The quest for college golf programs to be competitive has shifted indoors for a number of Big Ten teams that have recently built or upgraded indoor practice facilities. State-of-the-art technology is a difference maker, but so is something as simple as a lockerroom
Twenty years ago, Northwestern University made news when it constructed one of the first comprehensive indoor collegiate golf training facilities in the nation.
Since the Gleacher Golf Center — named after Eric Gleacher, a 1962 Northwestern graduate who played golf there — opened its doors, the university hasn’t been bashful about the impact it has made.
Consider this: The men’s and women’s golf programs have combined for 50 tournament victories, seven Big Ten Conference titles, 10 top-20 finishes at the NCAA Championships, 58 individual tournament wins and 20 All-Americans. Luke Donald won the men’s first-ever individual NCAA Championship in 1999, followed by six players earning Big Ten championships.
That’s not all. The women's team claimed the NCAA stroke play title in 2017 before finishing as the national runner-up in match play.
Last April, the school announced that Gleacher, a longtime golf philanthropist and former U.S Golf Association executive committee member, and his wife Paula committed another $5.7 million toward the renovation of the facility. The revamped center was unveiled last fall.
“Winning was and is the ultimate goal, which motivated our efforts 20 years ago and continues to motivate us today,” said Gleacher, who won the Metropolitan (N.Y.) Golf Association Junior Championship in 1957. “Northwestern’s stature in intercollegiate golf has been significantly enhanced as is indicated by the results our coaches and student-athletes have earned.”
It’s little secret that collegiate indoor golf centers have been popping up faster than dandelions on an early spring day. With technology culpable for a seismic shift in the game, many practice edifices are equipped with all the state-of-the-art software, simulators or nuances any student-athlete golfer would desire.
Northwestern hasn’t been the only Big Ten school to invest in indoor practice spaces, either. The majority of golf programs in the conference have benefitted by building their own, mainly through donations.
When Ohio State head coach Jay Moseley took over in 2015, the $6.3 million Jane and Walt Dennis Golf Performance Center had preceded his hire by six months. The center features an undulating green and bunker complex, in which players can create their own lies, hydraulic putting floor and sectional putting surface that can be set to different Stimpmeter speeds. More important, players and Moseley can study computerized technology that analyzes putting strokes and technique.
It’s extremely beneficial because most Division I golfers devote between 10-20 hours weekly to sharpening their games outside of practices, but also within set NCAA guidelines. Being able to kill 30 minutes at a facility located on campus between classes, per se, has created convenience.
“Having the center helped fix time crunch situations,” said Moseley. “Not having our own space was difficult to control, manage, work and schedule.”
Since 2005, more than half of the Big Ten golf programs — which includes men and women — have constructed multi-million dollar indoor structures.
The $2.72 million, 11,400-square-foot Tom Spurgeon Golf Training Center at Purdue University opened in 2005, or about eight years before men’s head coach Rob Bradley arrived. He sees the value in having an indoor putting green and swing-analysis system.
“I think there is a combination at work,” said Bradley, who previously coached at the University of North Florida and the University of Alabama. “From a recruiting standpoint, you always feel pressured to keep up with other schools. You’re trying to get that so-called recruiting advantage over other people. For us, the most important thing is helping student-athletes get better and that we have the necessary means for you to improve.”
Yet having that extra bell or whistle no doubt aids recruiting.
For Ohio State, the ability to promote its indoor facility transcended the way it could recruit. In the past, the nuisance of Columbus’ cold-weather months served as a detriment to those outside of the Midwest. Now both of its programs seek players nationally.
“I can give you a firsthand account,” said Moseley. “A number of top players have told me, and told others, that they would not have come to our school without having the facility that we have. To say it’s been a game-changer is clearly stating the obvious. Because without this facility, I can point to any number of impact players who would not have landed at Ohio State or even considered us among their top choices.”
For Northwestern it’s about staying ahead, or even at the very least, with the competition. Its refurbished center boasts a 5,400-square-foot short game and putting area with raised ceilings, a putting green just under 3,000-square feet and upgraded locker rooms with various amenities.
The area also includes a 19-foot by 8-foot digitally adjustable putting platform that includes a 3D-modeled green that can be tilted it at any angle. Additionally, an overhead projector utilizes augmented reality to display putting paths and drills.
The crown jewel of its upgrade just may be the advanced technology. The center showcases a training area with three bays that feature Swing Catalyst Force Plates and a TrackMan Golf simulator — as well as dedicated video instruction.
“This one-of-a-kind facility will provide our student-athletes with all the resources they need to improve on a daily basis while pursuing one of the most valuable degrees in higher education,” said Emily Fletcher, Northwestern women's head coach.
With golf facilities trending up the past 15 years, one critical element teeming with positivity may be overlooked in the never-ending race to be bigger and better. Golf has always been an individual sport and that certainly applies at the collegiate level. The sport may as well be a petri dish for individualism.
Moseley recalled that prior to his senior season at Auburn University an indoor practice center was erected. Before it was built, he said, practices were predictable. Eight single cars would arrive 20 minutes within each other and eight single cars intermittently filed out afterward. The Auburn facility fostered relationships, or a place teammates could fraternize formally and casually.
“The locker room is such a critical place to create a connection with a team, friendships, relationships and to build those bonds,” said Moseley. “In golf, I think having a locker room in a team space that you can call your own is so critical to college golf. I think that’s a reason why you’re seeing more facilities pop up. Because without that, you really have guys disperse to and from practice and there really is never a common space for them to share and be part of.”
If nothing else, the new-and-improved Gleacher Golf Center underscores that.
The Gleachers were mainly responsible for building it, of course. Because of that, not only have countless players come, but they’ll continue to come for many years more.
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