Golfing 101 at Coastal Carolina University

December 2023
Written By: 
Harold Rohrback
Photographs by: 
courtesy of Coastal Carolina University & Harold Rohrback

Coastal Carolina University men’s golf team continues tradition of excellence, high expectations 

The Coastal Carolina University (CCU) men’s golf team continues the tradition of excellence on the golf course and in the classroom. Standing at the crossroads of abundant talent and unlimited potential, the team is poised to have a banner season.

Coach Jacob Wilner and Assistant Coach Yoshio “Yosh” Yamamoto have assembled a group of impressive young men that includes home-grown talent, as well as players from three different continents. They have built a healthy mix of record-holding, experienced players and superstar freshmen, guaranteeing a strong foundation for years to come.

CCU’s commitment to the golf program came in 2010 with the purchase of Quail Creek Golf Course, which was adjacent to the CCU campus. The course was renamed in 2011 in honor of General James Hackler, who was a decorated fighter pilot. Improvements continue to be made at The Hackler Course with a new, two-story pro shop, grill, and training facility due to be completed in 2024.

This talent was evident in September at the Golfweek Challenge collegiate tournament at True Blue Golf Club in Pawleys Island. Competing against a strong field of 14 colleges from around the country, the team gave a glimpse of things to come by shooting a 15 under par (273) in the second round. This score tied for the 4th best round shot by a CCU team in program history. Combined with the score from day 1, the two-day total of 22 under par (554) was a new two-round record for CCU, breaking the old, 2009 record of 21 under par.

CCU has a long tradition of strongly supporting their student/athletes and current President Michael T. Benson has continued that tradition in words and actions. A major sign of CCU’s commitment to the golf program came in 2010 with the purchase of Quail Creek Golf Course, which is located adjacent to the CCU campus. The course was renamed in 2011 in honor of General James Hackler who was a decorated fighter pilot, a pioneer in the Grand Strand’s budding golf industry and a longtime supporter of CCU. Improvements continue to be made at The Hackler Course with a new, two-story pro shop, grill and training facility due to be completed in 2024. The course currently has a two-station indoor/outdoor hitting range dedicated to the golf team for practice during inclement weather.

The team is not without its local support, also. One of the strong assets in recruiting students to play golf at the university is a nearly unlimited number of courses to play. Members of the team can expect to play upwards of 25 different courses during a typical school year. Most all of the courses welcome the CCU men’s team with open arms, including The Grande Dunes and Founders Group courses. CCU has partnered with Founders Group to foster a series of community service events to include clinics and camps for local youth at Founders facilities with mentoring and instruction by the players. The Grande Dunes golf course goes out of its way to accommodate the team with practice and playing rounds. Head Pro at Grande Dunes and a CCU alumnus, Tom VanHoogen, says “We love having them here. They are a great group of kids. Our customers will sit out on the deck and watch them working on their short game in awe and admiration.”

It all starts at the top and the CCU men’s golf team could not be any better positioned in that regard. Holding the Head Men’s Golf Coach job is Jacob Wilner. It only takes a few minutes of conversation with him to appreciate the passion and devotion he has for CCU and his players. Wilner is far more comfortable highlighting the strengths and accomplishments of his assistant coach and players than he is about himself. The record books, however, will attest to the fact that while playing golf for four years at CCU in the late 1990s, Wilner distinguished himself as a top-tier player with an extensive list of awards for both athletics and academics. In 1999, he set the CCU all-time 54-hole scoring record with a 205.

After graduation, Wilner worked for several years in the golf industry around the Grand Strand before landing an assistant coaching job at the University of Nevada. After only two years as an assistant he was promoted to the headcoach position. During his tenure at the University of Nevada he enjoyed a high level of success including four consecutive NCAA Regional appearances in his last four years. While at Nevada, he received a phone call at 7 a.m. on a Saturday from Matt Hogue, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics and University Recreation. Hogue had called to offer him the Head Coaching job at CCU. Wilner enjoyed Nevada, but the Grand Strand felt like home. After speaking with his wife, he called back and accepted the job.

As a coach, Wilner approaches coaching with an attention to detail and always looking for improvement. “Doing small things right on a daily basis leads to long term success” says Wilner. Even as unassuming as he is, he boasts one of his greatest accomplishments as meeting and falling in love with a CCU cheerleader named Amanda. They married and have a daughter, Violet, who plans to attend CCU after high school.

