Golf Goes Inside
By Jacob Baynham
Hours after a spring cloudburst, Doug Steiner walks over to a puddle in the parking lot of the Maketewah Country Club, plants his feet in the water and looks up.
“The front door is going to be right...here,” he says.
In front of him are two empty tennis courts and 15 acres of tangled undergrowth. But the director of Xavier’s golf programs sees something else entirely: An indoor golf facility, designed to give Xavier’s golfers a year-round practice area just two miles from campus.
“My players will have exactly what they need to be good,” he says. “That’s a good feeling for a coach.”
He’s been building this dream for two years now. There were times when he wondered if it would be realized, but now the plans are drawn and the shovels hit the soil as soon as contracts are finalized and signed.
“Ah, it’s goose bumps for me,” Steiner says, shaking the ice in his soda and touching his arms. “Truly. It’s pure excitement, paired with relief.”
Steiner’s journey to this parking lot puddle began two years ago when he lost a top recruit to Purdue University, which had an indoor facility.
“All the big programs in this part of the country started building them,” Steiner says. “Kids want to go where they can practice all year round.”
Xavier’s golf program is already highly regarded. Golf Digest ranks it 19th best in the country and No. 1 in the Midwest. It has produced many successful players, including Jason Kokrak (see sidebar), who plays on the PGA Tour and beat Tiger Woods this February at Pebble Beach, and Andy Pope, who plays one step down on the Nationwide Tour.
But Steiner knew if Xavier was to keep pace with other programs, it needed the facilities to attract the best players. So he and his staff started dreaming. “We were drawing things on napkins in the early stages,” Steiner says. They visited facilities at other universities and began raising money. Steiner’s initial goal was $200,000. When he met that, he aimed for $400,000. After 15 months of fundraising, he had $850,000. Maketewah Country Club, Xavier’s new home course, chipped in the rest of the money for a $1.3 million building, slated to be finished in time for winter practice.
“It’s become a necessity now,” Steiner says. “Ten years ago, it might not have mattered. Now it matters if we want to be great.”
It matters to Korey Ward, a tall freshman at the driving range, knocking balls 175 yards in fluid strokes with his seven-iron. An Ohio Amateur Champion, Ward chose Xavier for its golf program, education and proximity to home. He can’t wait to have a year-round practice facility, especially on days like today when pools of rainwater cover the driving range.
“We’re all very excited about it,” he says. “It will give us a chance to practice in the winter. It will be pretty spectacular, from what I hear.”
Judging by the plans, Ward won’t be disappointed. The tri-level, 10,000-square-foot building includes men’s and women’s locker rooms, a 3,500-square-foot putting green, four covered hitting bays and a Cobra-Puma fitting center. It will also have a kitchen, conference room, trophy room and study lounge. And a short game area behind the building allows players to practice their putts, chips and wedges.
“It’s kind of like our own clubhouse,” Steiner says. “My dream is that a player, on a snowy day in February, can take a two-minute drive and stay all day. They can putt, chip, drive, make something to eat and study for class.”
Steiner says Xavier’s recent successes and talented young recruits bode well for the future of the golf program. As he talks, he checks his phone for news updates—Kokrak just teed off at the PGA Transitions Championship in Florida.
“One of my dreams as a coach was to have a guy make the PGA tour,” Steiner says. “My next dream is to win the Masters. What would it be like to have a Xavier guy win the Masters? It would be big. It’s possible.”
More immediately, Steiner is looking forward to the new building that will elevate the golf program among its competitors and even within the University. “It gives us a home,” Steiner says. “This will be our Cintas.”