Monday, November 13, 2006

NCSU Tries to Build a Golf Course

Becky Bumgardner is looking for money which is required before construction of Erik Larsen’s design for an area “slight in space” can begin. NC State University wants to build a championship golf course along the southern edge of the University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh, and while Larsen, the project architect, is ready to move ahead with the limited land area, Bumgardner’s limited effort on behalf of the University drags along. It’s a project that’s been on NC State’s drawing board for about 20 years, and it’s long over due.

Bumgardner is executive director of NCSU University Development and has been trying to raise money for this project for a number of years. She says a $3 million donation is the major missing money required to start construction of the layout Larsen, Executive Vice President, Managing Director, and Senior Golf Course Architect of Palmer Course Design Company, put on paper. Getting the $3 million, an amount recently reduced from $5 million for course naming rights, has been a low priority item for the University, but recently Bumgardner and others have accelerated the effort and have some good possibilities including a donation which might name the course for former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano.

The idea of the golf course for NC State University has changed a lot since it was first just an idea at the tip of a land-planner’s pencil. Shortly after then Governor James B. Hunt, NC State ’59 (BS, Agricultural Education), NC State ’62 (MS, Agricultural Education), in 1984 was instrumental in giving part of the
Dorothea Dix Hospital land to his alma mater a drawing for a University golf course appeared on an overlay of the property. That idea had the course circling Lake Raleigh. It was either one big dogleg right or one big dogleg left. It was just an idea, using wetlands instead of other prime real estate. However, environmental studies shelved that idea along with other ideas of building within a certain proximity to the water.

Initially, renowned golf course architect
Tom Fazio was asked to submit plans for a course. His group came up with several options, but none fit into the land area, and usage of the land area was not going to change. According to several high-ranking NC State University officials, Fazio submitted several layouts but all were rejected because Fazio wanted to ask for variances to use some of the stream buffers. Fazio eventually withdrew from the project which was fine with the University because, by then, Fazio had been hired to redesign the Finley Golf Course in Chapel Hill, and heaven forbid…

The University turned to two well-know golf architects:
Arthur Hills and Arnold Palmer. The two companies bid on the project, and Palmer Course Design Company won for various reasons including cost but also because of Erik Larsen is a 1977 graduate of NC State.

With the land strapped tight, Larsen says he designed an Arnold Palmer Signature Course, a 6,915-yard par 71 layout. All in all, Larsen likes the design in the space but says it may not be long enough, saying that new golf courses these days are being built for 7,400 yards plus. In other words, he likes what he did for the space but, in the same thinking as Fazio, the University would be getting a much better course with more land “We can tweak it here and there and get another 10 yards per hole,” said Larsen. “But that puts it just over 7,000 yards. A 7,500 yard layout is a minimum of what they need. But we’re working with a small space here. It’s definitely core golf. It’s slight in area. We would like to use all of the property—like where the (proposed) road cuts through and where there’s running water running—but that’s not being allowed. The University would have to get a variance but that’s not happened.”

Nor is it going to happen. The University is happy with what’s in place now. Questions to University officials about limiting the use went unanswered. “It’s just what we want to do,” said one high level University executive who said the University didn’t want to ask the State for a variance.

On paper, Larsen has put together an intriguing course. Take a look at the
scorecard and the most recent course layout. Read a layman's description of the course in NC Golfer: See Wolfpack Golf Course Description, one posting above this one.

According to Larsen, there is only a 50-foot elevation change throughout the course. “We have very few flat holes, maybe one or two,” Larsen said in a telephone call from his office in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. “You’ll get deep roll through the course. Though we are limited in space, we are not fighting the property with this design. There will not be a lot of manufactured sloping or mounding. We want to enhance the natural topography of the land. When the golf teams learn the nuances of the shots, learn the reason for hitting it down the right side of the first hole to get the ball to the middle of the fairway, those players will have an advantage when playing tournaments there.”

When it’s time to plant grass or lay sod, Larsen’s preference for the fairways is Zoysia. “I prefer it to Bermuda, and it’s usually the architects preference that’s selected, but we will consult with the (NC State University) Turfgrass Management Department, the Agronomy Department, to determine what’s best for the area, what they feel they can best maintain,” said Larsen. “The greens will be a type of bent grass.”

But before any grass can be planted, there’s the matter of the money which is needed to start bulldozers to build what will be a public facility and the home of the Wolfpack’s men’s and women’s golf teams. It will also be a laboratory for NC State’s Professional Golf Management
(PGM) program and the University’s Turfgrass Management curriculum. The course is expected to see lots of play by students, faculty, staff, alumni, Raleigh area golfers and Capital City visitors. When completed, it will be the only “inside the beltline” public golf course in Raleigh. It will be only one of three course inside Interstate 440 that wraps around the Capital City proper with the other two—Carolina Country Club and Raleigh Country Club—private.

In mid-October, Bumgardner felt the University was close to getting the naming donation. “If it works out, we could start building in November,” Bumgardner overstated during lunch at the newly-opened State Club dinning facility in the luxurious Dorothy and Roy Park
Alumni Center, the front door of which sits within a wedge of the proposed golf course’s location. The Center’s back door overlooks Lake Raleigh which at one time was a primary water source for Raleigh. The Park Center appears to sit closer to the Lake than any part of the golf course will be to any stream.

Initially, the entire project which includes golf course construction, a research and training facility and a clubhouse was pegged at $16 million. However, with Larsen’s expertise and in discussions with course builders, it was determined, according to Bumgardner, that the course could be built for a lot less than the original estimate of $9.6 million. The exact figure is not known but it’s in the $5 million range.

While the course will be part of the University and even though it will be an integral part of at least two academic programs, the course and its support facilities will be funded through donations. Thus the need for $3 million, but that’s just for the naming rights. Initially, it was a $5 million donation requirement, but with the lower cost, that amount has been reduced to $3 million. The remaining money will come from other donations including hole-naming contributions. For $150,000, you can have your name on the 1st, 10th or 18th holes. For holes 2 through 9 and 11 through 17, the price is $100,000 each. The practice range has a $500,000 naming price tag.

According to Bumgardner, the response for holes has been very good. “We’ve still got a few left, but we’re close to finalizing that part of it,” said Bumgardner, who noted that one contributor wanted to name the easiest hole on the course. “He didn’t want to take pot luck and possibly get the hardest hole. He didn’t want people telling him his hole was too hard to play.”

In return for contributions, the donors will be rewarded in various ways. The $3 million donor gets to play the opening round of golf on the (insert your name here) Golf Course with none other than Arnold Palmer himself, no-charge Life Centennial Pass for a foursome at anytime, priority tee times, a photo taken with Palmer, and other stuff. The hole-sponsors get a four-year no-charge pass. The
naming opportunities and benefits go on and on.

So does Bumgardner’s search for money. When she gets there, Larsen will see his design take shape. Until recently, the University has not put much of a priority on this project which started too many years ago to get only to this point, and that’s a shame. Until recently, there has been no real urgency put on fundraising for the course, and land limitations slowed the process. But, the project seems to have picked up steam and is headed to conclusion after 20 years on the drawing board.

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