RBHS senior golfer Max Alvarez

When Jim Festle took over as the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys golf coach last year, the team struggled with a 4-8 record and middle of the pack finish in conference.

“I would love to be more competitive in conference play,” Festle said. “We need to have every player push each other harder to become better.”

Chalk up 2016 to growing pains for the Bulldogs.

Although RBHS lost James Martin and Chris Funaki to graduation, key returners Max Alvarez, Chris Robertson and Joe Connelly ensure some continuity as Festle enters his second year coaching.

Freshman James Berger and sophomores Michael Mular, Kevin McKenna and Kyle Platt bring a welcome infusion of promising talent to the varsity roster.

The Bulldogs opened the season with a sixth-place finish at the Independent School League/Metro Suburban Conference Challenge Invite. Since then, the team is 2-5 in dual matches.

“I think going into the season, a team strength for us is the players’ willingness to work hard during the season,” Festle said. “An area of improvement [for the RBHS golf program] is getting the players to play a lot more golf during the offseason. The kids need to spend more time on parts of their games that aren’t up to par.”

Reflective of Festle’s emphasis on developing players at an earlier age, he has reached out beyond RBHS to promote golf.

“In the offseason, I reached out to all of the feeder schools and gave them some golf equipment with the hope of introducing younger players to the game of golf,” he said. “Golf isn’t something that you can just to decide to play without putting any work into it. The hope is that kids will start to play at an earlier age, take lessons, play in more tournaments in the summer and come into the season ready to go.”

The Bulldogs host St. Joseph on Friday, Sept. 15 at 4 p.m. at Carriage Greens Country Club in Darien.