Chip Shots with Crystal Smith: Illinois Challenge

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The fifth annual Illinois Challenge was another success. We beat Illinois State University for the fifth year in a row and remained undefeated! 

The morning four-ball matches were challenging but fun. Ember and Erin paired up against two ISU girls, but lost their match on the 17th hole. Sam and Kaitlyn also lost on the 16th hole. Jackie and Pim were partners, and they were the only victorious ones in the morning matches. The score from the morning was 2-1 ISU. We realized we had some work to do in the afternoon to win the Challenge. 

The afternoon format was singles matches. Sam, Pim, Jackie, and Michelle defeated their ISU girls and added four points to our total score. Ember and I halved our matches and earned a half a point each. The final score was 6-3 Illinois. 

This year's Illinois Challenge was by far my favorite tournament. We played at the Venice Golf and Country Club in Venice, Florida. This is my home course, and I have grown up playing this course since I started playing golf. Bringing my team to my hometown to play at VGCC my senior year was one of the best memories of my college career. We had a blast! 

The head professional at VGCC, Mr. Coleman Plecker, and the members have been preparing for this tournament for a while. And their hard work paid off. All the players and coaches stayed in private housing, and the course was in fantastic shape. Many members came and watched us play our practice round and the matches. 

My grandparents live at VGCC, and Michelle and I got to stay with them. Sam and Kaitlyn stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Levin, Ember and Erin were housed with Mr. and Mrs. Green, and Mr. and Mrs. Meagher hosted Jackie and Pim. Our coaches were also housed by members of the club as they stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Elton. Each family we stayed with loved having us and fed us very well. Mr. and Mrs. Levin offered Sam and Kaitlyn brownies for breakfast! And Ember and Erin had delicious cinnamon rolls before their round on Sunday. 

Saturday we played our practice round, and many members came out to support us. There was a large support group for Illinois golf in a small town in Florida! After we finished our productive practice round, we had our welcome dinner at the country club. At the welcome dinner the head professional, Mr. Plecker, welcomed ISU and Illinois to the Venice Golf and Country Club, and both coaches called off the pairings for our match on Sunday. Then we got to eat!

I may be a little biased, but Chef James Christmas is the best cook in the world! To name a few things on the menu, we had swordfish, pretzel crusted chicken chop, and caramelized pecan crusted salmon. The menu was packed with delicious entrees. We couldn't pick one dish! Many of us shared dinners. We thought the entrees were amazing, but then we got the dessert menu. The menu had chocolate lava cake, chocolate ice cream sundae with chocolate covered pretzels, and creme brûlée. If you know our team, we like to eat. Chef Christmas fed us well. Our welcome dinner was one of the best dinners of my life. When Michelle and I got back to my grandma's house, she offered us cookies. Honestly, we were spoiled at the Illinois Challenge. We had gorgeous weather, a great crowd, and amazing food. We couldn't have asked for anything more.

I was surrounded by family and friends that have watched me grow up as a golfer and become the person I am today. My coaches and teammates got to see the course I grew up playing and the town that I was raised in. This tournament was one of my most memorable tournaments. I loved every minute of it. 

Go Illini! 

Crystal Smith 

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