Former Fighting Illini great Renee Slone begins her ninth year at the helm of the University of Illinois women's golf program. Slone was named the third women's golf coach in school history on June 8, 2006. She replaced her former coach and mentor Paula Smith, who retired at the conclusion of the 2006 season after 28 years directing the UI golf program. Slone, formerly Renee Heiken, played for the Illini from 1990-93 and is the most decorated golfer in UI history.
2013-14 witnessed a reinvigorated Illini squad which blended youth and experience. The Illini recorded the lowest team scoring average (301.36) in school history. They bested the original record from the 2011-12 season by 2.5 strokes, improving by 11.25 shots from a season ago. Illinois tied the second lowest 54 hole tournament total in school history, scoring a 875 (+11) at the Westbrook Spring Invitational. In all, the squad tallied four total team scores on the top-10 list for 54-hole tournaments. In addition, the Illini produced three scores on the top-10 list for lowest rounds, including a tie for fifth with a 288 (E) at the Ptarmigan Ram Classic. In the fall, Illinois finished in the top-five in all five tournaments and climbed as high as No. 22 in the national rankings after winning the Diane Thomason Invitational. The spring was highlighted by the squad posting its lowest round ever at the Big Ten Championships (296) and both Ember Schuldt and Stephanie Miller qualifying for NCAA Regionals.
In 2011-12, Illinois earned a berth to regionals for the second year in a row and fourth time in school history, tying for 14th at the NCAA West Regional. The Illini placed fifth at the Big Ten Championships, which was the program's best finish since 2002 and top showing at the conference tournament under Slone. The Orange and Blue won a team title to start off the spring and recorded eight top-five team finishes. The Illini also twice set the team school record for a 54-hole tournament total and turned in the top two individual tournament and team single round performances in school history.
The 2010-11 season was full of milestones. The Illini advanced to the NCAA Regional Championship for the third time in program history, as well as set new team records at the time. At the first tournament of the season, the Ptarmigan Ram Classic, Illinois set the then-lowest team round in school history, carding a three-under 285. Later in the fall, the Illini shot a one-over 281 during the Challenge at Onion Creek, the seventh lowest team round in school history.
In 2009-10, Illinois won its first tournament since the 2007-08 season at the UC Spring Invitational, shooting the seventh lowest 54-hole tournament total (893) in the program's history. At the Big Ten Championships, the Illini made program history finishing the 72-hole tournament with a total of 1230, the lowest score to date. Not only did Slone coach Illinois to record breaking team finishes, but each individual golfer posted or tied her career low round and experienced her career low 54-hole tournament total during the 2009-10 season.
In the 2008-09 season, the Illini boasted the now 10th lowest season scoring average (315.09) in school history with a youthful lineup, including seven freshmen, one sophomore and one senior. The team made history at the season-opening tournament, sending five freshmen to the event for the first time ever.
During the 2007-08 season, Slone coached the Illini to two tournament victories at the Gainesville Shootout III and the Illini Spring Classic as well as a second consecutive runner-up finish at the Shootout at the Legends. The Orange and Blue had a stretch of six straight top-five finishes during the year and posted the now sixth-best season scoring average in school history (308.44). The Illini also matched the 10th lowest team round (291) at the 2008 Samford Intercollegiate and the team's tournament total of 898 at the 2008 Indiana Invitational ranks ninth in school history for a 54-hole tournament.
In 2006-07 the lady golfers finished third at the Indiana Invitational and notched the school's sixth-lowest 72-hole tournament total at the 2007 Big Ten Championships with a 1255.
Illinois quickly made strides in Slone's first year. In the fall of 2006, the Fighting Illini shattered the 54-hole school record at the time by firing a cumulative total of 890 (now fifth best) at the Shootout at the Legends to finish second overall. Additionally, the Orange and Blue's final-round total of 292 was just one shot off the single-round school record at the time.
To add to the excitement around the golf program, the Illinois athletic department opened the 16,000-square foot Demirjian Golf Practice Facility back in January 2007. The facility features large chipping and putting areas, heated hitting bays that open onto an outdoor driving range and full locker rooms, complete with a lounge and study areas for the players.
