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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Feb. 23, 2007

Golf fore winter

by Samantha Beres

Christi Athas turned, hinging her golf club back around her shoulder before plunging it down for a strong drive. The golf ball went out about 250 yards and landed in the snow. That was last Tuesday. The temperature was 12 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind-chill factor that made it feel like zero.


Members of the Cyclone women's golf team practiced at the Veenker heated facility during last week's snow showers. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Athas was warm for the most part. She was driving balls from inside the heated bay at Veenker Memorial Golf Course. The state-of-the-art facility that houses a putting green in addition to the hitting bays was completed last spring. This is the first winter it is being used by Iowa State's men's and women's golf teams. The teams have first priority, but groups rent it out, even in the dead of winter.

From Stange Road it appears to be a high-ceilinged, four-car garage. But women's golf coach Christie Martens is quick to correct. It's not a garage, she said. And she's right. A view from the inside shows that it's the real deal.

If it's good enough for Tiger ...

The floor is a high-tech turf - synthetic greens that are the closest thing in the industry to real grass on a golf course. Tiger Woods has the same turf in his backyard. The fill in the turf is made of mono-crystalline quartz - tiny round crystals. Even if they shift slightly under weight, the crystals keep air pockets between them and don't break down. The turf has the contour of a real putting green with realistic ball action. Martens described it as "undulating."

"The crystals are used because real sand would compress too much and pack down," explained clubhouse manager Tess Balsley. Sand is used as a base, however.

The putting area, which is behind the four hitting stalls, offers a 60-foot-by-20-foot green with eight cups. There is a large patch of longish turf at one end of the building offering up a place for chipping practice.

"At least half the game is putting," Martens said. "We used to not putt at all during the winter, so this has been really big for us - when we go to grass, the team will have the feel for it and the mental edge."

Then there's the driving range. Each of four hitting stalls is about 10 feet deep. In a stall, a golfer stands on a platform strategically placed under a heating device that hangs from the ceiling. It feels similar to sitting under a heat lamp. Golfers hit balls off of a gel mat that gives the same "feedback" real grass would, another high-tech feature of the facility.

We'll find them in the spring

Balsley said that it's typical for a player to hit two buckets of balls, or a total of 120 balls, in one session. Collecting them from the driving range ebbs and flows with the weather, so there are enough balls in stock to last through March.

The best part of the facility, said players and coaches, is not having to drive to Des Moines every day. In winters past, the team would drive every day to Longview Dome, an enclosed facility. Players could hit, but not see the flight trajectory of the ball.

"What the heated bay facility will do for our programs is amazing," Martens said. "From recruiting blue chip prospects to gaining a competitive edge - this facility accomplishes it all."

There still are a few finishing touches to be added to the Veenker facility. Mirrors will be installed in the hitting stalls so golfers can watch their form. And some Cyclone decor will be added. Meanwhile, players have the advantage of keeping their putting skills and swings in shape through the cold winter months.

Parties interested in renting the heated practice facility should call Balsley, 4-9493. The rate is $80 an hour for groups of six or less.


"From recruiting blue chip prospects to gaining a competitive edge - this facility accomplishes it all."

Christie Martens, Cyclone women's golf coach