Kevin Cullen’s lasting contribution to the Saints’ golf program, however, surely is the number of boys and girls who progressed from not knowing the difference between a fairway wood and a gap wedge to discovering a cherished, lifetime activity.

“I’ve still got my first set of clubs,” St. Dom’s senior Mitch Lorenz. “They’re the same ones. Freshman year was my first time. I didn’t even come to tryouts. I had (Cullen) as a teacher and he told me to come out, so I said, ‘alright.’”

Fall sports for Maine’s high school athletic teams officially began Monday. It took an extra day for the Saints to gather their equipment and thoughts before teeing off in tandems of three at Fox Ridge Golf Club.

Day one was a light workout, at best, after the coach gathered his high school and junior high players in a circle to confirm the news they likely anticipated through social media and the grapevine.

Cullen, 52, who also was a popular history and language teacher a at St. Dom’s, is the new principal at Saint Michael, a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade parochial school in Augusta. He accepted the position less than a week ago.

Although the PGA professional and past owner of Maple Lane Golf Course in Livermore will stay on as coach this autumn, Cullen’s new duties likely will end his tenure at the end of this, his ninth season.

“It’s tough. The hardest thing was (Monday) when I sat the whole team down and said this is more likely than not my last year,” Cullen said. “I told them, ‘I’m going to have a lifetime of memories saved up, and you guys helped that.’”

Another hallmark of the Cullen years at St. Dom’s has been the exponential growth of the program.

When the late Bob Boucher called in 2006 to ask if Cullen would be interested in taking the assignment — his connection to the school was a daughter in ninth grade — there were a total of seven players.

This year, the Saints have complete boys’ and girls’ varsity teams, a boys’ junior varsity squad and a junior high program. Add it up and the golf team represents 10 percent of St. Dom’s student body in grades 7 through 12, a participation rate no Class A or B outfit can touch.

“That first year I had some sophomores, Richard Paradis, Greg LaBonte and D.J. St. Pierre. These were three great athletes at St. Dom’s that were well-respected by the whole student body,” Cullen said. “Somehow they went back and said, ‘Hey, golf is fun. Our new coach, he’s a golf pro.’ The next year we had 12 kids and we won states by 48 shots. That’s when people said, hey, golf’s not some wimpy sport. We’re good.”

Cullen took those players and the state championship trophy to Trinity Catholic, the elementary school that eventually feeds into St. Dom’s, and more kids caught the fever.

“I feel like we’ve done a really good thing,” Cullen said. “It’s important that people know this is a lifetime sport, and some of the wealthiest athletes in the world are golfers. The Tiger Woods phenomenon showed a lot of kids what this game can be all about.”

In addition to Lorenz, who went from raw rookie as a freshman to No. 2 in Class C individual states as a junior, Manoli Gammaitoni is another senior who never touched a club before enrolling in high school.

“He’s made it what it is. It’s his influence. He tries his best. That’s the best part,” Gammaitoni said. “He picks it up like that when I say, ‘What am I doing?’”

A Nevada native and U.S. Navy veteran, Cullen was a pro at courses in California and New Hampshire before his family purchased Maple Lane in 2002, running it for six summers.

The Saints could afford a one-day delay in the start of earnest practice, because Cullen’s itinerary makes up for lost time.

St. Dom’s traditionally spends one day each week on the driving range.

“It’s always been kind of my advantage as a PGA pro that I know the swing pretty well, so I’m able to help them with their swings and not just watch them hit,” Cullen said. “I’m always working on tooling things and fine-tuning things for kids that are struggling.”

“Just listening to everything he says,” Lorenz said of his personal game plan. “He’s such a knowledgeable guy. Having him in practice every day helps so much.”

Cullen joked that players know he “owns them” every Saturday during the season, when the bus leaves for Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro at 7 a.m. and doesn’t return until 5 p.m.

The state team and individual meets are held there.

“We play, we practice, we bond, every week up until states,” Cullen said. “Every one of them would say the reason we won states is because we went to Natanis every single Saturday, so by the time states came around, it was like a second (home) course to them.”

Houlton has been the only other team to win a Class C championship during Cullen’s time at St. Dom’s.

The Saints had a terrific season-long battle with MVC rival Winthrop in 2013 before pulling off what Cullen described as the most unexpected of St. Dom’s state titles.

“Winthrop, I don’t know how we beat them last year. I don’t know how we can beat them again this year, because they have a whole team coming back,” Cullen said. “These kids work really, really hard. They play with a ton of integrity. It’s going to be very bittersweet this season.”

One of Cullen’s recent graduates, Mike Richard, worked out with the Saints on Tuesday before reporting to the University of New England for his first college practice later in the week.

He is the 10th of Cullen’s former players to tee it up in college.

“That (number) almost makes me more proud than winning states,” Cullen said. “That’s really cool.”

Cullen, who completed his Master’s in education from Concordia University in Montreal this past year, also is a cancer survivor. He received a stage 4 melanoma diagnosis only two years before taking the St. Dom’s job.

He has been full of life while enriching other lives ever since.

“I’m glad I get to finish up with him,” Lorenz said.

“We’re always pushing each other and always making each other better,” Gammaitoni added. “That’s why the success has lasted so long.”

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