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Practice Makes Perfect

And Stanford golf coaches think they've got the perfect new practice course.

David Gonzales/Stanford Athletics

DIFFERENT STROKES: Three-time All-American Rob Grube, '08, works on his swing at the Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex.

By Christian Torres

Tucked away near the Stanford Barn lies something of a golfer's dream: 30 acres, six greens in the styles of the best course architects, and an unimaginable number of possible shots, all in the privacy of the Foothills and a short bike ride from campus.

It's not the Stanford course, though; it's the Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex.

“It makes me want to skip practice and spend some time around here myself,” says men's head coach Conrad Ray, '97, as he roams the course in a golf cart, beaming. After helping bring home the NCAA title in 2007, Ray has something else to be proud of in just three years on the Farm.

“It's going to help take us to the next level,” he says. “Just like any university wants to have the best research facility they can provide, we now have the best practice facility we can provide.”

Three years after the idea for a new facility came out of a conversation among golf program donors, Ray and women's coach Caroline O'Connor, Cardinal golfers are getting their first shots. And there are plenty to choose from: uphill, downhill and sidehill lies; long, deep, below-green and above-green bunkers; under, over, around and through trees; flop shots, lob shots and more.

“They have the space to do every shot they could ever need to do in competition,” Ray says. Once he and O'Connor had the go-ahead from main donor, philanthropist Thomas Siebel, they put together a veritable wish list of features.

“Conrad and I spent hours discussing what we were looking for in a practice facility,” O'Connor says. “The challenge at the old facility was that we could practice fundamentals and mechanics but we couldn't truly practice playing golf.”

With 30 acres of land, they had much more room to work with after years on a one-acre plot near the driving range. Center architect Jason Blasi, of Palo Alto-based Robert Trent Jones II, still had to fit in as much as possible. “There's a lot of different stuff going on, a lot of different shots that you want players to be able to take without safety issues and without impeding one another,” he says.

For Blasi, the solution was to place each of the center's six greens at the edges of the land. For further variety, Blasi modeled each green in the style of a different golf architect: Alister MacKenzie, Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, A.W. Tillinghast, Robert Trent Jones and Robert Trent Jones Jr., Gr. '64. That gives players a competitive advantage, Blasi says. “To play on a Pete Dye green like at Arizona State, you'd have to travel at least 80 miles, but now we have a deep pot bunker right here for them to practice on. It's like the football team getting the chance to walk across the street and play in the Coliseum a week before the USC game.”

The site now boasts two primary teeing locations, a variety of loops (from three to nine holes) and shots involving different elevations, grasses, bunkers and more—just as the program hoped for.

“I love the fact that we can take our shag bags out to any area and work on hitting shots, which is truly giving us the ability to practice golf as opposed to just pounding balls,” O'Connor says. “There are areas where we can be hitting shots off a downhill lie into elevated greens, or we can move around the facility to find a desired wind direction and work on controlling shots into the wind or downwind or into a crosswind.” The center also incorporates traditional teaching tools: video camcorders and launch monitors can be plugged into outlets specially placed all around the course.

Although the men's and women's teams were able to try out the new course only a few times before leaving for the summer, O'Connor notes, “The team has said that those were some of the best practices we've ever had because of the unique ability to really practice so many different shots.”

The center is also proving a top attraction to young recruits. “There's nothing like it in the country,” O'Connor says.

—Christian Torres, '09

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