UI Announces Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Golf Practice Facility
June 11, 2014
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Fourteen years ago, Mike Small took over as Illinois' head men's golf coach with the vision of making the Fighting Illini a perennial contender on the national scene. With great administrative support and the backing of a number of boosters throughout his tenure, Small has built the Illinois program into a powerhouse on a national scale, finishing as 2013 NCAA runner-up, advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals in three of the last four seasons and reaching the NCAA Championships in each of the last seven seasons. Thanks to the vision and generosity of the James and Kay Lauritsen, and Albert Wohlers families, the University of Illinois announced on Wednesday the creation of the Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Practice Facility. Construction of the $2 million facility with a $3.5 million endowment began on June 2 with a dedication planned for Fall 2014.
The Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Practice Facility will be adjacent to the J.G. Demirjian Indoor Golf Practice Facility at the corner of St. Marys Road and Wright Street in Urbana, meaning that one of the top indoor facilities in the nation now will have a premier outdoor practice area connected to it. 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.
"The Lauritsen and Wohlers families have supported the university and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics for many years, and this gift shows their vision and commitment to our championship golf program," Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas said. "When you add the great support of five extremely successful Illinois alumni in Steve Stricker, Don Edwards, Brent Wadsworth, Art Wyatt and Steve Wymer, this project reflects the impact of Illinois golf on multiple generations of Illini student-athletes and provides for future generations. This facility will keep Illinois at the forefront of college golf and will be a model for programs across the country."
The facility was designed by Small and former Illini and PGA Tour professional Steve Stricker, and inspired by the practice area at Augusta National Golf Club. It will be built by The Wadsworth Golf Construction Company, which is owned by 1952 Illinois graduate Brent Wadsworth. The facility's operations and maintenance will be endowed through the Steven S. Wymer Facility Endowment Fund for Men's Golf, meaning those costs will be paid by the annual investment returns on the initial investment. Additional funding for the endowment is still being accepted and anyone wishing to donate can contact senior associate athletics director for development Rick Darnell at 217-333-6595.
"Illinois was at the forefront of the indoor facility movement in the country," Small said. "We were right there on the cutting edge of being one of the first ones to build something of the magnitude of the Demirjian Indoor Golf Facility. For us to continue to be a leader in college golf, this outdoor center is very, very important. With this addition, we will be able to use the facility to its full capacity and have a state-of-the-art outdoor teaching center that is equivalent in its class, its magnitude and its uniqueness to Demirjian. Now we have an outdoor center that can compete with any in the country on what it offers the student-athlete to continue to master their trade.
"We've had so much great support - not only administrative support and university support, but we also have had such great financial support from boosters and friends of the program since I've been here," Small continued. "That's one of the pillars to any sport program is to have positive support behind you. This takes it to another level to have people completely fund and endow a multi-million dollar project. It takes the support we have had for the past dozen years and takes it up another notch. For them to want to be a part of our program like this just shows what the Illinois family is all about."
"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 coach Renee Slone said. "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."
Jim Lauritsen graduated from the University of Illinois in 1958 with a B.S. in agricultural economics and went on to become a founding partner in Bielfeldt, Lauritsen and Hagemeyer, a very successful Chicago Board of Trade clearing firm. He and his wife, Kay, are longtime supporters of the university, serving as loyal I Fund donors and key contributors to the Richard T. Ubben Basketball Practice Facility.
Albert Wohlers is a 1939 graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in economics. The retired chairman of Albert H. Wohlers & Co., Wohlers built his company into one of the most respected in the group insurance industry. He and his late wife, Jane, have long been supporters of the university, including giving the naming rights gift for Wohlers Hall, the College of Business building formerly known as Commerce West.
In addition, former Illini golfers Steve Stricker and Don Edwards contributed key funds to the facility. Members of Illinois' 1988 Big Ten championship team along with Small, Stricker and Edwards remain close to the program. Stricker and his wife, Nicki, are key supporters of the Illinois program and Steve is the most well known Illinois alumnus on the PGA Tour. Stricker is a 21-year Tour veteran and has 12 career victories, 102 career top-10 finishes and career earnings over $40 million. Despite playing a reduced schedule in 2013, Stricker finished third in the FedEx Cup standings, with eight top-10 finishes and 11 top-25 finishes in the 13 events he played, and earnings over $4 million.
Edwards and his wife, Anne Sebastian Edwards, both are 1988 graduates of Illinois and Don is the managing principal of Flexpoint Ford, LLC, a Chicago-based private equity investment firm with more than $1 billion under management. Don was a four-year letterwinner for the Illini and a two-time Golf Coaches Association of America All-Academic Scholar. After earning a bachelor's degree with highest honors in finance from Illinois, Edwards earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar. He is a director of World Business Chicago, a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art, a member of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners and a director of the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. The Edwards have established endowed scholarships at the University of Illinois and Harvard University.
Wadsworth founded The Wadsworth Golf Construction Company in 1958 and built it into one of the world's premier firms of its kind. The company has built or renovated more than 850 golf courses in the United States, Japan, Mexico, Panama and the Philippines, including Augusta National Golf Club, The Greenbrier, Castle Pines, Shadow Creek, Valhalla and numerous other top-rated courses. Wadsworth also helped found and served many years as chairman of Golf Hosts, which owns the luxury resorts Innisbrook and Tamarron. He founded the Wadsworth Golf Charities Foundation, which sponsors "Links Across America" to create affordable golf facilities and programs for youth, families, adult beginners and individuals with disabilities. Wadsworth is a generous supporter of The First Tee Scholars and other financial aid programs at the University of Illinois.
Wyatt was a four-year letterwinner on the golf team from 1946-49 before graduating with a degree in accountancy. He later completed master's and Ph.D. degrees in accountancy at Illinois and served on the faculty of the College of Business from 1950-65. He went on to be a partner and managing director for accounting principles at Arthur Andersen, retiring in 1993. Wyatt endowed the head men's golf coaching position and is a former president of the UI Athletic Association board.
Wymer - who, like Small, is a native of Danville, Ill. - graduated from Illinois in 1985 with an accountancy degree and has been the manager of Fidelity Growth Fund since 1998 after serving as a portfolio manager for Fidelity from 1990-97. From 1985-87, he was an emerging-business consultant for Deloitte Haskins & Sells. He was nominated for the 2012 Morningstar Domestic Stock-Fund Manager of the Year award and holds the Certified Public Accountant designation.
"The generosity, commitment and dedication to philanthropy that our donors have is second to none," said Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Development Rick Darnell. "They share our vision of excellence and we are so thankful for that. Their desire to continue to position Illinois golf as a top program in the nation is an inspiration to all of us."
In addition, special thanks to the families who made the initial construction of the Demirjian Indoor Practice Facility possible: the Demirjian family, Art Wyatt, Jeff and Madalyn Tinervin, and Avy and Marcie Stein.
Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Practice Facility Facts
What They're Saying...
D.A. Points, former Illini and PGA Tour professional:
Scott Langley, former Illini and PGA Tour professional:
Luke Guthrie, former Illini and PGA Tour professional: