With three promising freshmen and four returning starters, including reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and captain Tom McCarthy ’11, the men’s golf team heads into the upcoming season with a profound sense of optimism.

But they’re hardly alone in the Ivy League. Brad Kushner ’13 said the overall level of competitiveness in the league has risen in the last five years.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”6428″ ]

“I’m very proud of the conference,” head coach Colin Sheehan ’97 said. “[The Ivy League] had four players [including McCarthy] in the U.S. Amateur this past month. That’s a benchmark of the strength of the college conference.”

And the freshman recruits certainly fit in with the new benchmark. Both Sam Bernstein ’14 and Sean Gaudette ’14 have had outstanding junior careers, Kushner said. Bernstein in particular was a top recruit for the Ivy League.

“We’re lucky enough to get him,” Kushner said.

Sheehan said Bernstein has already made an impact on the program, becoming the first freshman to win the Borsodi Championship, a Yale-only event, in the tournament’s over 25-year history.

Such early achievements have helped Sheehan set impressive goals for the season, including another victory in the Yale-hosted MacDonald Cup in October, and, ultimately, a victory at the Ivy Championship in the spring.

“That’s quite a ways away,” Sheehan said. “But that’s always our goal. … We will make every sacrifice necessary to win it.”

Yale took second at the championship last year, a mere three strokes behind the eventual winner, Columbia.

But McCarthy said there is good reason to think this year’s team has what it takes to claim the ultimate victory in Ivy League golf, especially since last year’s starting freshmen, Kushner and Carson Weinand ’13, will only improve.

The Bulldogs will play in their first tournament of the season this weekend against Harvard and Princeton at the Sebonack Country Club in Southhampton, N.Y.

“[The tournament] lapsed for 15 years … it’s a friendly competition, but it’s something I know the boys would like to win right away,” Sheehan said.

Kushner said the quality of the upscale golf course, which was designed in part by golf legend Jack Nicklaus, is just as exciting as the competition.

Sheehan added that the team should know within the first couple of tournaments where it stands, as the Elis will face fierce competition early on in the season.

McCarthy said the team is already challenging itself everyday in practice. Furthermore, unlike the start of the spring season, most of the Yale golfers played extensively over the summer, which helps eliminate first-tournament kinks.

“If we play like we’re supposed to, it’s going to be a great year,” McCarthy said.