RCW: A Needed Change

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If you ask members of the Jayhawk golf community to talk about how they would have practiced in the past, the responses will show one thing: it was time for change. After years of using trash cans for iron practice and water bottles for putting targets, the Kansas golf program has finally undergone a change to drastically improve the quantity and quality of its practices. This change came by way of a new, state-of-the-art, 8,500-square foot training facility made exclusively for the use of Jayhawk golfers.
The need for an indoor training ground came after spending years of battling other Kansas sports programs for practice time inside of Anschutz Sports Pavilion. When weather would turn sour, the men’s and women’s golf teams would be forced to share the sports pavilion with the Kansas soccer, track and field, baseball, softball and football teams.
“There were a lot of teams that wanted to use Anschutz,” said Kansas men’s golf head coach Jamie Bermel. “There were times when that forced us to have to cancel practice, or go outside when it’s too cold to be out there for more than an hour. There were just a lot of moving parts. Last year, we would have to be there at 9 p.m., because that would sometimes be the only time slot open. We would have workouts at 6:30 a.m., too, so with late practices, you would be concerned about getting to practice, getting them home, doing schoolwork and still getting the necessary amount of sleep.”
“Usually we would see our scores slip after the wintertime,” admitted women’s head coach Erin O’Neil. “Sometimes we would go to our first tournament (of the spring season) without having been outside to practice. Then we would see our short game be the biggest deficit.”
Not only would the amount of practice be concerning for the golf programs, but the ways the team was forced to practice inside Anschutz Sports Pavilion were not always the most productive. The team would place trash cans at various markers on the Anschutz football turf to use as target practice. Following each practice, the team would have to go out and collect all of their shots that missed the target. If a golfer wanted to work on his or her long-range game, they would tee off directly into a football kicker’s net. As for putting, the only place that remotely resembled a putting green was the turf inside the batting cages used by the baseball and softball teams. Since there were no holes, the Jayhawk golfers would place water bottles or elevated saucer-cones to emulate a hole.
“It would be tough to spend a couple of hours in there,” said men’s golf senior Daniel Hudson.
Though the need for change was always there, the plan for change didn’t come until The Jayhawk Club, formerly known as Alvamar Country Club, decided to undergo massive renovation plans. Once told about the idea for a practice facility, Bermel and O’Neil got together with men’s associate head coach Chris Wilson and women’s associate head coach Katy Nahm to discuss the plans for the new facility.
“We had a pretty good plan in mind,” said Bermel. “We asked around, to other programs that had built facilities more recently to see what they did, what worked and what didn’t work. We knew we only had one chance to get it right, and we wanted to make sure we got it right.”
After five months of construction and nearly $2 million spent, the new practice facility opened in January 2018. Set with seven hitting bays, a launch monitor, indoor putting green, locker rooms and more, the new home for Jayhawk golf practices was ready for arrival from the men’s and women’s team members.
“It was crazy the first time we went there,” said Sera Tadokoro, a freshman on the women’s golf team. “Everyone was screaming and running around taking Snapchats and videos. It was exciting to see everything. For me, I never had anything like that, so it is such a nice opportunity to see everything.”
“It was nice to see that we have our own space and nobody else is going to use it,” said Hudson. “With the fingerprint lock, unless the women’s team has practice time scheduled, you know that you’re going to be in there and have time.”
When the team has scheduled practice, the players rotate around from station to station, working on all aspects of their game. With indoor hitting bays, the Jayhawks no longer have to worry about hitting to trash cans and cleaning up their shots. With launch monitors, they no longer have to evaluate their long-range success on how much ripple they would send through the kicker’s nets. With an actual putting green, they no longer have to base their success on if their ball ricochets off of a plastic bottle.
“The simple fact of seeing your ball go into a hole, as simple as it sounds, is actually really cool to have,” said Hudson, with a laugh.
One tool that seems to be a favorite for the student-athletes is the addition of the TrackMan. With two trackman devices in the building, the golfers tee off into a screen and get immediate feedback on their shots. Anything from distance, to swing-speed, to launch angle, the trackman will show it.
“It’s awesome to be able to see that,” said O’Neil. “There’s a fine line though— you can get too caught up in the numbers. But we like to go out there and use it, the TrackMan, at least once a week so they can see where all of their numbers are. That way, if we need to adjust something, it can give us an idea and a plan for the rest of the week. It’s been pretty big in helping some of the girls understand their swing better.”
