Kori Grasha says she felt no pressure when she took over as Clarence High’s girls’ golf coach in 2016. Truth is, she wasn’t even aware of the streak of victories.
All she knew was that she loved golf and was blessed to inherit such a great team. Of course, she knew the Red Devils were a cut above and rarely lost a game. But the streak wasn’t a big thing back then. It’s not like high school women’s golf was a hot topic of discussion in local sports.
Then when women’s golf took off, people started taking notice.
“It started to get fun every year,” Grasha recalls, “trying to go on with the seasons undefeated. The girls started to add up – 80 wins, 90 wins, and then we were pushing 100. It was, ‘Oh, we’re going to do something that probably hasn’t been done before.’ It was more fun than the pressure.
The fun continues for the Clarence girls, who haven’t lost a game since the golf program began in 2010 and have won all four Division VI team titles since adding women’s golf . The streak stands at 12 years, continuing for 13. On Tuesday at Brookfield Country Club, their home turf, they beat Orchard Park for their fifth win of the season and 126th straight overall.
“They’re aware of that,” Grasha said, “and they’re very excited to continue the streak. We talk a lot, though, that anyone can beat anyone on any given day. So we can’t take any team or game for granted.
Still, it can be tempting to assume victory when your matches are so consistently one-sided. Clarence beat Orchard Park on Tuesday, 166-245. That’s roughly the average score from their five wins this fall. A team plays against five girls and the four lowest scores count for the nine-hole match.
This means Clarence’s top four girls averaged 41.5 for nine holes, the OP girls 61.25. The Red Devils have five of the top 10 players in the Section VI table – Tatiana Tutko, Rosalie Dinunzio, Kylie Dean, Juliana Enser and Emily Morelli. Tutko, an eighth grader, leads the league with an average of 40.0 for nine. Dinunzio, a senior, is second with 40.2 shots.
“It’s so awesome,” said Dinunzio, who plans to play college golf next year. “I love all the girls, the relationships we’ve built, especially this year. We’re a great group. We all love to compete and I love being a part of it.
Grasha, who recently won the women’s club championship at Pendleton Creek, seems sympathetic to the idea of her coaching a select group of country club kids. His daughters play a lot. Most of them have swing coaches. But the main reason they win is because they work hard at it.
“We do,” Dinunzio said. “We got to work. I hate to sound arrogant, but we deserve what we have, this reputation.
Clarence has set the bar high for local women’s golf, a standard that other high schools can aim for in a sport that is growing rapidly among women in the United States.
“Girls have been the fastest growing segment of golf over the past 10 years,” said Marlene Davis, the longtime local instructor who has run an LPGA/USGA girls’ program since 2012.
Davis has taught several of Clarence’s daughters over the years, including Tutko, who she calls “small but mighty.” On Wednesday, Davis went to Orchard Park to give an OP girls clinic, a day after she was beaten by the Clarence girls at Brookfield.
The OP girls knew what was in store for them. It’s only the second year that Orchard Park has had an all-girls team, which is hard to believe for a school with such a strong athletic reputation. Ahead of Tuesday’s game, coach Joe Biondo reminded his players that their team’s low for the year was 211. The goal was to break their own team record, not upset the indomitables. Red Devils.
“I remember after our game last year, our girls were like, ‘Oh, those girls are really good! “I said, ‘How much extra time do you think they’ve put into their golf game to get this good?’
“So I think that motivates them. I know when we played golf against them last year it motivated a few kids on our team. This is a good thing. I think that’s great. Some people want to ‘quote without quoting’ level the playing field. My feeling would be, well, let’s get on the playing field.”
Biondo compared Clarence’s streak to the epic streaks of the Sweet Home women’s volleyball team and the Orchard Park men’s lacrosse team in previous eras. Or the UConn women’s basketball team. These dominant teams raise the level of the teams around them, raise their sport.
“The girls are hoping that because they’re making headlines and having a nice little legacy, it’s something that other girls will want to get involved in,” Grasha said.
“I wish there were more schools that had teams,” she says, “because it’s a unique opportunity for girls. You don’t have to be the best athlete out there. You don’t have to be the toughest kid. But it gives girls the opportunity to be athletic, have fun, be good at something, and find a little niche.
“My girls, they play a lot. They participate in many tournaments. They take private lessons. They work hard and they want to win. And I don’t think they let him consume them. This year, they are so attached to their team cohesion and their team spirit.
They are still children, as Grasha reminds parents from time to time. She is particularly proud of the way her players behave, how friendly they are with opposing girls. Biondo said his daughters were struck by the friendliness of Clarence’s daughters last year. He said they would be happy to play them five times a year, despite losing. You can’t beat the snacks, that’s for sure.
That’s not to say they aren’t very competitive. Grasha, 44, is a formidable athlete. She played softball and racquetball as a child. When she was a 17-year-old freshman at Canisius College, Kori was ranked sixth in the nation in women’s 18-and-under and made the national junior team.
Grasha started golf late in her life and she loved it. Her dad, Art, told her she should join a club if she wanted to be really good. So in 2010 she joined Tan Tara – what is now Pendleton Creek. She quit playing racquetball after suffering a shoulder injury and focused on golf.
“I loved it,” she said, “and I loved that it was something I could do with my dad, because I had played racquetball with my dad. And that’s just a bit of my personality, I don’t want to be bad at things. Of course, I’m bad at a lot of things.
Coaching came naturally. Grasha teaches Latin at Clarence High. She knows how to touch children. Riding with her in the golf cart on Tuesday, you saw her easy and reassuring manner with the players. When they needed encouragement or advice on how to play a hole, she would get out of the cart and help. But golf is a mostly solitary activity, and it mostly lets them find their way.
Golf humbles us all. It’s not a game of perfection, but a test of your ability to persevere in the face of inevitable disappointment. It can be difficult for children. It’s hard for everyone.
“I tell the girls, ‘I want to see you win,'” Grasha said. “I know you want to win. I want to see you achieve your goals. But I just want you to have fun there. Some of the best rounds I played were the ones where I had the most fun.
Winning is always fun, but it’s even more so when you have your own little girl at home. Grasha has a 2 year old daughter, Gianna.
“Oh I love that!” she says. “It was definitely an adjustment being 42 and being used to doing my own thing for a long time. But I love it. I wouldn’t trade it. I’ve waited a long time to meet my Prince Charming (fiancé TJ Geraci) We are very lucky.
Grasha said having a 2-year-old allowed her to see the world through the innocent eyes of a child. It’s very different from teenagers, but it reminds him to make it fun for the girls, to do more childish things, and to “return to that youth.”
They have spirit days and team bonding outings. On Friday, she will take the team to night golf at Bob-o-Link, the 18-hole par-3 course at Orchard Park that has offered golf under the lights for more than half a century.
It’s a shame his dad can’t be there to share it. Art Grasha passed away in January 2021.
“My dad was my person,” Grasha said. “He was an athlete. He played a lot of softball and basketball when he was younger. He played a lot of golf and racquetball. I spent so many hours with my dad. So not having him here it’s tough, when he was alive he came to our games and saw the girls and it was good to have him there.
Art loved being on a golf course, as did his daughter. As any golf lover would tell you, the game itself is an endless joy, and every day on the course a blessing. It’s the only sequence that never ends.
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.