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GVSU's Sack: Golf Man on Campus

by Tom Cleary

Here's one you've probably never considered: the sport of golf nearly ended the athletic career of one of Michigan's most famous athletes.

Yep, it almost happened.

More than twenty ago, former Pistons' star Bill Laimbeer found himself allergic to school and addicted to balata during his first year at Notre Dame. Result: a one-way ticket home to Toledo from the registrar's office in South Bend. In the months that followed, Laimbeer enrolled in junior college, took a (temporary) golf cure, and made it back to become an X on Digger Phelps' chalkboard for the second time. Later, he would go on to become a key member of the Detroit Pistons' only two world championship squads.

Thus, a simple moral: golf on a college campus, when not used properly, can be a dangerous thing.

Luckily, that's a lesson yet to be learned at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, which began to incorporate golf into the university experience nearly a decade ago.

It did so when President Arend (Don) Lubbers gave the OK for a golf course to be constructed on land directly adjacent to the football stadium that bears his name. One of the people entrusted with the job of making the golf course a reality was university vice-president Terry Sack.

"At the time, my job was about like any city manager's," says Sack. "For the most part, any large construction project that took place in Allendale was something that went through my office." Sack has watched the burgeoning expansion of the GVSU campus with pride for years, but the golf course project was one that really got his attention. He helped research all aspects of what was to become known as The Meadows Golf Club, and helped the school identify Dr. Michael Hurdzan as the architect who should be hired to do its design. "We did a lot of homework before we got started," Sack recalls. "And it really paid off."

By the time Hurdzan's handiwork was completed a few years later in 1994, Grand Valley had not only a fine golf course, but an excellent practice facility that remains a key part of the club's educational mission. Large classes are easily accommodated at the golf academy, and during the last six years, hundreds of students have played golf for the first time on the two-hole practice course there.

GVSU students and staff aren't the only ones to see what golf can do for a college's profile. Aided by the school's athletic department, Sack and his staff secured and hosted two national championships at The Meadows, the women's joint Division II-III competitions in 1996 and 1998. In 2001 Grand Valley will host the men's Division II tournament for the first time.

"We're hoping to become a regular part of the championship rotation," says Sack of Grand Valley, which now fields both men's and women's teams which compete at the Division II level.

The Meadows also has become a safe haven for GVSU students who were long gone from the campus there before the course became reality. Says GVSU Athletic Director Tim Selgo, "The club has had a great impact on our alumni. It makes them feel proud of our school and gives them a very good reason to come back here." And there's a financial reward for GVSU as well,

according to Sack. "More than 20 Grand Valley-related outings are held each year at the Meadows."

While the land used for the golf course at Grand Valley isn't likely to be mistaken for Pine Valley or Pebble Beach, the environmentally conscious design of Hurdzan has allowed the school to utilize the property as well as anyone can imagine, given its mostly clay base and meandering stretches of wetlands. And slowly, the course gets better and better, thanks to improvements made each year. "This year we were able to remove some of the more onerous cross-hazards and improve drainage on the course," Sack points out.

A few years after The Meadows opened, Sack traded in his VP nameplate to become the club's general manager. Beams Tim Selgo, "Terry is great to work with and really markets the golf course. He's really strong on customer service and has helped make the club into what we think is one of the ten best college facilities in the U.S." And more good times are ahead for GVSU golfers thanks to the recent hiring of the school's first full-time women's coach, Lori Stinson, who won an NAIA national championship while at Tri-State in Angola, Indiana.

Ironically, Grand Valley's greatest golf success to date came this past season, when its men's team upset Ferris State to win the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) title. Ferris, of course, has long been a Division II golf power, thanks to its Professional Golf Management program which attracts scores of students who aspire to become golf professionals. You can bet the loss to Grand Valley in golf wasn't taken lightly in Big Rapids.

And it didn't go unnoticed by Terry Sack, who once played college baseball at . . . Ferris State. Who knows? If Sack hadn't seen what campus golf had done for his old school (just an hour up the road from GVSU) maybe Grand Valley would've never gotten around to building The Meadows.

But before Sack's Ferris State friends take offense at his transgressions, we remind them it's hard to get mad at a guy who loves golf; just ask Notre Dame. Two decades after nearly losing big Bill Laimbeer to the little white ball, the Fighting Irish have made their peace with the sport.

They've built another college golf course in South Bend for students and university staff.

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