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‘Full circle’ for Hayes at NJCAA tournament

Chautauqua Golf Club Superintendent James Hayes played in the NJCAA Golf National Championship for the Jayhawks in 2005. Submitted Photo

CHAUTAUQUA — “It is a full circle moment,” said Chautauqua Golf Club Superintendent James Hayes, who played in the NJCAA Golf National Championship for Jamestown Community College in 2005 to jump-start his career in golf.

“JCC meant everything to me,” Hayes added. “Without playing golf there I wouldn’t have gotten this job.”

The former Jayhawk led Jamestown CC in scoring during his national tournament, when he says he shot in the 70s for three rounds and once in the 80s.

“I think it is special for the JCC guys and myself because it is your home course,” he said. “You want to go out and give it everything you’ve got.”

Now, the 99 student-athletes playing in the 2024 men’s and women’s championships are playing a course he oversees.

“It’s special, especially playing in it. It is sinking in more talking to you about it. It is special,” Hayes told Greg Vorse, Jamestown CC sports information director. “Everyone that comes here loves playing in it. I don’t know any tournaments that play that long that aren’t on the PGA. It is something special that people want to keep coming back.”

Hayes took a moment to look at the course behind him as he reflected on what’s changed about CGC from 2005 to now.

“I like that it hasn’t changed. Conditions have always gotten better. It is such a hidden gem, and I think that is what people gravitate to more is a history of it not being touched, in a way,” he said. “Conditions get better, and projects get better, but there is an untouched quality to it, so people feel like they are playing in a time capsule. Maybe it isn’t a change. It is remarkable that it’s stayed so well preserved.”

Hayes hasn’t changed much from the kid who joined the Jayhawks to play and practice for free, spending the last two decades working at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, to Kahwka Club in Erie, Pennsylvania, before returning home in Chautauqua where the smile on his face told the story of how proud he is that his course in hosting nationals for the 25th straight year.

“If I didn’t start here. I don’t know how it would have turned out, but it wouldn’t have been a career in golf.”

That career and a return to CGC brought him back to a dear friend in Bill Peterson, who he worked under as a college student and now draws from his experience as the current assistant superintendent.

“He’s an invaluable resource that I lean on daily,” Hayes said of Peterson.

Memories and friendship are things money can’t buy, and when the 2024 tournament leaders putt out on Friday, that is when Hayes says he’ll let himself cash in on this full circle moment.

“I have been focusing so much on the condition of the course that I haven’t stopped and smelled the roses,” he said. “I want to be known for how well the course plays, so I focus on that, then maybe the nostalgia.”

That moment will have to wait three more days as Hayes focuses on curating the best course he can for 54 more holes.

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