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Men's golf team grows closer on trip of a lifetime

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The men's golf team took at foreign trip to Scotland over the summer. The men's golf team took at foreign trip to Scotland over the summer. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Mills)
If you ask a former athlete or even current professional athletes, they will likely tell you that being a student-athlete in college is one of the most memorable times of their careers. They may not remember every snap, every swing or every play, but certain special moments and experiences with teammates often remain fresh in their minds forever.

The Kentucky men's golf team had one of those experiences over the summer. In head coach Brian Craig's tenure at Kentucky, he has been able to take his starters on a foreign trip, each of the last two times to Ireland. This year, he decided to mix things up.

In 2012, men's golf was afforded the opportunity to take all 10 players, staff and a couple of extra guests on a trip to the birthplace of their sport: Scotland.

The birthplace of golf offers a different style of golf than is played in the United States. Their courses are considered "links-style," a faster, longer, firmer type of course that vastly contrasts from the traditional course in the U.S., which often leads to a more difficult game. But that didn't keep the Wildcats from having the time of their lives.

"It was obviously a one-of-a-kind trip," said senior Joseph Barr, "And the scenery, you can't beat. It's, everywhere you go, beautiful mount sides, green. It doesn't have the city feel to it. But when you actually do go into the town and city parts, everything's really bunched together and it's a great time."

In fact, the difficulty of some of the most famous and scenic courses in the world was looked upon as a challenge and opportunity to improve. It not only tested the will of these UK golfers but also their creativity.

Photo Gallery from trip to Scotland

But if the style of the courses did not make it challenging enough, the wonderfully gloomy weather that is Scotland played a hand in the conditions as well.

"It rains every day in Scotland," said senior Cody Martin. "You just have to accept that you're going to get wet. But we got used to that after about five days. The conditions are the same every day. It's cloudy, it's cool and it rains."

This was no sight-seeing tourist trip, however. They came to Scotland with a purpose: improve their golf game no matter the conditions. Each day brought more golf, new courses and new experiences. Scotland wasn't about learning about Scotland, which they did, but it was learning about themselves and how they could adapt their game.

Though the styles of play vary so much to the point that links golf vaguely resembles the game they are used to playing in the United States, there were still several lessons to be learned.

"You can for sure use your talents of knowing how to play in the wind because the wind you get there is nothing like you get here," said Barr. "It's so dramatic. So when you come back here, you're like, 'Oh, this isn't bad at all.'"

Craig, who decided that he would play with and against his players to generate a competition within the group, believes that his team had a great time regardless of the results or conditions just because the experience was that unique.

"The reaction was, they loved it; every one of them," said Craig. "Even though the weather was not very good over there, it doesn't bother you because the golf is so special."

Despite the gloomy weather, the players kept a bright outlook each day. After all, they were playing on some of the world's top courses and honing their craft. They got to play on Open Championship courses like The Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie, The Turnberry Resort, and the Royal Troon Golf Resort.

If you're a serious golfer, that's golf heaven.

While the golf may have been special and the sightlines otherworldly, the greatest impact the trip may have made was within the team itself. For the first time since Craig began taking foreign trips, he had an entire team intact to absorb a once-in-a-lifetime experience together.

"We normally only take the starters," said Craig. "But this time we took all 10 guys. We obviously were together all the time, but I think the best part of the trip for the guys was that they got to bond together all the time."

Both seniors echo their coach's sentiments. For most tournaments during the regular season, teams often only travel five or six of their best players. Those guys often get to know each other better than the others and the team rarely gets to share experiences as a unit. For really the first time, this group was able to do just that.

"Even on the days where played 36 holes and that's what we did all day, and even when we were miserably tired and it was pouring down rain, we were still loving it," said Barr. "Turnberry was our favorite golf course and it poured down rain all day and we had the greatest time. We'll just always be able to have this camaraderie that we were able to enjoy this together."

Spending time with teammates is great, and this team certainly came together just as well as Craig could have hoped, but it was the special guests that made this trip extra special. Playing countless rounds of golf in Ireland with your buddies is fantastic. Playing countless rounds of golf with your father, with your brothesr, or with a Kentucky basketball legend can only enhance what was already going to be a fantastic experience.

Stephen Powers was fortunate enough to have his father John join the team on the trip. Barr had his brother and former Kentucky Wildcat Cale Barr, who had previously been on one of the Ireland trips during his time playing for Craig. Then to cap off the guest list, former Kentucky basketball great and two-time national champion Cameron Mills received an invite from volunteer assistant coach Tim Philpott.

For the Barr brothers, it was a very special moment that they will be able to share with each other and their family for the rest of their lives.

"I was so worried that he wasn't going to be able to go because it was such an expensive trip," said Joseph Barr. "You know you always want to be able to have some family members there. That's why for me and Stephen Powers, he got to have his Dad there. John Powers and my brother were the only family that were able to come, but we were very fortunate to have them there."

They were also fortunate to have Mills along for the journey to share his life experiences, both on and off the hardwood. Mills also served as the team photographer, shooting some amazing pictures of the players and the scenic landscapes that the team competed on. Though he wasn't part of the team, it may have been Mills who had the best experience of all.

"I haven't followed UK basketball my whole life," said Martin. "I didn't know (Mills) before he went on the trip. But I obviously know who he is now. He was a ton of fun to be around and he had so much fun. He probably had the most fun out of everyone there to be honest. He plays the least golf out of anyone who went. He took pictures of us all and he had a blast. I know that."

It was experience after experience for these players. Whether it was a new course, high winds, firm conditions, or special guests, this team was taking it all in, savoring every last bit before the Wildcats had to return home.

Now, when they look back, they are a stronger, tighter group, all because of the similar experiences that they shared together as a team. After spending some time back home, they've played some golf to get back into the swing of things, but Scotland is, and will continue to be, forever fresh in their minds.

 "Every day we talk," said Barr. "Every time we see each other it just brings back old memories."

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