While the trackman offers tangible results that can be used to benefit a shot, it also is used for fun, as there is an app that can be hooked up to the trackman and allow the Jayhawk golfers to simulate playing on famous courses such as Augusta National, Castle Pines and Torrey Pines, among others.
Though the technology and assets within the facility are state-of-the-art, the best part of the new addition in the eyes of the coaches and players is the timeliness. With the facility being open nearly every day of the year, any Jayhawk golfer can get reps in whenever he or she would like.
“There is no time limit, so whenever you have free time, you can just go,” said Tadokoro. “That is really nice. It’s always open, so you can always go there and get better at golf. We have practice every day except Wednesday, so (on) Wednesday I try to catch up with my schoolwork. But if I don’t have anything to work on for class, then I’ll go over and practice.”
Hudson, like Tadokoro, has made an effort to use the facility in between his time hitting the books.
“Harry (Hillier, freshman on the men’s golf team) and I, sometimes on Tuesdays or Thursdays, we’ll have a two-hour gap between our classes,” Hudson said. “So we’ll go over and have a chipping contest and play some ping-pong. There are times, like last night for example, when we go over after dinner to hit some balls and putt until like 10 p.m. Obviously, you couldn’t do that before, so it’s so nice to have that.”
While the facility has already benefited the Jayhawk golf program in just three months since its completion, it has also become a social spot for the two Jayhawk golf programs. The men’s team often gets to the facility before practice to play music and have ping-pong competitions, while members of the women’s team use the area as a hang-out center when they are out of classes and practice.
“We have a big TV in our locker room, so we’ll watch movies, or play ping-pong or just hang out,” explained Tadokoro. “It’s so nice to have our own space that we can use for fun, but also for meetings, eating dinner and other things. It’s really important to have something like this. I think this semester we are more connected with each other because of the facility we have. We hang out more this semester compared to last semester when we didn’t have (the facility).”
Along with the impact on team chemistry, the benefits to the recruiting process is among the intangible traits to the facility. With unfavorable golf weather during the winter months in Kansas, it was sometimes difficult to compete with other schools due to the lack of practice opportunity between fall and spring seasons.
“It’s huge because a lot of people, when they hear ‘Kansas,’ they automatically think about the weather,” explained O’Neil. “So it’s nice to be able to say that you can come here and still work on your game and not lose any progress on your game. It’s a huge thing with recruiting. Once we get people here on visits, the campus usually sells itself. It’s a great place to be. The facility is now just an added bonus that we can show people pictures of and show people how they can work on all parts of their game basically whenever they want.”
The recruiting impact of the training grounds is already evident amongst the program, as Tadokoro said she was told of the new facility blueprints before she committed to KU.
“It’s nice to have indoor facility, so yeah, it did (factor into her decision to come to KU),” said Tadokoro. “Basically every school that I visited had an indoor facility. It’s a pretty big deal for a golfer.”
The addition of Tadokoro has already paid off for the Kansas women’s golf team, as the freshman leads the team in top-20 finishes on the season, and boasts the second-lowest round-average on the season at 75.05.
For the senior in Hudson, he won’t be able to enjoy the new building as much, but he knows it will help the team moving forward.
“I think it’s going to do a lot for the program moving forward,” said Hudson. “It puts us on a level with schools that we compete against recruiting-wise in the Big 12 that we may not have been able to recruit in the past. So I think my favorite part is that it is going to help the program moving forward, and obviously you always want your school to do well moving forward.”
Though the facility itself is open for use, The Jayhawk Club course is still undergoing renovation plans. To Bermel, he knows that all of the new additions will only improve an already on-the-rise Jayhawk golf program.
“For the facility, that’s pretty much a game-changer,” explained Bermel. “Now we have access almost 365 days a year to practice, so that was very important. But more importantly, I wanted it to be of the quality where guys didn’t think it would be a waste of time to be in there, so that was priority number one. Unfortunately, we have to play on the road all of the time. In order to develop a good program and a competitive program, you have to be able to host at home and beat people at home. We need a home-course advantage that right now, quite frankly, we don’t have because we’re on the road for 12 tournaments a year. If you continue to build the program – the course, I think that is another big priority.”
The course’s remodeling plans are set to be completed by May 2018. Though The Jayhawk Club course itself is still under construction, the Jayhawks have been enjoying their new indoor practice home for the past three months. Time will tell what the overall implications of the new additions are, but one thing is certain: change was needed, and this change could be the start of many successes for the future of Kansas golf.