tournaments in the Valley of the Sun. beginning Feb. 22-23 with the Westbrook Spring Invitational, hosted by Wisconsin at the Westbrook Village Golf Club in Peoria, Ariz. The Fighting Irish then head to the other side of the Phoenix metropolitan area March 13-15, playing host to the fourth annual Clover Cup in Mesa, Ariz., at the Longbow Golf Club. Notre Dame finished as the tournament runner-up last year, and will welcome another strong field to town for this season's event, with the Fighting Irish also scheduled to complete service projects in the Mesa area during their stay.
"Our student-athletes are very active in the South Bend community with various outreach programs, and to be able to give back to the Mesa community that is so supportive of our golf tournament is something we are very happy to do," Holt said.
Notre Dame begins to ramp up its preparations for the postseason March 27-29 with a visit to Baton Rouge, La., and the LSU Tiger Classic at the University Golf Club. The Fighting Irish will be playing in LSU's tournament for the fifth time in seven years, having registered a top-10 showing in 2012, and an 11th-place finish last year.
Notre Dame completes the regular season schedule April 3-5 with an appearance in the inaugural Bryan National Collegiate, hosted by Wake Forest at the Bryan Park Golf Course in Greensboro, N.C.
Two weeks later, the Fighting Irish return to that same city, but a different course (the Sedgefield Golf Club) for the ACC Championship. Notre Dame tied for fifth in its first-ever ACC postseason tournament last season, highlighted by a final-round 296 (+12) and a 13th-place finish for junior Talia Campbell (Dallas, Texas/Ursuline Academy).
Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course then will serve as one of four host sites for NCAA regionals, which will take place May 7-9. The Fighting Irish previously played host to NCAA regional action in 2011, placing fifth at 37-over par 901 to book the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA finals.
This year's NCAA Championships are scheduled for May 22-27 in Bradenton, Fla., at the Concession Golf Club, and will be televised on The Golf Channel. Although still pending approval from the NCAA Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet (its next meeting is Sept. 9), the Division I Women's Golf Committee has proposed that the event will begin with three days of stroke play, after which the top 15 teams and nine individuals not on an advancing team will move to a fourth and final round of stroke play. Following that final day, a 72-hole individual champion will be crowned while the top eight teams move on to match play in order to determine the team champion.
For more information on the Notre Dame women's golf program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women's golf Twitter pages (@NDsidMasters or @NDwomensGolf) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director