When the top colleges in America came calling for the latest crop of amateur talent making a splash on the Emerald Isle, few signatures were more fiercely fought over than Beth Coulter’s.
The feisty 18-year old from Kirkistown Castle Golf Club has been tormenting her rivals ever since she first stepped foot on the fairways. As her classmates contemplated which colleges to apply for, Coulter sat back as the offers rained in, eventually whittling it down to a choice of three outstanding options – Wake Forest, Arizona State and South Carolina – a choice made all the more difficult as a pesky pandemic meant Coulter couldn’t visit any of the three to help make up her mind.
“I was researching everything – facilities, campus, coaches, players – you have to look at absolutely everything because it’s so different for different people,” Coulter says.
“What I could love, Áine Donegan could hate and vice versa. They could all be telling you the same thing but they’re so different, and you see that when you finally get over there.”
Despite Irish teammate Lauren Walsh pulling up trees at Wake Forest, Coulter narrowed her search down to two– South Carolina and ASU.
“I knew Hannah Darling was going to South Carolina and they have such a good team,” says Coulter of her close friend from Scotland who happens to also be an old fairway foe.
It was Darling who pipped Coulter to the Girls U16 Amateur title before doing the same in arguably the standout match of the entire amateur season in 2021 at the R&A Girls Amateur Championship final, where Coulter fell on her shield to a mesmerising display from Darling; the pair trading 10 birdies and an eagle before the Scot prevailed by two holes.
“I’d love to get to the level that Hannah’s at now,” Coulter admits of Darling who’s risen to as high as ninth on the women’s amateur rankings.
“At Fulford we had such a good match, a match I’ll remember for such a long time. Afterwards we were talking in the locker room and it was just me and her and she hugged me because we’re good friends, and I just thought ‘this is class’.
“She’s an unbelievable golfer and an unbelievable person. I took a lot of confidence from it. Yeah, I’m probably a bit short now, but I could be there.”
Despite the allure of teaming up with the top ranked amateur in GB&I at university in South Carolina, there was another player forever tugging at Coulter’s heart-strings much closer to home.
“Even when I was 14, ASU always stuck out for me,” Coulter admits, inspired by the exceptional play of close neighbour and Arizona State alum, Olivia Mehaffey.
“I really looked up to Olivia. She was from home and I always really wanted to go there. June 2020 was the first time the coaches from the States could talk to me.
“Dave Kearney [then ILGU High Performance Manager] set up a call with me, him, Missy [Farr-Kaye, Sun Devil Women’s Golf Head Coach at ASU], and Olivia. Having Olivia there really helped me decide.
“Because I couldn’t visit, I knew she wasn’t going to be telling me the bullsh*t that the rest of them were telling me. I was able to ask questions like ‘Tell me what’s bad about it?’, ‘What do you not like?’, and she was able to tell me.”
The quick-witted Coulter also found comfort when her wicked sense of humour hit home with the coaches, something it hadn’t done elsewhere.
“They’re quite sarcastic which I love because they get my humour. A lot of Americans don’t,” says Coulter who’s adamant that her accent won’t go the way of the likes of Steph Meadow, Graeme McDowell and even Mehaffey should she make her stay Stateside a long one.
“No way! Olivia has the twang at the moment and I was like, ‘Olivia, can you come on!’
“She actually said to me when I was over there, I was telling her ‘I was with the girls yesterday and I was repeating myself like fifty times, it’s so annoying’, and she was like, ‘Beth, you have to slow down. You have to start using different words’.
“She was like, ‘Sure I’m half American now’, and I looked at her and I just thought, ‘Did she actually just say that? COME ON!!’”
Coulter’s roots stretch deep into Irish soil. A proud Co Down woman, she still plays Camogie for local club Ballygalget, and despite several people urging her to protect her magic hands, Coulter hopes “there’s still a fair few years in me yet”.
If anything, Coulter believes the clash of the ash out on the pitch has prepared her for a life in golf that few other sports could; helping her to develop a resilience and toughness that Coach Missy Farr-Kaye singled out upon announcing the signing of Coulter to Arizona State.
“Her tenacity and toughness will be a great addition to our squad,” Farr-Kaye declared. I asked Beth if she’d agree:
“I like to think I’m pretty tough,” she says. “It’s probably a bit of personality too but I think you grow that through other sports and that’s what’s great about camogie – the toughness and resilience you learn. I’d like to agree with her!”
Not only will ASU be welcoming bundles of personality into the locker-room, but Coulter is a born winner. Amongst a plethora of titles are two Irish Girls Close crowns captured back-to-back at Galway Golf Club and Tramore in 2019 and 2021. Such fruits of her labour are dotted about the family home for all to see, though the wooden shelf in the sunroom bears the brunt of the silverware.
“Mum keeps some of them in the living room too and I think my Irish Girls titles are on display as you come into the house. I don’t know who she’s showing them to,” she laughs.
In fairness, Mum can’t help herself. Coulter’s on-course accomplishments have been drawing attention for the best part of a decade and Beth recently uncovered a stash of memories that she’s sure to cherish for a lifetime.
