Good times for collegiate golf courses

University programs, both large and small, continue to invest in their golf facilities
Indiana University will debut a brand new golf facility this summer.

Watch the NCAA men's golf championships on Golf Channel May 24-29.

College golf is getting bigger, and not just at the top schools.

Powerhouse programs like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Stanford have made significant investments not only in their golf courses but their practice facilities as well to draw the best young players from around the world.

But smaller schools are investing in their golf programs, too, with impressive courses and places for their golf teams to hang out and hone their golf skills. Augusta State University, for example, built the J. Fleming Norvell Golf House back in 2006 and it is one of the premier practice facilities in the country. It helped attract the likes of 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, who was on both of the Jaguars' national championship teams (2010 and 2011).

Why are these types of investments made? For one, it's usually not the university itself coming up with the money but rather alumni or groups that donate to the programs. For example at the University of Alabama, the Jerry Pate Golf Center, which serves both the men's and women's golf teams, was funded by the Alabama Golf Charities, a non-profit 501(c3) organization.

And golf at the university level, especially when the courses are available to students and to the public, certainly has the potential to grow the game. According to the National Golf Foundation, 126 golf facilities around the country are owned or operated by U.S. colleges, and many of those are open to the public and affordable.

The good news for golfers - whether they are on a golf scholarship, student, alumni or local - is that these investments are continuing. College golf courses are being renovated or replaced, and practice facilities and college golf houses continue to get better. Here's a look at some of what's been going on recently on the college golf scene:

Virginia's new course and performance center

A rendering of the new Dean Family Performance Center for use by the University of Viriginia golf teams.

One of the latest universities to get new facilities is the University of Virginia, and the Cavaliers are going all out. Not only are they building new team facilities, but the golf course, which is located on the nearby Boar's Head Resort property in Charlottesville, is also being renovated. But this is more than your run-of-the-mill renovation. The Birdwood Course, which opened in 1984, has been rerouted into a brand new layout by Davis Golf Design. Seeding is underway, and the course is expected to open in the spring of 2020. The new course has nine brand new holes (on 50 previously unused acres) and uses the corridors of five existing holes, while four other holes were rerouted. According to Scot Sherman, the lead design associate on the project, the new course will have a more open and natural look. In addition to the new 18-hole course, there will also be a new putting course, a six-hole short course and new practice facilities that will include the new $6.7 million Dean Family Golf Performance Center. The new center will include six indoor hitting bays, men's and women's player locker rooms and lounges, a putting studio, club repair room and a conference and meeting space area known as "The Living Room."

Sewanee's stellar nine holes

Hanse redesigned the historic 9-hole Sewanee Golf & Tennis Club, part of the University of the South in Tennessee.

Tennessee's Sewanee: The University of the South, may only be Division III in athletics, but it has a sizeable investment in its golf program. None other than Gil Hanse, one of the hottest architects on the planet, renovated the nine-hole Golf Course at Sewanee. While the routing remained the same, Hanse redesigned and rebuilt every hole and greens complex, and added a distinct set of alternate tees on the course, which sits on the Cumberland Plateau in the southern part of the Appalachian Mountains. The Sewanee Inn and Golf Lodge complement the course, so anyone can play it.

Sewanee is part of a terrific Golf Advisor Getaway package this fall (Sept. 29-Oct. 1) that explores two of the best nine-hole courses in the country. In addition to Sewanee, guests on this special Tennessee Getaway will also get to play nine-hole Sweetens Cove in Pittsburg, Tenn., as well as the private Black Creek Club. Click here for more information.

Arizona State University's new digs

The men's locker room at the new Arizona State University golf facility at Papago Golf Course.

With this spring's closing of the Arizona State University Karsten Course, the men's and women's golf teams not only moved to nearby municipal Papago Golf Course, but they got a practice facility and building that's the envy of college programs everywhere. It's called the Thunderbirds Golf Complex, and it includes a 7,000-square foot building with locker rooms, meeting rooms, lounge, study areas, gym and fitness room, and state-of-the-art indoor air-conditioned hitting bay and golf lab. There's a six-acre hitting area with 21 target greens and seven fairway bunkers, 5,600 square feet of synthetic turf area, and a four-acre short-game practice facility was designed by the Sun Devils' most famous golf alum, Phil Mickelson. The short-game area has all sorts of goodies, like synthetic turf "Phil Mickelson" practice putting pads with different slopes, five practice greens totaling 30,000 square feet, four practice bunkers with different kinds of sand and shapes, eight wedge control targets for every yardage from 30 yards to 145 yard, and a three-acre fairway and rough area designed to practice every possible golf shot. The ASU practice facilities are reserved just for the golf teams, but the brand new Lou Grubb Clubhouse is open to the public.

New course in Bloomington for the Hoosiers

Expected to open sometime this summer, Indiana University is getting a new golf course to replace the dated one that opened in the 1950s. Designed by Steve Smyers, the $12 million project was built for competition and practice by the IU golf teams as well as the everyday player with multiple sets of tees and only one forced carry, which comes into play on the approach shot on the final hole. Only 46 acres are irrigated, while the rest of the course (70 acres) will feature native grasses and an environment conducive to wildlife habitat.

