Golf has always played a primary role in the lives of one Daytona Beach-area family, and it goes well beyond bragging rights or scoring milestones.
It’s nestled right up there with family love, personal determination, and ice cream cone rewards.
Former LPGA Tour marketing executive Eric Albrecht began his love of the game as a child in Endicott, NY, where his father and grandfather taught him to play. He and his family would go watch the best golfers in the world each summer at the PGA Tour’s B.C. Open and at the LPGA’s Corning Classic just down the road from their home. Eric would go on to play college golf at James Madison University.
Meanwhile, in Iowa, Eric’s future wife, Annie Vandermillen, was also playing golf as a child with her parents and siblings. Annie would go on to win two Iowa state women’s amateur championships, play college golf as a scholarship athlete at Wichita State University and later spent three years competing on the Futures Golf Tour, which became the LPGA’s Symetra Tour.
Eric and Annie would meet through golf when Eric took his first job out of college working on the business side of the Futures Tour. During that same time, Annie was competing with other young professionals hoping to advance to the LPGA Tour.
But as Eric noted, “Life evolves.”
The two married and their first daughter, Emma, was born in 1997. They lived in Kansas City at the time, and Eric was preparing to transition to his new job with the LPGA in 1998. Annie had ended her pursuit of an LPGA Tour card and had completed her master’s degree in physical therapy when the young couple and their baby headed east to Daytona Beach, FL.
“Annie and I had a similar upbringing in which golf was an important part of our families,” said Eric. “Even after we got married and started having kids, we knew we certainly weren’t going to drop our passion for golf.”
So when Emma was old enough to sit on a golf cart, Eric and Annie would take her along and she would watch while they played. Eventually, she would walk with them, taking her own first swings at LPGA International with a plastic club.
“Most of all, she was just enjoying being outdoors on the green grass in the sunshine and fresh air,” said Eric.
Three years later, Emma’s younger sister Claire was born, bringing the Albrecht family to an active foursome.
“When Emma and Claire were really little, we would take them with us to play nine holes, and they would run around and hit a few shots, play in the bunkers and just have fun being at the golf course,” said Annie.
“Really, for the first 10 years, it was all about having fun, steering the golf cart, whacking the ball around and having lemonade or an ice cream cone at the end of golf,” added Eric. “It was a family activity and the kids enjoyed it.”
Of course, there also came a time when the sisters realized they were becoming proficient in the game. They wondered how their skills compared to kids their age in the Daytona area, throughout Florida, and even on a more national level.
Eric and Annie never pushed their daughters to play. In fact, Emma played soccer and basketball, while Claire competed in gymnastics, but the girls always came back to golf. Their thoughts about the game were becoming more focused.
“The greatest thing in the world is when your kids ask you to take them to the golf course,” said Eric, now Director of Corporate Development for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). “They started to self-identify as being golfers, and they were the ones who decided they wanted to compete or maybe even use golf to pay for their college education.”
That’s when Annie hit the road again – this time with her daughters as they played state tournaments and later ventured to out-of-state events.
“They both took the game more seriously and worked very hard at it,” she said. “It was something we were able to do together and it allowed us to spend a lot of time traveling all over the country for tournaments.”
The more the sisters competed, the more their results and amateur rankings attracted the attention of college coaches looking for student-athletes to fill their team rosters. Both girls were top students, with Emma attending high school at Father Lopez Catholic School in Daytona Beach, and Claire enrolling at Mainland High School across town.
Emma was recruited by a number of college programs but opted for Notre Dame University because the school allowed her to pursue demanding pre-med studies with an undergraduate degree in business science. It was understood that Emma would sometimes need to miss golf practice for afternoon labs.
“Academics has always been their priority,” said their mother. “So when it came time to choose a school, Emma was looking for the best academic fit.”
As a college player, Emma qualified for the 2017 NCAA Regional as an individual in her sophomore season, and again this spring as a senior. As a junior, she was the team’s top finisher in eight of 10 tournaments, including the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship.
By the week of May 1, 2019, Emma was No. 114 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. She will graduate from Notre Dame this May and enter medical school in August at the University of Florida.
Claire was also recruited by numerous college programs but followed her sister to Notre Dame. She completed her freshman year in May and is also looking to study either pre-med or law, while playing college golf.
Remarkably, Eric and Annie have managed to see all but one of the girls’ college tournaments. They plan to continue supporting Claire during her next three seasons at Notre Dame.
Those college tournaments and during Christmas when the girls come home to Florida are the only time the family has together. Golf is still central in their reunions.
“Especially now, as Claire and I are spending less time at home, I’ve grown to appreciate those moments we do share on the golf course together,” said Emma. “Looking back, it’s pretty cool to see all the experiences and memories we’ve had as a family on the golf course.”
Funny how a little turf and the lure of ice cream could turn into something so much more than just a game.