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Thursday, January 16, 2014

A great golf attitude: Aiming for course record every time out; & Is Rex Hospital Open headed to Lonnie Poole Golf Course?

“I try to shoot the course record every time I play.”
If you read the print edition of Golf magazine, a Sports Illustrated publication, and especially if you’re from North Carolina, you should enjoy the last page article of the February 2014 edition. It’s written by excellent golf writer Michael Bamberger and about 21-year-old Jason Collier of Weldon NC. Bamberger, as he was driving (his car not a golf ball) north on Interstate 95, came across Collier in April 2012 at the Chockoyotte Country Club in Weldon, a stop by Bamberger to play a round of golf.

The Golf magazine story details how Collier loves to play golf for the enjoyment of playing golf and to the best of his ability. Not interested in school; not a burning desire to play professionally; but with a game good enough to tie the course record of 61 at Chockoyotte in the fall of 2011 when he was 19. His attitude, aside from the enjoyment of the game, Collier is quoted in the article, “I try to shoot the course record every time I play.” When asked if golf means more to Bubba Watson than to him, Collier answered, “No way.” Now that’s a great attitude no matter your level of golf ability.

Today, as told by Bamberger, Collier works “running carts” at TPC Wakefield Plantation in Raleigh and is taking classes at Wake Tech Community College. He’s working for Wakefield head PGA professional Paul Dickens, who was born and raised in Roanoke Rapids, learned to play golf at Chockoyotte, attended NC State University where he played on the golf team, and worked for several years as assistant pro to Larry George at River Landing in Wallace NC before going to TPC Wakefield. When speaking about Collier, Dickens is quoted in the Bamberger article, “Golf came easy to him. I don’t think he ever had a lesson. Great hands, great imagination. I think he’s been happy from the day he’s had a club in his hands.”

The article was enjoyable. I read it two or three times, understanding more and more that a positive attitude and steady desire to do your best every time out is what drives success on the course, at least for me. I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy the story.

Is the Rex Hospital Open moving to Lonnie Poole Golf Course?
The Golf magazine article, when it mentioned TPC Wakefield Plantation, reminded me there’s a possibility the Rex Hospital Open of the Web.com Tour will be moving away from TPC Wakefield Plantation in 2015, going to the Lonnie Poole Golf Course (LPGC) on the NC State University Centennial Campus. When I heard that rumor in December, I made a few inquires, got stonewalled by some and answers from others, some who asked they not be named in this article to prevent retribution from those in a position to do so. Imagine that!

This year’s Rex Hospital Open is scheduled for May 22-25 at Wakefield, a McConnell Golf facility, but, according to Alan Wolf, media relations manager for Rex Health Care (a division of UNC Health Care), there is no contract to hold the event at Wakefield beyond 2014. “I can confirm that the Rex Hospital Open is in the final year of our agreement at TPC at Wakefield Plantation and McConnell Golf,” he wrote in a December 27 email. “We’re looking forward to another exciting tournament in 2014. After that, the Rex Hospital Open has submitted a facilities agreement to McConnell Golf for consideration in 2015 and beyond. We haven’t entered into any negotiations and have nothing else to share at this time.”

“Negotiations” may be too strong of a word. According those who want to retain their anonymity, there have been serious inquiries by NC State University, and officials at Rex Health Care and the PGA Tour are giving it serious consideration. It is not known as of this posting which side initiated the idea of moving the tournament to LPGC. Dr. Dan Adams, the associate vice-chancellor for the NCSU Division of Campus Enterprises which oversees operation of LPGC, is leading the discussion for the University, according to the sources, and he’s not talking as usual when it comes to the business of LPGC.

Dates for the event could be part of the discussion. Raleigh native Chesson Hadley won the 2013 tournament which was played June 20-23. The 2014 event is scheduled for May 22-25 which avoids near direct conflict with the 2014 men’s US Open June 12-15 and the 2014 women’s US Open June 19-22, both being conducted at Pinehurst No. 2, less than 90 miles away. If the Rex moves to LPGC and if it remains with the late May dates, it would follow about three weeks after the NCAA Division 1 women’s regional golf tournament scheduled for early May 2015 at Lonnie Poole.

Moving to Lonnie Poole Golf Course would put the tournament on a course ranked higher on the list of golf courses in North Carolina by the North Carolina Golf Panel. In the 2013 Top 100 golf courses ratings, Lonnie Poole was rated the 72nd best course in the state while the TPC at Wakefield Plantation was 90th. The next rankings will be available in late March/early April 2014 and Wakefield’s ranking could change considerably since the Golf Panel, of which I am a member, played the course as part of its 2013 schedule.

If the Rex Hospital Open is played at the LPGC’s full length, the Web.com Tour professionals would find a course slightly longer than the par 71, 7,257 TPC at Wakefield. The NC State University layout, designed by the Arnold Palmer Design Company, is a par 72, 7,358 yard course from the Competition tees. The course ratings and slopes for the two are similar with Wakefield at a 74.9 rating and a 137 slope while Lonnie Poole Golf Course has a 74.8 course rating and a 145 slope.

