Home on the range: High-tech practice facility positions MSU golf for success

The Mississippi State University men’s and women’s golf teams moved into their new practice facility one year ago and in that time head women’s coach Ginger Brown-Lemm hasn’t found anything she would change.

“I’m the happiest coach on the planet,” Lemm said. “Before The Barn we had everything but not a home. Now, we have a home.”

Lemm explained that before the new facility opened in November 2015, the Bulldog varsity golf teams had a practice facility at the Mississippi State University Golf Course. But balancing the needs of an 18-hole course, a clubhouse, a pro shop, two collegiate teams and the university’s flourishing Professional Golf Management program, meant space at the Starkville course was hard to come by.

“It’s a great facility and we are grateful to have access to it, but our athletes didn’t have a place there to call their own. They didn’t even have a place to store their clubs overnight,” Lemm explained. “This new facility is a credit to our current and former athletes, who have done well and called attention to the need.”

Lemm added that the project is also a credit to the Mississippi State supporters who believe in the work she and men’s head coach Clay Homan are doing.

Located in West Point, the new 6,300-square-foot facility features spacious men’s and women’s locker rooms, an athlete lounge, meeting rooms, office space and a storage loft. It also has four indoor hitting bays, including technology bays with equipment for recording and analyzing a player’s swing, as well as a putting room with technology to analyze a player’s stroke.

The $2.2 million construction project was funded by private donations through the Bulldog Club and stands on 12 acres of former farmland donated by George Bryan, a 1968 business administration graduate.

McDonald makes strides in LPGA

Photo by Scott A. Miller/SYMETRA Tour

Ally McDonald carries Mississippi State in her heart and back pocket every time she hits the links. The former Mississippi State All-American golfer has the letters “D.A.W.G.S” and the Bulldogs’ logo on her yardage book.

In her rookie season on the Symetra Tour, the qualifying tour for the LPGA, McDonald recorded eight top 10 finishes to earn her LPGA Tour card for 2017. She closed the season with the second highest single-season earnings mark in tour history to become the third Mississippi State women’s golfer to earn a full LPGA Tour card.

“I’m so excited to have earned my LPGA Tour card through the Symetra Tour and am ready to compete at the highest level next year while literally traveling the globe,” McDonald said. “Playing at Mississippi State and competing in the SEC prepared me greatly for the professional circuit. Thanks to the academic and athletic staff at Mississippi State, I feel ready to stack my game against the best in the world.”

Though she’s now reached the pinnacle of her sport, McDonald hasn’t forgotten where it all started. She still volunteers her time during the offseason to help her former coach, Ginger Brown-Lemm, in Starkville.

“We want Mississippi State golf to reach its full potential, and having good facilities will go a long way to help with that,” Bryan explained. “But there’s a lot more to building a team than just building facilities. Clay and Ginger both understand that and will learn how to use this facility to build a better team.”

Bryan is a founder of Old Waverly Golf Club, which is across the street from MSU golf’s new home. His family is also a founding partner in Mossy Oak Nature’s Golf, West Point’s newest golf destination that borders the Bulldog’s practice facility.

“We purchased this 180 acres adjacent to Old Waverly for the new course, but in the master plan we set aside 12 for Mississippi State to create this golf center,” Bryan explained.

World-renowned course designer Gil Hanse developed the Bulldog practice range as he was completing work on the Mossy Oak course. In addition to a driving range, it includes four putting and chipping greens that were created to reflect the layout of courses across the Southeast. There is even a green in the shape of Mississippi that mimics the topography of the state—an idea Bryan credits to his brother-in-law and fellow Mississippi State alumnus, the late Robert D. Harrell.

“All of the greens are different and that variety is important,” Bryan explained. “I think Gil was trying to make it tough on the athletes because golfers learn by playing different holes and contours.”

Hanse, who designed the 2016 Olympic golf course, is famous for using natural features of the land as inspiration. He applied this idea to his work in Mississippi turning a former dairy farm into a rustic and rural-feeling golf destination.

“This was a really natural piece of property that lent itself to the golf course,” Lemm said. “Being a rural university, in a rural state, this works perfectly. I think we have a great mix of modern and new and old and comfortable.”

She added that the MSU range’s proximity to two of the region’s premier golf courses is another benefit of the new practice facility.

“You can’t have great players unless they practice their skills on great, challenging courses that are well maintained, so for us to have access to 36 of the best holes in the Southeast, well, you don’t just stumble into this,” Lemm said. “With these courses, the MSU course and the Starkville Country Club course all available for our athletes, we’re able to build a lot of variety into their development.”

Bryan explained that the relationship is beneficial for his goals as well.

“We’re trying to grow golf in the state and increase participation,” Bryan said. “Golf teaches a lot more than the game itself. It teaches discipline, patience and character. We enjoy seeing what it teaches young men and women and hope we can see more homegrown talent in Mississippi.”

Visit www.alumnus.msstate.edu to see more from the new golf facility.

By Susan Lassetter, Photos by Russ Houston