116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Consider it a barometer for the upcoming year.
The Rotary Pribyl Junior Golf Classic serves as a good gauge for Cedar Rapids Prairie’s varsity boys’ golf season. The Hawks swept the open and novice divisions, including placing two of the top three, another in seventh and five in the top 20.
“The way we played … that gives us a lot of momentum into the season,” said Payton Burns, a Prairie senior who won the Pribyl’s open division. “I think we played pretty well and we’ve put in the work. A lot of guys have been playing in tournaments all summer.”
Prairie is in the midst of an unprecedented run for the program, reaching the Class 4A state tournament the last two season. The Hawks return everyone from last year’s team and start their trek for a third straight state berth as competition begins with the Mississippi Valley Conference Super Meet on Thursday at Hunters Ridge Golf Course.
The focus is to continue the steady climb in success the last two seasons.
“It’s business as usual,” Prairie Coach Erik Columbus said. “We’ve gotten used to playing well. We want to carry that over this year.
“We’re looking to be dialed in.”
The Hawks have made three state appearances since their first trip in 2017. Prairie still might be more associated with wrestling, baseball or football. Maybe even track and field or cross country. Slowly, boys’ golf is cutting closer to the front of the line.
“I’d like to think so,” Burns said. “We’re doing a pretty good job. We have a bright future ahead.”
Columbus laughed at the idea Prairie was becoming a golf school.
“We hope so,” said Columbus, who referenced the school’s wrestling tradition. “Recently, we’ve had some success.”
Tanner Wachtl and Burns are back as the top two scorers. Ashton Carmer is expected to step in as the Hawks’ No. 3 player. Prairie will attempt to improve last year’s 313.70 18-hole average and 156.18 combined adjusted average.
Wachtl, Burns and Carmer were first-team all-MVC Mississippi and helped the Hawks to a runner-up finish at the Super Meet last season. Wachtl and Burns both averaged under 77 per round. Their games complement each other.
“We definitely push each other to do better,” Burns said. “It’s a competition. We’re rooting for each other to do well, but we also want to beat each other, too. It’s friendly. It’s fun. It drives us to be better.”
The Hawks have depth with some veterans and young talent that will contend for starting spots. The balance helps alleviate the pressure of shooting low each round.
“It’s not where you’re relying on just your four scores and you have to shoot good today,” Carmer said. “If it’s not your day and one of your teammates is there to help you out, it makes it a lot easier and less stressful. It’s better to play when you’re not stressed the whole time.”
Chemistry has become part of the formula. The Hawks are a tight-knit group. They often spend time together on and off the course, practice range and putting greens. They regularly eat together, having meals at Pancheros and Subway after qualifying rounds this week. Carmer’s vote is for Culver’s after the Super Meet.
The Hawks spent a day at the beach the first day of practice as well. They all went back to their home course — Airport National Golf Course — to work on their games following a round of the Pribyl.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Carmer said. “It’s just fun. You get to be out there with your friends. It’s not like you’re sitting there practicing or standing around. You’re talking to your buddies and having a good time.”
Prairie is coming off its best state finish, placing ninth last season. The Hawks were 10th in 2017 and 12th in 2020. They were not content with just being in the field anymore. They are looking for some team hardware with the state tournament set for Elmcrest Country Club in October.
“We’re hoping to do a little better than the season ended last year,” Burns said. “We’re more experienced with our guys. It was their first time at state last year.
“We have to focus on having a good season here to start. I think we’re looking forward to the season. We’re very excited.”