July 07, 2009
From The News & Observer

Home turf to open for NCSU golf teams

RALEIGH -- Richard Sykes just can't stay away.

At some point every day, the N.C. State men's golf coach finds himself headed to the school's Centennial Campus. Turning off Centennial Boulevard, he spots the golf course up above him, taking shape, growing in, getting closer and closer to its long-awaited opening.

In another week or so, the Lonnie Poole Golf Course should open to the public. The Wolfpack golf teams will have a home course.

The Raleigh area will have a new course, one designed by Arnold Palmer, who is scheduled to return July 31 for its grand opening.

"I've been thinking about this since I was a student in school here," Sykes said. "It was a dream for so long."

A student in the 1960s, Sykes played varsity golf for the Wolfpack and has been the golf coach since 1971. He has heard talk of building a university course for more than 20 years.

In tough economic times, a wide net was cast to make the approximately $18 million project happen.

Lonnie Poole of Raleigh, founder of Waste Industries USA, made one major step. A 1959 NCSU graduate, Poole donated $3 million for the naming rights.

The first, 10th and 18th holes each have $150,000 sponsors, and the other 15 holes have $100,000 sponsors. There also are more than 300 charter partners and other partnerships being added at $10,000 apiece.

"We'll assess again when we reach 350," said Becky Bumgardner, NCSU executive director of university development. "We need to raise additional money."

The clubhouse, which will overlook the 18th green, has yet to be built. Naming rights are being offered for $2.5 million, as are naming rights for the research and training center. Want to have your name attached to a two-acre pond? Naming rights are available for $75,000.

There also has been an element of being in the right place at the right time involved in the fundraising efforts. When one of the $100,000 hole sponsors was forced to drop out, Bumgardner found a replacement at a local Starbucks.

Standing in line, she began talking with Bobby Lewis, a Raleigh developer and Wolfpack supporter. Lewis said he needed to "do something" connected with the golf course. Bumgardner had an idea.

"A $2 cup of coffee got us $100,000," Bumgardner said, laughing.

Now, the par-3 eighth hole is the Bobby R. Lewis Family Hole.

"The university has always meant a lot to me," Lewis said. "It's nice to help make something like this happen. It's a beautiful course."

Hills and horizon

It's a golf course that offers interesting topographical contrasts. The front nine is more wooded, the holes intermingled with small streams. The back nine has more dramatic elevation changes -- and more scenery.

Stand on the 11th tee and the Raleigh skyline is more than visible -- it's close at hand, with the tee less than two miles from the city center. Visitors also can see the university's Bell Tower in the distance.

"The thing I like best about this course is that you could put it anywhere and it would be a fantastic course, but when you put it with the views of the city and the proximity to downtown ..." said Chip Watson of Carolinas Golf Group and the general manager of the golf course. "Arnold Palmer said it best: 'We've never built a course anywhere close to a city like that.'"

Two of the Palmer Design Company's top course architects, NCSU graduates Erik Larsen and Brandon A. Johnson, handled much of the on-site supervision. The par-71 course, carved out of 200 acres of former farmland at the southernmost end of Centennial Campus, will have five sets of tees, allowing the challenging layout to play as long as 7,358 yards.