Georgia Bulldogs' facilities refreshed

From the Bulldog tees, the University of Georgia Golf Course is an exceptional test of golf.

Not only does the University of Georgia have one of the finest college courses in the country, but the Boyd Center, which serves both the men's and women's golf teams, has undergone significant improvements recently. The $4.3 million renovation, completed in 2018, included an enhancement of the locker room and expansion of the team lobbies and was funded through a blend of Athletic Association reserves and private support. As for wonderful Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed University of Georgia Golf Course, it's been renovated several times since it opened in 1968. Most recently, in 2006, Love Golf Design redid the green complexes and added 21 new tees to both lengthen and shorten the golf course to improve playability among all abilities of golfers.

Old Maryvale now Grand Canyon University Golf Course

If you don't live in or haven't been to Arizona much, you might not be familiar with Grand Canyon University, but it's a school and program that's certainly on the rise. GCU was established in 1949 as Grand Canyon College and has morphed into a hybrid university with a large online student population. In 2013 its athletic programs, including golf, made the jump from Division II to Division 1. In 2016, GCU, located in west Phoenix, has taken over a Phoenix muni formerly known as Maryvale Golf Course and pumped $10 million into it. Still open to the public, the course is now called Grand Canyon University Golf Course as part of 30-year partnership between the school and the city of Phoenix. The greatly improved course, redesigned by renowned architect John Fought, is also now home to GCU's men's and women's Antelope golf teams, who compete in the Western Athletic Conference.

University of Texas gets new short course

The first hole on the Spieth Lower 40 short course at the University of Texas Golf Club in Austin, Texas

Jordan Spieth only spent a year and half playing on the University of Texas men's golf team, but it was certainly a memorable stint. In 2012, before turning pro, he helped the Longhorns win their first national title in 40 years. A couple of years ago, he gave back to the Longhorn golf programs by dabbling in a little architecture, designing the Spieth Lower 40 par-3 course at the private University of Texas Golf Club. Completed in 2017, the course has six par 3s ranging from 80 yards to 125 yards. It also has four different kinds of grasses and plenty of undulation on the greens, as well as a few bunkers, including one in the middle of the sixth green, which pays homage to Riviera Country Club, where Texas won its 2012 title. The idea, of course, is to give the men's and women's golf teams a terrific area to work on their short game. Roy Bechtol, who designed the championship course at UT Golf Club, was also the principle architect on the Spieth Lower 40, but he got plenty of input from the three-time major champion. As for the name, the UT campus, which is often referred to as the "Forty Acres," and the new short course sits lower than the championship course. It had also been 40 years between titles for the golf team when it won in 2012.

Nicklaus Design reroutes Seminoles' home course

Jack Nicklaus oversees the redesign of Florida State University with Jack Nicklaus Jr.

The Florida State golf teams are getting a new course from Nicklaus Design, expected to open this fall. Nicklaus has a strong family connection to the university. His son Steve played football as FSU as did his grandson, Nick O'Leary. Four other grandchildren also attended the school. The new Seminole Club is actually longer (7,800 yards) than the original Bill Amick-designed par 210-acre par-73, 7,147-yard Don Veller Course (1962) that it's replacing. Interestingly enough, though, the new course uses less space. Part of the design goal was to generate 35 acres from the old course's footprint for other uses. Most of the corridors remain the same, but has all new fairways, greens, bunkers and cart paths. The course is laid out over 174 acres and has 50 feet of elevation change and will include two ranges and a new 12-hole par three course for the golf teams.

Purdue's older course gets Dye treatment

No doubt one of the finest collections of college golf courses resides at Purdue's Birck Boilermaker Complex, which has not one but two golf courses by Indiana's favorite son, Pete Dye. The championship course, the Kampen was built back in 1997, but just a couple of years ago, Dye, who donated his services, redid the more player-friendly Ackerman-Allen Course. It was originally designed by Indiana's own Bill Diddle and opened in 1934 and has quite a history itself. It hosted the 1961 NCAA Championships, where Purdue won the team title and Jack Nicklaus the individual title. Over the years, it saw a few changes, but Dye's work is the most significant, adding length, a variety of tee options and two brand new holes as well as modern agronomic features.

U of M's new clubhouse

The University of Michigan and its golf teams already have one of the best college golf courses in the country – an Alister MacKenzie design that officially opened in 1931. Now, the Wolverine golf facility also has the new $15 million Richard L. Postma Clubhouse. In 2017, a 23,000-square foot structure replaced the old clubhouse that was built in the 1950s and prone to flooding. The new clubhouse has a flat roof and glass windows and bricks that match the theme of famed Michigan Stadium across the street. It provides better flow from the parking lot to the golf course, offers a new grill area with upgraded food options as well as a large banquet facility on the second floor.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Good times for collegiate golf courses