"The Demirjian Facility is an excellent practice venue for our team," Slone said. "The building has been a tremendous asset for both the men's and women's golf programs and has played a key role as we continue to move the program to new heights."
In June of 2014, U of I announced the creation of the Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Practice Facility, which will be adjacent to Demirjian.Illinois golfers now will not only be able to hone their craft in the heated hitting bays and indoor chipping and putting area, but also will be able to practice any shot in golf. Various lies and grass types will be available on a 24-acre training center complete with target fairways, target greens of varying distances and sizes, fairway bunkers and greenside bunkers. And to help players hone their short game, the facility will feature putting greens, chipping greens and multiple wedge areas.
"With the addition of the outdoor practice facility, the Fighting Illini golf teams will have the nation's premier collegiate performance facility located on our campus," Illinois women's golf head coachRenee Slonesaid. "For our players to have daily access to these resources just a few minutes from their dorms and apartments is a dream come true for team members and coaches. This facility enables us to have the ability to practice any kind of shot from any distance on different grass types. The outdoor facility along with the Demirjian Indoor Practice Facility and the six courses within 15 minutes of campus provide a wide variety of challenges that enable our team members to travel the country fully prepared for whatever they may find on the course.
"We continue to strive to afford our players every opportunity to compete and win. With access to these resources, our student-athletes are able to compete at the highest level in college golf. We are so grateful to this special group of people who have come together to support our golf programs, our student-athletes and the University of Illinois."
As a player, Slone had an unparalleled career while donning the Orange and Blue. During her senior season in 1993, she averaged a school-record 74.33 strokes per round, claimed a school-record eight medalist titles - including the Big Ten Championship - and was named the 1993 National College Player of the Year by both the National Golf Coaches Association (NGCA) and Golfweek Magazine. Throughout her career she was a three-time All-American, claiming three straight top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships (1991 - 3rd, 1992 - t-4th, 1993 - t-6th). She also was a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year (1992, `93), two-time Big Ten Championship Medalist (1991, `93) and two-time UI Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year (1991, `92).
Slone remains Illinois' career-stroke average leader (75.53) and owns the top two single-season stroke averages in school history. In addition, she holds two of the top five single-round scores, two of the top-four 54-hole scores and the top three 72-hole scores.
Slone also earned notoriety when she tied the LPGA 9-hole record of 28 at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic. After her stellar Illini career, Slone continued playing as a member of the LPGA Tour from 1995-97 and also spent time on the Futures Tour and Ladies Asian Tour.
Following her playing career, Slone moved into coaching as assistant coach for both the men's and women's golf teams at Bradley University during the 1999-2000 season. The following season, she returned to the University of Illinois and served as an assistant coach under Smith during the spring of 2001 while finishing up her bachelor's degree in business administration-marketing. In addition to customary assistant coach duties, Slone was designated as the team's head coach for two tournaments, the Illini Spring Classic and the Big Ten Championships.
Since that one-year stint as an assistant at Illinois, Slone served as an Assistant Golf Professional at two different courses in the south. She has served as the manager and golf professional at Sherwood Forest Golf Club in Brevard, N.C. Prior to that, she was an Assistant Professional at Connestee Falls Country Club in Brevard, N.C., where she established a "Clubs in the Classroom" campaign introducing hundreds of young children to the game of golf. She also was responsible for clinic development and instruction, in addition to helping with all daily golf operations and personnel.
A native of Metamora, Ill., Slone had an outstanding junior career before coming to Illinois, finding success at the area, state and national levels. She won an unprecedented four consecutive Peoria Women's City Titles (1987-90), was a two-time IHSA Individual State Champion (1987, `89), and was a three-time American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) All-American.
In 2004, Slone was inducted into both the National Golf Coaches Association Players Hall of Fame and the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame.
THE RENEE SLONE FILE
Maiden Name: Renee Heiken
Updated July 2014