Defending national men’s golf champs upgrading to TPC

by Ben Goessling

During a pro-am last Thursday at the Senior PGA Tour’s 3M Championship in Blaine, golf legend Arnold Palmer was asked by a CNBC official to shoot a promotional spot for the network’s coverage of the tournament.

As television cameras followed his steps down the 12th fairway on a perfect Minnesota afternoon, Palmer wore a proud look on his face as he gazed past the golf course’s emerald grass to a green surrounded by bunkers of fluffy sand. Off to the seven-time major champion’s left, the late afternoon sun hung over rows of oak trees and burned a reflection off a pond.

Most golfers would call the scene heaven.

Next season, Minnesota’s men’s golf team will call it home.

The Tournament Players Club of the Twin Cities, designed by Palmer and host of the 3M Championship, will become the defending NCAA champions new course next season.

“It’s an excellent golf course and a world-class practice facility,” head coach Brad James said. “I’m very excited to get our team out there.”

James approached TPC general manager Ken Lane about the possibility of the course becoming the Gophers’ home in June. James hadn’t seen the course before approaching Lane, but according to Lane, it was love at first sight.

“He was speechless,” Lane said. “It was fun for me to see his reaction.”

Opened in 2000, the 7,146-yard course is miles ahead of the Les Bolstad course at the University. And the facility’s impeccable practice range sold James.

“As a golf professional myself, I could spend all day back there (on the practice range) for the rest of my life and be in heaven,” Lane said. “The opportunities back there are better than anywhere.”

The crown jewel of the 450-yard practice range is its short game area, which features a number of different greens, each presenting a separate challenge for players.

The practice greens range from long, undulating faces to small, tricky target areas protected by bunkers, allowing the Gophers players to perfect just about any shot in their arsenal.

The course itself, which Palmer designed in consultation with 1996 British Open champion and Minnesota alumnus Tom Lehman, combines a distinctly Minnesotan look with a Scottish links feel, as 27 ponds dot a layout dominated by heathery rough and rolling fairways.

Of the 18 greens, 16 are guarded by bunkers, including the tricky par-3, 228-yard 12th, where Palmer found the hole’s cavernous bunker Thursday.

“The areas around the green are very tough,” James said. “The greens are fast, and it’s hard to land approach shots. It will really test our short games.”

Aside from giving Minnesota one of the nation’s best facilities, the presence of the TPC has also made James interested in hosting a big-time college golf tournament at the course.

Such an embarrassment of riches might be typical of a defending national champion, but certainly not of a team targeted for elimination merely four months ago.

And don’t think James doesn’t realize it.

“Part of the reason for coming here was to show people we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “It will be a great tool for recruiting, and it will only make this program better.”

James can add an endorsement from Palmer to the program’s remarkable story, too; “The King” said he was more than happy the Gophers were using his course.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Palmer said of Minnesota making the TPC its home. “They’re the defending national champions, and it’s about time somebody stepped forward to save the program (from being dropped).”

So instead of withering away, the Gophers will spend next season treading in the footsteps of one of the game’s greats.

Heaven, indeed.

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]