For Air Force, the mission is direct — beat Army, best Navy

In the battle of golf supremacy among the service academies, Air Force's reputation goes beyond the perception of being 'a golf course and then the runway'

From 1993 through 2012, the Service Academy Classic showcased all three academies and the Merchant Marines. During that span won 16 team titles and never finished lower than second.

The first thing Tyler Goulding wants to make clear is no one should feel sorry for Air Force Academy golf.

As the baby brother of three U.S. Department of Defense military academies, it's fair to say the Air Force gets lost in all the hullabaloo mainly because of the annual Army-Navy football rivalry.

"There is definitely that baby brother feeling," says Goulding,  in his second year of coaching at Air Force. "We're something like 100-some years younger, but it doesn't take away that desire to beat both of them."

As the academies get ready to battle it out in a newly ideated Commander-in-Chief's Cup tournament at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club on April 17-18, a perception exists that Air Force takes a back seat to Army and Navy. Even if that perception is false in golf. 

Time and location are culpable reasons for that. 

In terms of proximity, the Air Force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, two time zones away. The U.S. Military Academy, better known as Army West Point, and the U.S. Naval Academy are anchored to the east coast. 

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Tyler Goulding

West Point, the oldest of the three, came about in 1802, the Naval Academy in 1845 and the Air Force Academy 102 years after that. 

A natural rivalry developed between the former two, with the Army-Navy football game beginning in 1890 and rising to prominence by 1930. 

Over the years, ribbing between academies ensued that has seeped into the golf programs. Still, Army and Navy don't see as much of the Air Force because the Falcons call the Mountain West Conference its home. Army and Navy are in the Patriot League. 

"If there are 15 teams at a tournament and Army or Air Force is there, beating one of them is more important than the other 14," says Billy Hurley III, who won seven collegiate golf titles at the Naval Academy. "You spend your whole freshman year saying 'Beat Army, sir' at every juncture of the day."

When it comes to banter, Goulding isn't immune. He heard it all as a two-time captain and three-time MVP when he swung the clubs for Air Force. 

"If you asked Army, that's all Air Force bases are — a golf course and then the runway, and that's it," he says laughing. 

Rich Berglund, Callaway director of national accounts, had sons Todd, 31, and Troy, 27, play at Air Force and heard the same jokes.

"Army calls the Air Force Academy a country club," Berglund says. "Or if you want to play the best golf courses, go in the Air Force because every base has a golf club. Which probably isn't too far from the truth, by the way. I'm sure active duty airmen have a lot to say about Army and Navy and their propensity to make mistakes, and Air Force has to clean up their mess, and things like that. They have a lot of fun with it."

Army West Point coach Chad Bagley wouldn't take the bait. He went in another direction, saying that no one should take Air Force lightly. Two years ago he took his team out to Colorado Springs and came away impressed with the entire athletic department.

"I think Air Force likes to use that as a little fuel, that we're the little brother and we're going to show everybody," says Bagley, who played at West Point in the early 1990s. 

The genesis for the upcoming Commander-in-Chief's Cup evolved to find a way for the three academies to face off in an interservice tournament. Victory breeds bragging rights. 

Or rekindle them. In a former iteration, the Service Academy Classic ran between 1993-2012 and showcased all three academies, along with the Merchant Marines. And "little brother" Air Force continually left the other squads choking on their fumes. The Falcons dominated the Service Academy Classic, having won 16 team titles and never finishing lower than second. 

Started in 1993 by Bill Reemtsma, a 1962 Air Force Academy graduate, the Service Academy Classic was a bonding exercise seeded in its competitiveness. Reemtsma passed away after the second tournament, but supporters kept it going until 2012. 

At one point the Service Academy Golf Classic was the only NCAA-sanctioned golf match featuring head-to-head competition between the four service academies.

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Senior team captain Isaac Layne will be Air Force's No. 1 player when the Falcons reunite with Army and Navy in the inaugural Commander-in-Chief's Cup, April 17-18.

In the spirit of banter and good-naturedness, after Air Force won the second of 16 consecutive team titles in 1998, former Naval Academy legend Roger Staubach presented Air Force with the Reemtsma Trophy at the awards banquet.

For the first 15 years, the Dallas area hosted the event before it moved to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for two years. After that, two Trump National courses in New Jersey took it on. 

"I was on the team in 1993 when it first originated as the Tri-Service Classic when it was in Dallas," says Bagley. "So I've played in three of them. It was one of those events I circled on the calendar and looked forward to. But when the Tri-Service started, it was like, 'Wow, we have Navy and Air Force together, and the first marine academy played too." 

Hurley took the Service Academy Classic seriously. Prior to embarking on a career on the PGA Tour, he finally won the individual title in 2003 after posting runner-up finishes.

He likened the experience to former college teammates who square off on opposing teams in the NFL. After the game is over, they're shaking hands at mid-field and buddies again.

"When we had the Service Academy Classic," says Hurley, "we still didn't like each other. You were competing. It's an intense competition. Don't get me wrong, I'm friends with some of these guys now."

In spite of the bantering, everyone agreed a deep camaraderie existed, formulated out of respect. Or more of a we're-in-this-together attitude, laden on a serving-the-country aspect shared from similar basic training and classroom experiences.

Still, at the end of the day, they want to win — a byproduct of academy lessons ingrained into them. 

"They serve together," says Berglund. "If all three branches don't work absolutely in symmetry in a sense, obviously some bad things can happen to the country. When it comes to sports and rivalry, there's nothing like it. They want to beat each other really badly and show each other up."

As brothers in arms, isn't that what it's all about? Brothers playfully razz each other, wanting to beat them at every corner, before picking them up when they're at their worst. In the end, they care. 

But, without saying so, it certainly feels divine when they emerge with bragging rights.

"When we play Army or Navy, it is a big deal to us but maybe not for the country as a whole," says Goulding. "If our team beats both, then that Army-Navy game doesn't mean anything at the end of the year. So that gives us a little extra motivation."

As it should be.