After spending the first six-plus years of her career as a collegiate head coach trying to put programs on the map, Kelley Hester accepted a decidedly different challenge on June 6, 2007, when she was introduced as the head coach at the University of Georgia.
In returning to her alma mater, Hester was charged with furthering the status of a traditional national powerhouse. "I teed it up for the first time as a Bulldog in 1992, and I think I knew then that I wanted to be a coach and ultimately coach here,"
Hester said when hired. Hester's results prior to returning to Athens proved that Georgia Golf couldn't be in better hands. In six years at UNLV and Arkansas, she lifted those programs to heights previously thought improbable, if not impossible.
The responsibility Hester feels in guiding Georgia Golf goes much deeper than that of your traditional coach. Hester watched Liz Murphey, Beans Kelly and others work tirelessly to make Athens a shining star in the women's college golf universe. In Hester's mind, those individuals made Georgia Golf a special entity unlike any other and playing for the Bulldogs should be an experience - both on and off the course - like no other.
"It's hard for me to put into words how much this opportunity means to me," Hester said. "The University of Georgia has given me so much. In my mind, there's nothing better than being a Bulldog."
A product of the Georgia
way Hester was a standout for Georgia from 1992-96 and in many ways, her experiences as a student-athlete are what she hopes to emulate for her golfers. Hester was a member of Georgia teams that placed fourth at the 1993 NCAAs and captured the 1993 and 1994 SEC Championships. Individually, she recorded 21 top-20 finishes in 40 tournaments.
Hester graduated cum laude from Georgia, was a two-time NGCA All-America Scholar, served as president of UGA's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and was selected to be the female student-athlete to the Athletic Board as a senior.
The road back to Athens
After two years on the Futures Tour (1996-97), a stint as an assistant pro at Idle Hour Club in Macon (1997-99) and a season as head coach at Mercer (1998-99), she returned to the Bulldogs as an assistant coach for three highly successful teams from 1999-01.
Hester was then chosen by UNLV as its first-ever women's golf coach in February 2001 and was charged with building a team from scratch to begin competition that fall.
Hester's efforts paid immediate dividends. Hwanhee Lee captured medalist honors at the fourth tournament in UNLV history. Though Hester left UNLV after one season, her influence continued. The team she put together earned a bid to the 2004 NCAAs where Sunny Oh, a Hester signee, won the 2004 West Regional and finished 11th individually at the NCAAs.
Hester then ventured to her SEC roots and had a similar effect on an Arkansas program with little direction.
The Lady Razoracks won two team titles, produced one medalist and made one NCAA Regional appearance in their first seven seasons of existence.
Hester led Arkansas to a pair of fall victories in her first season, a campaign that culminated with the Lady Razorbacks securing the first of five straight Regional bids. Arkansas advanced to NCAA Championships play for the first time ever in 2005 and posted its first top-10 effort a year later. The following spring, Stacy Lewis won the 2007 NCAA individual title.
A proven formula
In many ways, Hester's hiring emulated a tried and true method in Athens. Georgia has been extremely successful entrusting youthful head coaches, mostly alums, and watching their programs blossom to elite status. Among those: Jack Bauerle, who has won four NCAA titles and was head coach of the 2008 U.S. Women's Olympic Swim Team; Manny Diaz, who has coached Georgia to four NCAA Championships in men's tennis; David Perno, who has led UGA to three College World Series; and Jeff Wallace, whose resume includes a pair of NCAA women's tennis crowns.
Hester has a keen appreciation for the accomplishments of the aforementioned and respects the reverence each now enjoys in UGA circles statewide. And nothing would please her more than to have her own program be mentioned alongside the best her alma mater has to offer.
Kelley Hester At a Glance
Full Name: Kelley Banks Richardson Hester
Birthdate: Sept. 22, 1973
Hometown: Macon, Ga.
Family: Married Trey Hester in August 1999; daughter Elizabeth "Bebe" born in March 2007
High School: First Presbyterian Day School ('91)
Bachelor's: Public Relations, Georgia ('95)
Master's: Sport Management, Arkansas ('05)
◊ NGCA president (2006-08)
◊ Coach of Stacy Lewis, 2007 NCAA medalist
◊ 2009 LPGA National Coach of the Year
◊ Three-time All-SEC honoree
◊ Two-time All-America Scholar
◊ Member of 1993 & 1994 SEC Championship teams
◊ Three-time qualifier for the U.S. Women's Amateur
◊ Participant in the 1996 U.S. Women's Open
'98-99 Head Coach
'99-01 Asst. Coach
'01-02 Head Coach
'02-07 Head Coach
'07-pres. Head Coach