It’s probably no accident North Carolina State men’s golf team hasn’t won an outright ACC championship in 59 years. Yearning for a golf course to call its own for decades, the university finally funded Lonnie Poole Golf Club. And while the Arnold Palmer Design Co. layout has won numerous accolades as one of best college courses in the country since opening in 2009, there are no locker rooms on site as a trailer serves as a make-shift clubhouse.
That’s all about to change within the next 12 months as the Wolfpack has broken ground on a proposed 25,000-square-foot clubhouse that is expected to be state-of-the-art on numerous fronts.
“You can arguably describe this as the single-most important day in the history of our golf program,” N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said in late October as ceremonial shovels stirred dirt on the site of the proposed Carol Johnson Poole Clubhouse. “In our enterprise people often say facilities are the silent statement of commitment. When recruits come here and they’re trying to decide if they’re going to Duke or Carolina, Wake or State, when they round the bend and see this place the answer will be in front of them in relationship to our commitment as a university and as an athletic program in terms of men’s and women’s golf.”
Carol Johnson Poole is the wife of Lonnie Poole, who the course is named after. With their generous donations the couple has singlehandedly elevated N.C. State’s golfing programs by helping with major funding for the world-class Palmer layout, and now the clubhouse, which will also double as classrooms for the turfgrass research and professional golf management schools – two of the university’s nationally recognized programs.
“Somebody asked me what I want in a clubhouse and I said, ‘I don’t know I’ve never had one,’’’ said longtime N.C. State men’s coach Richard Sykes. “It’s going to be special. It kind of completes the project. I will be out here every day looking at it.”
While the Wolfpack has produced some notable professional players such as Vance Heafner, Carl Pettersson and Tim Clark, the program has in general been playing catch-up with rival ACC schools, at times losing top recruits because of a lack of facilities. Even when Lonnie Poole was opened, no permanent clubhouse with team locker rooms on site, and various other amenities left Sykes at a recruiting disadvantage.
“The golf course has matured very nicely but when people drive into the parking lot we feel like we’re one down,” said Chip Watson, the general manager at Lonnie Poole and the assistant men’s coach. “They see we have the doublewide trailer, that temporary building and they see a big hole where the clubhouse is going to be and we already feel like we’re behind a little bit. Once the person gets out there on the third or fourth hole the golfer realizes that ‘Hey, this is a pretty nice place.’ And they say, ‘This will be awesome when it is finished.’ Well, now this piece will finish it, and we’ll have that wow factor when golfers drive in.”
The second floor of the clubhouse will spill out onto the driving range, while an outside veranda will provide an expansive view of the back nine and downtown Raleigh, making it a destination to relax before and after 18 holes.
“This is a beautiful golf course, but it’s not finished until we have a 19th hole, a clubhouse, and in this case a teaching facility and a place for our teams,” Lonnie Poole said. “I love doublewides and there is a time and place for everything, but it took me a long time to get over that Cow College thing and all that surrounds us N.C. State graduates of an earlier vintage, so we don’t need a doublewide; it just doesn’t fit in with this neighborhood.”
“This is big time because most of your good college golf teams have facilities that are somewhat like you see for basketball and football,” added Roger Watson, president of Carolinas Golf Group that manages the course. “It is difficult to make it happen and without outside large donations, not just to athletics but directly into a facility like this, it would never happen. It is going to be a big deal for N.C. State.”
Chip Watson said the clubhouse is 80 percent funded, with additional donation options available on the website www.lonniepoolegolfcourse.com by clicking on the “donate” tab.