“I was looking for the important documents, ya know, birth certificates and that and I came across this folder,” she says.
“I was like, ‘What on earth is that there?’ and turns out it was full of little snippets from the newspaper from when I started out, and she’s still cutting them out!
“So does Granny and Granddad. They collect all sorts which is nice. I’m now 18 and have been playing golf for 8 or 9 years so it’s cool to look at these things from a few years ago. In ten years’ time looking back on it, it will be really nice to have.”
Coulter’s parents might fawn over her, but her two younger brothers keep her feet firmly planted.
“The youngest is only 11 and he caddied for me in Portstewart [where Coulter won the Ulster Women’s Championship in April].
“They’re not golfers at all, he just wanted to come and caddie and he only lasted five holes God love him! He was like ‘this is the most depressing game ever’. So they’re not interested at all which I think is good because whenever I go home, I can switch off from golf. I like it that way. I’m just any other sister.”
Coulter might be just any other sister, but she’s not just any other golfer. After a slow start to the season where she missed the cut at the Portuguese Ladies before finishing down the field in Spain, Coulter kicked into gear by capturing the Royal Portrush Scratch Cup before her Portstewart victory.
“I probably needed those results away to give me a kick up the backside and say ‘right Beth, come on, you’re back into it, get going here’,” she says after enjoying a productive off-season with coach Chris Jelly, as well as regular input from Golf Ireland Women’s Team Coach, Donal Scott and Performance Director, Neil Manchip.
“Everything goes up a notch,” she says of her new status amongst the best women golfers in Ireland having earned her first Ladies cap at the European Team Championships at RCD last year.
“With the coaches, it’s very much a case of ‘this is where you were, and this is where it needs to be’.
“I found it great for my development. You have to mature along with the upward curve. Like, I’d be fairly horizontal, probably too laid back at times, but I have my goals and I do everything I can to reach them.
“At the same time, if you have a goal and you don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always going to be a next time.”
Coulter’s brace of victories in Portrush and Portstewart saw her soar to the top of the early season Bridgestone Order of Merit standings and with the new Bridgestone Women’s Tour teeing off this year, she’s lapping up the incentives to make her way around the country in pursuit of more titles for the sunroom back home:
“When I saw I was top of the leaderboard, I thought, ‘Sure why would I not go down and play in the Hermitage?’ It’s more points. It gives you that incentive so for the likes of an international player who might be thinking of taking a break for a week or two, it makes you think again. I think it’s great. It will get a lot of players playing and competing.”
One event Coulter had ear-marked amongst her list of goals for the season was this summer’s Curtis Cup. Having been selected in the initial GB&I squad for the match against the USA at Merion, when it came to the official team announcement, Coulter was named as second reserve.
“I was definitely disappointed,” says Coulter, who is the youngest player on the panel.
“It was a goal for the year, but like I said, you set out your goals at the start of the year and if you achieve them great, if you don’t, then there’s always going to be another chance. On the day it’s the worst thing in the world but you wake up the next morning and you go again.
“I actually got some great feedback from the Captain and selectors. It was all very positive, that I’m making improvements, but I was probably just a little short this year.
“I’m looking at the Vagliano next year, and then the Curtis Cup is in Sunningdale in 2024, that will be a big goal. I’ll have two years done out in America, experience against all the top class players.
“There’s plenty more this year for me to strive for as well. I kind of knew the eight players who were going to be picked. I said it to Dad the day before and we were exactly right. But the selectors were 100% right in their feedback too, and it’s nice to get that clarity going forward.”
It would take a brave punter to bet against Beth Coulter earning a Curtis Cup cap before her college days are through. Amongst the unknowns of her future, such milestones seem inevitable, not that Coulter will take them for granted. She’s allowed to dream of course. We all are, but at 18, most dreams are more achievable, like one day playing on the LPGA Tour.
“I’d love to do what Leona has done,” says Coulter. “And I think having Leona, Stephanie and Olivia there for us all to look up to is absolutely incredible.
“They probably didn’t have that person to look up to in Ireland – they probably did as an amateur but not as a professional. We can see what they’re doing and maybe in a couple of years we can be doing it too.”
Before that, there’s the small matter of packing up her life in Ireland and moving it across the Atlantic to campus accommodation at ASU. Coulter is tailor-made for college golf, her infectious personality is destined to be a hit and although she admits she’s scared of what the future holds – mostly an eight-hour time difference she’s dreading as she clings to friendships and family back home- the prevailing emotion is one of excitement, and why wouldn’t it be?
“I think what’s so exciting is that because you’re exposed to so many social circles, you literally don’t know what’s going to happen out there,” she says.
“You could meet the person you’re going to marry, all these different people from all over the world, a new friend group, a new best friend. All completely new people and they’re in the same position as you.
“The time difference is what scares me the most. I’ve a great friendship group at home, really good family, and I think being able to talk to them, simple things like coming home in the evening and saying ‘what’s the craic today?’ and it might take eight hours to get a reply. That’s going to be tough.
“Even being away for four or five months at a time will be tough but I think it’s something you have to try. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’d be silly to let it go.”