Also at the top is Assistant Head Coach Yoshio Yamamoto, who everyone knows as “Yosh.” He and Wilner met at a college event in 2021 and clicked. Both share a common goal of making CCU and the players a success through hard work and mutual respect. Talk to anyone around the Grand Strand golf scene and they all know Yosh. One thing you notice is that they will all have a smile on their face and say what a great guy he is. Everyone. On top of being a great guy, he also boasts an impressive golf resume. A graduate of Austin Peay State University in 2007 with a degree in business management, he turned pro in 2008. He has a combined 18 wins as a professional, including 11 wins on the tour, four wins on the Coastal Players Tour, two wins on the Minor League Golf Tour and a win on the Mexican Tour.

Seldom does the smile leave his face, especially when talking about the team. “We have such a dedicated group of guys. It’s a pleasure to share my knowledge and watch them grow and improve. Life is good,” says Yosh. It’s no wonder he and Wilner make such a good team.

Conner Bennink came to CCU through the transfer portal and was recruited by Yosh. He originally is from Pennsylvania, where he attended Unionville High School and Gannon University as a scholar athlete. In 2022, he was named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Year. “The weather is way better here. I’ve gotten a lot of support from family, friends and coach back home.” Bennink stays.

Garrett Cooper is a communications major who plans to attend Q School next fall to take a shot at the PGA. In his freshman year he shot a 6 under par at the Golfweek Spring Invitational. This past September he shot 4 under par on the record-setting day at the Golfweek Challenge. Cooper says. “Coaches have done a great job and been a super role model for me.”

Trey Crenshaw studies sports management, but his goals are set on playing or coaching at the highest levels. In his first collegiate event Crenshaw shot a 5 under par (67) at the Badger Invitational. Last year he tied the CCU record 18 under par at the Golfweek Challenge. Crenshaw says “I like the small school vibe and the coaches always put our needs above theirs.”

Brady Duval is a freshman who chose CCU over a multitude of Division 1 schools. He has a long, long list of junior and amateur victories including an 11 under par at the AJGA Amundi Avian Senior Showcase last year. As a member of the International Junior Golf Tour he had an average score of 69.3 and averaged 5.50 birdies per round. Duval says “CCU was love at first sight. The coaches, campus and team, plus golf courses galore. I’m grateful to the coaches and my parents for the opportunity to come here.”

Ludvig Eriksson comes to CCU from Sweden after a short stop at Ole Miss where he had a strong 72.92 scoring average. He shot a 10 under par at this year’s Golfweek Challenge for CCU. He plays for the Swedish National Golf Team and came to the USA for college and “to get as good at golf as possible. There are so many good courses.”

Carlos Garre comes to CCU after setting school and conference scoring records at Francis Marion University. He hosts a list of victories, but became a local rockstar when he won the Spanish Amateur Championship in his home town of Murcia, Spain this year. He followed that up with a second-place finish at the South Carolina Amateur Championship at Dunes Club. Garre has a degree in finance, but says “I had a breakout summer. I’ve got to go pro.”

Owen Kim is from Ontario, Canada, where he won the Juvenile Championship while a member of Team Canada’s Junior Squad. He scored three rounds of 70 as a Freshman at CCU. “I chose CCU because I wanted to play for Coach Wilner and our future is bright,” says Kim.

Jack Lee hails from Sidcup, United Kingdom where he has recorded three hole-in-ones during competitions. He was ranked in the top 10 in England by European Golf Rankings. His impressive resume includes numerous awards across the pond.

Trace McDonald is a late starter to golf, but is catching up quick as shown by his 7 under par at this year’s Golfweek Challenge. McDonald has posted 2 scores of 64 in competition. He is a walk-on and plans to pursue a career in the golf industry.

Seth Taylor could have a chapter to himself in the CCU record books and was recently named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year. His accomplishments range from top 10s in individual scoring, par 4s, birdies and single season scoring. He grew up with golf as a family affair. Even with all of his awards he still says “Team wins are always the best time.”

The Spring season and future of the CCU Men’s Golf Team indeed looks very bright.