Atkins Golf Club gives Illini Golf a new home, providing opportunities

URBANA, Ill.— Josh Whitman stood in the tee box on the first hole of the Atkins Golf Club and surveyed the course around it with full bunkers and green fairways. But more importantly, the Illinois athletic director considered a completed draft.

The Atkins Group has donated more than 300 acres of real estate in Southeast Urbana, including Stone Creek Golf Club, to the University of Illinois, valued at over $15 million . Over the next two years, the course was renovated to become the future home of Illini’s men’s and women’s golf programs.

“It’s pretty special. It obviously took a while to prepare,” Illini’s women’s golf coach said. Renee Slone said. “We are extremely excited about this opportunity to be able to call this place a home championship venue. We are excited about the future and what it holds and a phenomenal opportunity for our men’s and women’s programs to have exceptional facilities to practice.

The 18-hole course has over 7,500 yards but can be played under 6,000 yards, the men’s coach mike small said. Equally important, the course provides the men’s and women’s teams with a home course that will allow local fans to watch the competing programs. The Illini haven’t held an event in Champaign-Urbana since 2011.

“It was also a motivating factor. We kind of joked around town, “You can’t watch Illinois play.” Well, that’s how college golf is,” Small said. “It’s just the nature of the sport. It always bothered me a bit. I want to play in this city, but I don’t want to have a tournament that isn’t important or doesn’t affect anything. You don’t just want to host an event to host an event. … We want something that means something.

Said Slone: ​​“It’s been a while since we’ve had a home event. This certainly presents an opportunity for us; whether that includes a regular season event or possibly a post-season event.

To that end, Small said Illinois will host a tournament before the Big Ten tournament next season that will include seven Big Ten teams and two MAC teams, though he did not name specific schedules. Also this weekend is the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate, which is hosted by Ohio State. But the Buckeyes want to expand the tournament from two days to three, which doesn’t fit Illini’s schedule. Instead, Small began planning his own two-day invite for that same weekend.

Small also said there’s been some buzz among coaches to award NCAA regional sites to top seeds, which could certainly work in Illinois’ favor given the long-running success of the program. men’s golf.

“If so, we have a course ready,” Small said. “Before it was like this, we didn’t have a course ready to host. This will give us a chance if ever that time comes when we can organize a regional.

Says Whitman: “Our program is in a pretty strong position right now, but that helps. It certainly puts us in a position to do things with Illinois golf that we haven’t been able to do before, at least not in very long time. … Knowing this gives us another tool in the toolbox that we can use to further polish the reputation of Illinois golf, not just regionally but across the country, that’s always something we’re going to be interested in. .

The Atkins Golf Club is a long course best suited for college play, especially post-season lessons. Additionally, bunkers and fairways will present challenges for players. Small said that, for example, the course could be changed ahead of the NCAA championships to help prepare his team for what he hopes will be a return to the NCAA championships after a surprise outing in regionals this year.

“Obviously we want to have a great golf course for everyone to play, but for us we need a place to prepare and practice for some of these longer type golf courses than we play in college golf,” Small said, noting that the program would still use other courses in town. “Currently the courses in the city are great to play, but they are 6,400, 6,500 or 6,600 yard golf courses; which are fine, but by today’s standards it’s not going to do it. … It gives him a whole different perspective, a whole different way to train and compete, but also something that we can control too.

Atkins Golf Club is set to open this weekendbut Whitman and a slew of Illinois coaches and staff joined members of the media Thursday for a closed-door round of golf ahead of the grand opening.

Thursday was also an opportunity for Whitman – who isn’t much of a golfer and describes himself as not very good – to return to the facility for the first time since spring and see the finishing touches to the new facility he has since overseen. his time as athletic director.

“It’s always exciting when you have an idea of ​​what something might look like and put the time, energy and resources into it,” Whitman said. “And you see it now two and a half years later at this point, and knowing everything that happened there, all the people who put so much effort into it means a lot.”

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