Think Big: Think National Championship
Top-notch players feel at home in top-of-the-line facility.
Director of Golf and Head Coach Herb Page has never been ashamed to declare his ultimate goal for Kent State men’s golf.
“I want to win a national championship,” Page has declared more than once. And he said it again during the final week of May as his Golden Flashes were preparing for another run at the NCAA Championships near Atlanta. “Yes, we are a northern team, and it is inherently more difficult for teams that can play outside for only half of the year. But I am convinced we can win a national championship at Kent State.”
Capturing a national title has been a goal of Page’s for the bulk of his 35 years as Kent State’s golf coach. That dream is closer than ever to becoming reality thanks in large part to the impact of the Ferrara and Page Golf Training and Learning Center.
The results speak for themselves. In the six years since the 10,000-square-foot facility opened on Powder Mill Road, with its giant indoor putting green and its indoor-and-outdoor practice tees opening out to a 350-yard driving range, the Golden Flashes have won five of the last six Mid-American Conference tournaments and finished fifth, sixth, 19th, 20th and 27th during appearances in five of the last six NCAA Championships. The fifth-place national finish at famed Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles in 2012 is the program’s finest to date.
From 20010-12, Kent State joined UCLA, USC and Texas A&M as the only four teams to place in the top 20 nationally in three consecutive seasons.
“We had some great finishes in the early 1990s, then had a really nice ninth-place finish in 2000 with players such as Ben Curtis, ’03, and Jon Mills, ’00,” says Page. “But then we went into a stretch where we went to the nationals just a few times. I don’t think it is any coincidence that this has been the most consistent run we’ve had of playing at a high, high level.
Factoring in the wow factor
The No. 1 benefit of the facility — which was built entirely through private donations — is that it has given Kent State’s golfers a place to practice year-round. “But beyond that, the unwritten question is are we getting better players because of the facility?” Page asks rhetorically. “We think we are. We can now attract a better player or keep that great local player in Ohio. We can even battle the southern teams in recruiting. When we bring in a potential player and they walk into our facility for the first time, there is a wow factor.”
Those top recruits and their results have made believers out of many who follow Kent State golf. Few now scoff at the idea of a national championship team residing in Kent.
“I don’t remember exactly when it was that I first heard Coach Page talk about winning a national title,” says Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen. “It didn’t take me long after I saw them play for the first time at the NCAA Championships before I realized we really are very close. “There was a wow factor, too, as we brought coaching candidates to the facility,” says Page. “We brought in five candidates for the women’s team, and when they walked in, their mouths just dropped. These were candidates from big-time national programs. Every one of them said, ‘We didn’t know you had anything like this.’”
The vision of Page and architect Alan Ambuske, ’69, M.A. ’76, became manifest when the center first opened its doors in 2007. At that time, only a handful of golf programs around the country enjoyed similar facilities.
“Since then, we’ve had Tennessee come in, Kentucky came in, Michigan has been in there and Ohio State,” says Page. “All of those schools came to Kent, Ohio, to look at our place before they drew up plans of their own.”
Golden Flashes alumni benefit too
More than just helping the current generation of Kent State golfers, the facility has become a destination for Golden Flashes alumni who make regular trips to Kent to work on their games. Some professionals, such as 2003 British Open champion Curtis, have made it their home base for practice before going out to play on the PGA or other tours.
Curtis recently moved back to Kent from Florida, “and when he did, he built a fabulous home on 100-plus acres,” says Page. “When they were building it, I heard (a contractor) say, let’s put in a room with some high ceilings so you can have a golf simulator and some nets for practice. Ben told the contractor that he didn’t need anything like that in his house because he has that at Kent State.
“Ben didn’t move back here for the golf center. He moved back because he wants his children to go to school and grow up here. But I know that in the back of his mind he recognizes that he has a facility at Kent State that is fabulous. He uses it as much as anybody, and we are really happy about that.”
The golf facility was also the place where 2011 graduate John Hahn refined his game in the weeks leading up to his qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia.
“Personally, what the golf center has meant to me is it has offered a great sanctuary to get away and work,” says Hahn, who was a freshman when the facility opened. “It is very private and a perfect place to work on every facet of my game. Having Ben, who is a major championship winner, out there all the time is also a great asset. It’s almost hard to pull myself away. When I played here, I always believed what Coach Page believes, that you can win a national championship at Kent State. And with a facility like we have here, our players should always believe they can win nationals.”