ORONO, Maine — Former University of Maine women’s basketball teammates Liz Coffin and Jen (Smart) Gavett have gravitated to golf as a way to indulge their competitive spirit.
Coffin, a 6-foot-1 center who played from 1984 to 1988, is the No. 4 career scorer for UMaine women with 2,153 points and No. 1 career rebounder with 1,351. She played in 114 games of the team’s 116 games during those years, with UMaine posting a cumulative record of 90-26.
Gavett played two seasons at UMaine, her freshman and senior years, after being a Bangor Daily News All-Maine third-teamer in 1984.
And they have succeeded at golf the same way they pursued their basketball skills, winning women’s club championships at their respective clubs.
Coffin, who took up golf in 2000 and started playing competitively in 2003, has won every year since 2004 at Bangor Municipal Golf Course.
Gavett has won three times at Penobscot Valley Country Club (2009, ‘11 and ‘12) since starting up the game six years ago. This year’s win was by 17 strokes.
They both took to golf readily when they finally made the decision to give it a try.
“In ’99 when the slow-pitch softball league disbanded, I needed to find something to fill the void,” said Coffin, who works at the Brewer Motor Inn, “and a friend of mine says, ‘Have you ever thought about golf?’ and [I] got an introductory course to it and it took off.”
Coffin began playing at courses such as Pine Hill Golf Club in Brewer and Hampden Country Club.
“My first year, those small nine-hole courses, I wouldn’t keep score, I would just play,” she said. “Get out for a couple hours, walk the course, swing the club. And I fell in love with the game.”
Coffin, a Portage Lake native who grew up near Portage Hills Country Club but never played there, was All-Maine in ‘83 (second team) and ‘84 (first team) for Ashland High School before starring for four years for the UMaine women starting in 1984.
She spent a lot of time working on her basketball game during those high school and college years. She decided she didn’t need to be that intense with her golf game, but she did bring some of that same strong work ethic.
“With basketball, I always wanted to try to improve and focus with what I was trying to obtain, and so I brought those things over to golf,” she said.
First, she had to learn how to play.
“I took an early lesson to get the fundamentals down, and then mostly self-taught and then I went back to have some lessons. I wanted to see how good I could get,” Coffin said.
While she has progressed to the point of being able to finish among the top 10 in the Women’s Maine Amateur, she’s not planning on trying to conquer the world.
“I think I’m at a point now that I just like where I am,” said Coffin, who regularly competes in the weekly Women’s Maine Maine State Golf Association events as well as the occasional New England Women’s Golf Association tournament. “I don’t want to be an elite golfer, I don’t want to put the practice time in. I just want to enjoy it, walk the course, challenge myself to the different courses that I play.”
Gavett, an Old Town native who is now a chiropractor, wishes she had started playing golf earlier.
“My biggest regret is I didn’t play when I was younger. I don’t know why,” she said. “I guess I just didn’t have the opportunity.
“And I will say I didn’t have the mentality. I was too hot-headed. Very Type A.”
Gavett, who lettered in basketball at UMaine her first two years starting in ‘84, said she’s still a Type-A, but she controls it.
“It’s a good personality to have because you go after things you want, but it doesn’t help to be hot-headed in golf. It makes things worse,” she said with a smile.
That personality did help Gavett finally start playing because of what she considered almost a dare.
“I think I was just looking for an outlet, something to do that I could have some competition because I was into bodybuilding for quite a long time,” said Gavett. “[Bodybuilding] got to be quite a hectic lifestyle and a difficult one with trying to do my job and diet and do all the lifting activities.”
She liked running, “but it didn’t really light a fire in me,” she said.
Then came the golf challenge.
“At one point I was about 40 ,and someone told me, ‘You can’t learn to play golf when you’re 40,’ and I thought, ‘You wanna bet?’ So who was right?” asked Gavett, smiling again.
Coffin’s handicap index is a 5.6, making her a 6-handicapper at Bangor. Gavett is a 7.5, which gives her a 9 handicap at PVCC. According to USGA statistics, the average woman’s handicap index is about 30 (the highest it can be is 40). The average man’s handicap is in the mid- to high teens, with the highest being a 36.
“Jen’s handicap was about a 40 her first year. She almost gave it up,” said Peter Gavett, her brother-in-law and frequent golf companion. He also coached both women at UMaine.
Jen Gavett stuck with it, cut her handicap in half the next year and has continued to improve.
“I’ve played together with Peter and Jen once or twice a week for about the last four years, maybe five, and Jen had just taken up the game then,” said George Jacobson, professor emeritus at UMaine and a 6-handicap himself at PVCC. He joined Coffin and the two Gavetts for a friendly match Wednesday at PVCC.
“Being a good athlete, [Jen] fairly quickly was able to hit the ball, but didn’t have much understanding of the short game or how to read greens and putt and so forth,” said Jacobson. “But gradually she has become more and more consistent, she’s taken some lessons from Colin Gillies at Traditions. She’s learned the short game quite well, she knows how to read the greens, and her putting is more than adequate. And she’s hitting the ball far.”
In Wednesday’s match, it was the men against the women, with the men playing from the blue tees and the women from the green tees.
The match finished deadlocked as the women rallied from one down to tie the match on 17. Coffin posted a 77 and Jen Gavett a 79. Jacobson reported he had a 77 and Peter Gavett an 83.
Both would highly recommend that women of any age take up the game.
“I would say come out and try it,” said Coffin. “Empower yourself because you learn a lot about how you’re going to handle stuff.”
Coffin also was big on the friendships she has made.
“I have met so many women throughout the state just because I took the game of golf up,” she said. “For anybody who wants to get out and start playing, you’re going to reward yourself by playing because you get so many benefits from it. … You just have to have fun with it.”