Ontario University Athletics golf will converge on St. Thomas, Ont., on Thursday as the Western Mustangs host the Western Invitational at the St. Thomas Golf & Country Club.
The annual event, which dates back over two decades, will be the first opportunity of the year for OUA golf programs to test their mettle on the links, with a total of 88 golfers taking part. Alongside the Mustangs are the Brock Badgers, Waterloo Warriors, Laurier Golden Hawks, Windsor Lancers, York Lions, McMaster Marauders and Guelph Gryphons.
The Mustangs, who are coming off a successful 2017 campaign that saw the men's team win the provincial title and the women's team finish eighth in OUA, hope to make a strong showing in their first event of the season.
"St. Thomas offers us two things," said head coach Jim Waite. "We obviously want to go in there and win our own tournament, but we're also in the process of deciding our team, so the tournament will be our last chance to choose our kids."
The program's last competitive event was in June at the Canadian University/College Golf Championships in Chilliwack, B.C., which saw the Mustangs men finish in eighth place and the women miss the cut.
The Mustangs, led by Waite and assistant coach Mike Tomlinson, have an extensive four-round tryout process that culminates at St. Thomas on Thursday. In discussing the one-of-a-kind program, Waite attributes much of the program's success to the challenging route players must take to make the team.
"The other schools play one round, and if you're great, you make it; if you're not, you don't," said Waite. "But we're able to have kids back who have one bad round, but if we like their attitude and their swing, they can have another shot."
The Mustangs men's team will bring back seven golfers from the 2017 team that won the OUA title by 14 strokes.
"We've certainly lost a couple of good ones from last year," said Waite. "But assuming the guys from last year make the team again, we should have another strong season. Plus, we've had a couple of guys show stuff in the first couple of rounds that make me excited for our new kids."
The St. Thomas Golf & Country Club hosted the Ontario Men's Amateur this summer, providing a gruelling test that saw only one of 160 participants finish under par after the tournament's four rounds.
According to Waite, the venue is one of Ontario's toughest and should provide a more-than-adequate test for the OUA's first tournament of the year.
"We're looking for somebody to shoot a number at St. Thomas, because if you can shoot a number there, you can play anywhere on our schedule," said Waite. "If you see what happened at the Ontario Amateur, you know how tough of a course it will be."
The tournament alternates host venues between St. Thomas and the Sunningdale Golf & Country Club in London, the official practice course for the Mustangs. According to Waite, much of the program's sustained success, which includes four of the last eight OUA men's titles, comes in large part to the working relationships the program has with the area's golf clubs.
"Sunningdale has always been great to us, giving our kids memberships to the club and allowing us to host our tryouts there," said Waite. "St. Thomas has also always been great to us, and if I'm being honest, we're really thankful that if we call up any course in London, they're extremely helpful."
The Western Invitational kicks off on Thursday at 11 a.m.