By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – To any astute observer who may have noticed the rapid rise in success of the Tennessee Tech golf programs this past year, it comes as no surprise to the man at the head of both the men's and women's golf teams. While the hard work and dedication of the student-athletes of both programs are impossible to match, head coach Polk Brown knows that there are underlying reasons for the sudden success on the links for the Golden Eagles.
The additions of an indoor putting and chipping facility and brand new Mercedes travel van have brought the Tennessee Tech programs to another level in terms of improved facilities and travel. But the noticeable difference on the golf course took quick effect this past spring and Brown knows there are plenty of people to thank for the great additions to his programs.
"This program has a come a long way," Brown expressed, "and to the people out there who helped with this cause, and to the people that are willing to help in the future, and to all those who helped with the program even before I got here, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
"I know the players are especially appreciative as well to those who helped fund this venture we've been on. These improvements mean a lot to us and they are going to help us put a product out on the course that everyone will be proud of."
A former member of the Golden Eagle men's golf team, Brown would be the first to say that this was hardly done on a whim. Tons of planning and work behind the scenes was required to get as far the program has reached.
"This was something I have wanted to do since I took over as head coach," Brown said when asked about the new improvements, "This was something we couldn't even have dreamed of when I played here, so I just set out to try to improve the facilities that we have and make it a reality for current student-athletes. Our ultimate goal is to get an outdoor practice facility, but in terms of 'the now', [Director of Athletics] Mark [Wilson] was kind and gracious enough to allow me to go out and talk to the people that would be willing to help us out. The response was extraordinary and beyond anything I anticipated."
The response led to the purchase of a brand-new 2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, complete with custom leather seating for nine, built-in wifi, wireless head phones for each passenger, an LCD TV with satellite capability and plenty of 'trunk space' for storing the golf clubs of each member of the team. On the exterior, the van is black with a custom wrap consisting of the TTU logo among other things.
"The new van is a big deal to our players," Brown explained, "as far as the comfort level and being able to go somewhere and travel in something that's more spacious, more relaxing and just a smooth drive.
"We have several long trips throughout the year, heading to the Atlantic coast and Gulf coast this next season. This past year we went to Jacksonville, Fla. These are all grueling drives that don't wear on you as much with the comfort the new van provides. Having something like that really just helped us relax this past season and get some much-needed rest, which can be difficult to come by sometimes.
"It helps the time just go by faster, not to mention the new visual effect it has for our program. The van just packs a big punch when you pull up in a parking lot when it looks that nice. We're hoping prospective student-athletes can see it and just think how cool it would be for them to travel around in something as nice as the van."
Perhaps even more of a boon to the success of the program has been the other major improvement for the Tech programs. The indoor putting and chipping facility, housed in the east side of Tucker Stadium right on campus.
"To be able to get the van and putting/chipping facility was and has been huge for our program," Brown expressed. "The van is awesome, but the new facility is the biggest thing we have gotten in a very long time."
The facility boasts seven different holes with which the Golden Eagle golf teams can approach with both putting and chipping exercises. The green rolls between a 9.5 and a 10 on a stimpmeter (which is used to measure the speed of a putting green), which translated to layman's terms means the green is fast. The green also possesses various undulations throughout its surface, allowing for more challenging putts. Thanks to the size of the facility, Tech golfers can attempt putts of distances up to 35 feet in length. The facility also offers three different chipping surfaces, ranging from tight lies to greenside rough.
"I'd really like to thank Preston Moon and everyone at Synthetic Impressions that helped design and build the facility," Brown said. "This past winter was rough and made it extremely difficult to get out and practice, especially with both the men's and women's teams playing their first tournaments in February.
"When we get done in the fall, they take a little bit of a break from the game and the short game is usually the first thing where the rust shows up when they get back. There aren't a lot of opportunities to get out and get work in, so that was just such a blessing to have. We spent a lot of days and nights in there.
"To be able to give the players all-access to it has been great. They can head over there whenever they want and work on their game. It's very advantageous and I know they're using it. I could definitely see a difference this spring. Their confidence was a lot higher around and on the green. A couple of the players mentioned to me that they had never felt more prepared around the greens than they did this year. To be able to use that indoor putting and chipping facility, I think it really helped us out a lot and kept us ahead of the curve; and I think our results spoke for themselves."
And speak they did. In the spring, the Golden Eagle women's team boasted three top five finishes (including a third-place finish at the OVC Championships), eight top 10 individual performances and five All-Tournament nods. Two members of the squad took home All-OVC accolades while both breaking the program record for stroke average in a single season. For the year, Tech also broke the team scoring record.
As for the men's team, the Golden Eagles took home five top five finishes (including a second-place showing at the OVC Championships), managed 10 top 10 individual performances and eight All-Tournament nods. One member claimed All-OVC honors while the team also captured its first tournament championship since 2007 in winning the Big Blue Intercollegiate.
The new van and facility surely made the desired impact over their first season in the hands of the Golden Eagles, but Brown hinted that there might be more to come soon.
"When we started this project" Brown explained, "we began with a $150,000 fundraising campaign back in the spring of 2014 with the hope of getting the van, the indoor putting and chipping facility and a ball flight simulator device that spits out statistical information. That is the last thing on the docket, trying to get the simulator. That's something we're hoping to work toward in the very near future.
"It's just been incredible. All the support we've received, especially from all the Tech golf alumni, has been a huge boost to this program and I just can't thank everyone enough for everything they have done and are planning on doing in the future. I know I've got two programs full of student-athletes who can't wait to come back from summer break and get after it. We're equipped to compete with the best of them. And we fully intend to do so."
Here's a look at other photos of the newest additions to the Tech golf programs:
Photos by Jocelyn VerVelde, TTU Sports Information