However, Lonnie Poole could be shortened about 135 yards if the 235-yard down-hill par 3 2nd hole is played to a temporary green about 100 yards from the current Competition tee markers. The current routing of the 2nd hole could slow the pace of play and cause spectator movement issues. The original design of the 2nd hole included a teeing area adjacent to the 8th tee and a green close to the back of the tee at the 3rd hole.  Due to environmental regulations, the tee was moved across a creek instead of the hole being played across the creek. So, instead of having a short par 3 across a small stream, the course architects and builders routed the 2nd green away from the 3rd tee, creating a longer and more difficult hole. NC State University could have applied for a variance from the rules of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) but decided against it to stop an appearance of DENR playing favorites to another entity of the State. By playing to the current green at No. 2, the tee shots of the following group would be delayed as the players would exit the green by walking towards the 2nd tee for about 100 yards before headed to the 3rd tee.

If the tournament moves to Lonnie Poole, the professionals may find renovated sand bunkers, maybe the toughest sand bunkers of any golf course in North Carolina. Most of the sand bunkers at LPGC were poorly designed with steep faces that are over-sanded creating buried lies that sometimes hide most of the ball, even in the fairway bunkers. Just a slight rain creates sand run-off in the faces that require heavy maintenance to bring the bunkers back to playability. Several sand bunkers have islands of fescue, bushes, trees and other growth that contribute to loss balls in the middle of a bunker. While LPGC is considered a public course, the design of the sand bunkers was not completed with the general public and pace of play in mind. One person, a professor of Crop Science at NCSU and who was very influential in the “appearance” of the course wanted it to have the look and feel of Pine Valley Golf Club which is consistently ranked as the top golf course in the United States if not the world. I guess Crop Science professors are allowed to dream.

It is not known if the sand bunker renovations can be completed in time for the Rex Open if it moves, but the LPCG golf course advisory committee has voted to make changes to the sand bunkers which would include some design modifications and the replacement of all of the sand, this just four years after the course opened. The renovation is estimated to cost between $150,000 and $300,000 depending on the extensiveness of the project. The money is expected to come from donations just as the building the course and clubhouse has been funded.

Lonnie Poole Golf Course has aggressively solicited golf tournaments of various levels since it’s opening in the summer of 2009. There have been nine collegiate tournaments, one United States Junior qualifier, several Carolinas Golf Association regular and senior one day events, and a few Carolinas PGA pro-am tournaments. There have been three qualifying tournaments for the Rex Hospital Open at Lonnie Poole Golf Course. Yet to come are two NCAA Division I regional tournaments, one for the men May 15-17, 2014 and one for the women in May of 2015.

Lonnie Poole Golf Course and its Carol Johnson Poole Clubhouse have been constructed through donations with some debt paid through operating profits. Few outside the University Administration know how much tax money is spent supporting the golf course such as with administrators, professors, department heads, and other NCSU employees. LPGC is owned and operated by a University established LLC (some sort of shell corporation) which does not provide budget figures to the public even with public records requests, saying the course is a private entity and not subject to the laws that require the release of those records.

However, Dr. Adams, Associate Vice-Chancellor for NCSU Campus Enterprises and a state employee who has an annual salary above $175,000, has oversight of the LPGC operation. According to the official NCSU website, “Campus Enterprises is NC State’s lead division of retail and hospitality organizations — University Dining, NC State Bookstores, Trademark Licensing, Lonnie Poole Golf Course, University Student Centers (Witherspoon, Thompson, Price and Talley), and the Wolfpack One Card Services.”

According to the golf course website, Lonnie Poole Golf Course “also facilitates turf grass and storm water research associated with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Likewise, the golf course serves as a teaching and training facility for the Professional Golf Management (PGM) Program in the College of Natural Resources.” The greens superintendent, Brian Green, is a direct employee of NC State University with the title of University Program Manager in the Campus Enterprises Department and at 2013 annual salary of $82,500. Most other employees at the course are either part time in the course maintenance department or work for Carolinas Golf Group which has a contract to manage the day-to-day operation of LPGC. The NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (and the turf grass program of the Crop Sciences Department) are responsible for the maintenance of the golf course, taking that duty just last fall away from Carolinas Golf Group.

Inside the Clubhouse, expected to open soon, the Wolfpack golf teams, both men and women, will have offices, locker rooms and other facilities. The NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the PGA Golf Management (PGM) program (under the NCSU Department of Parks, Recreation and Management Department) will have classroom and work space in the club house. So, despite it being a “private” facility because it’s under that LLC, a lot LPGC is officially part of NC State University. The University, through the Campus Enterprises Department and the (shell) LLC, has a contract with the Players Retreat to handle the food service at Lonnie Poole Golf Course.

Dr. Adams was asked via email to respond to this story but as of post time had not responded but then none was expected from him. No official word from anyone else. Of course, the discussions could fall through, or Rex and McConnell Golf could come to an agreement that extends the tournament's stay at Wakefield. Time will tell.