A new era in the Georgia Tech golf program began in February 17, 2017 with the grand opening of the Noonan Golf Facility, a 13-acre complex on the edge of the Tech campus in midtown Atlanta where the Yellow Jackets can practice and work on every part of their games on a daily basis.
Every step of the way, two people have stood at the forefront of fundraising: Kim P. Noonan, IM 1983, and Thomas E. Noonan, ME 1983. Their leadership has been integral to the success of the project to date. They, along with countless other generous donors and volunteers, have continued to reach out to individuals, foundations, and corporations in helping to ensure that the overall philanthropic goal for the project is met, and that Georgia Tech’s golf team will enjoy and make the most of the significant benefits that come with having a first-rate practice facility near the Tech campus.
“There is no doubting the importance of having a quality practice site near campus,” said head coach Bruce Heppler. “We cannot thank our alumni and friends enough for supporting Georgia Tech golf, or put into words how much their association with the program means to us.”
The story of this facility’s birth is long, but the story here is about these Jackets and how they may benefit not only from the ability to hit balls from garages in the dead of winter, but having a facility where they can practice every shot imaginable practically in their back yard.
There are seven greens, shaped bunkers and approaches, all built with golf architect Tom Fazio’s firm at the helm and former players like Matt Kuchar, Roberto Castro, Kris Mikkelsen and Carlton Forrester and others advising. The East end of the property, named for alumnus David Dorman, is designed for work on every short-game situation imaginable. Routing has been designed into the entire property for a par-3 competition course, named for alumni Linda and Ray Helton.
Add the fact that one of the world’s top teaching pros is splitting time between working with professional golfers in south Florida, North Carolina and the new facility, and Tech has a gold mine.
Beyond the clubhouse, named for Stewart and Lisa Cink, which includes lockers, showers, a kitchen area, a washer and a dryer, a refrigerator, microwave, and large television screens everywhere, there is the business of technology.
Inside the Kuchar Teaching Center, which includes three hitting bays, one of which is can be set up specifically for putting work, players and coaches have the ability to study their shots on video and with devices that monitor club head speed, weight on front foot vs. back foot, on toes vs. heels, club angle, ball velocity, and more.
“I think you can hit more individual shots here that you would see on a course,” said junior Chris Petefish. “Before, it was just more of a wide-open piece of land of grass and range. Now, we have a lot more greens that you can hit more kinds of shots into and see how the ball reacts, and have competition with each other. ”
Beyond the par-3 options, players can work on everything.
Volunteer coach Jeff Pierce, a professional instructor, volunteers time to the Tech program in exchange for being allowed to use the facility and all the new video and technology equipment that he helped Heppler order to work with multiple PGA professionals, as well as the Jackets.
It’s all about how they can practice any and every shot to goals designed by professionals — and Tech graduates — Kuchar, Cink, Castro and the Tom Fazio design group.
Former players Mikkelsen and Forrester also had a lot to do with the design, right down to the nuances of the false front on one of the practice greens.
The contributions of former Tech golfers are huge in this. Tech people give back.
“It came out even better than we ever expected,” said Castro. “Matt Kuchar and Kris Mikkelsen and I have hit balls out here, and just the different shots that you can hit … it might be the best practice facility in the Southeast.”
Forrester believes that Tech’s new practice facility will help recruiting.
“Oh, I think so,” he said. “I think you’ll see … it was a piece of land with a couple holes on it, but now you’ve got this clubhouse and just a spectacular facility that’s going to attract alumni, players and … I think for a college golfer, this is just a spectacular asset.”
Castro, a PGA Tour professional who lives close to campus, said he’ll make the new facility his second home, especially since his coach — Pierce — is on hand.
“I left my house at 8:30, and at 8:35 I’m here and I got a full morning of work in with him. It’s a game changer,” Castro said. “It’s top-to-bottom. I’ll continue to use it, hopefully, and it’s a huge asset to anyone playing professionally.
“I still live in town, and if you spend a day here you’re not going to leave this facility and say, `Well, if I had been at East Lake, or Golf Club of Georgia, I could’ve gotten X, Y or Z. It’s amazing.”
This remarkable, one-of-a-kind set-up would not have been possible without Heppler or the dozens of donors whom he marshalled for the $16 million project between 14th and 16th Streets in Midtown Atlanta. This is a multi-decade project, spanning four athletic directors.
The go-ahead came from Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson in the fall of 2014 after many months of collaborating with philanthropic partners to secure the financial resources needed to initiate the first phase of the project to renovate the existing site. The property, which has served as the Yellow Jackets practice site for several years, was purchased in 2015 by the Georgia Tech Athletic Association, which then embarked on an ambitious plan to re-develop the site into one of the top practice facilities in college golf.
“Georgia Tech’s golf team has a tradition of excellence, both athletically and academically,” said Peterson. “Through ongoing support, we’re taking bold and decisive steps to provide a state-of-the-art practice facility immediately adjacent to campus. This exciting and transformative project has the potential to make a dramatic impact on student-athletes’ experience while at Tech, and on our ability to continue the successful recruitment of the best golfers in the nation.”
The golf program at Georgia Tech has set a high standard — winning 16 Atlantic Coast Conference championships, producing talented professional golfers, and maintaining a Dean’s List cumulative GPA among players and achieving a perfect score every year in the NCAA Academic Progress Index.
As Cink (MGT 1995) put it, “In an effort to recruit the best possible student-athletes, a program must provide outstanding facilities. The proximity of the practice facility to campus is a tremendous asset.”
|Thirteen acres in midtown Atlanta|
|Stewart and Lisa Cink Clubhouse|
|Kuchar Learning Center with Hitting Bays|
|Three bays to hit out to range|
|Each equipped with cameras, V1 software, and Trackman|
|One bay set up with SAM Putt Lab|
|4-acre short game area includes 6,000 square-foot putting green, a 4,000 square-foot chipping green and a specially designed wedge green|
|4 additional greens used for par 3 course, chipping, putting, or full shots|
|Six Tee boxes|
|Used for par-3 course or additional wedge/iron targets|
|Located just in front of club house and hitting bays|
|Provides largest area for range practice|
|Fairway up to 340 yards|
|Defined by several bunkers and different grass types|
|Five Greenside Bunkers|
|Can also be used as fairway bunkers|
|Three different types of fairway grasses used|
|Tift grand bermuda|
|Nine-Hole Par-3 Course routing|
|Shots ranging from 75 yards to 225 yards|