Years ago, when one of the professional golf students of the late Harvey Penick was having trouble elevating his success around the green, advice from the legendary teacher and best-selling author was short and to the point. “Eat dinner with good putters,” the late Penick told rising PGA star Tom Kite.
The counsel – to spend more time around golfing greatness – paid off. Abilene Christian University standout junior Alex Clouse can identify.
“To have a place like this to call home is amazing,” Clouse said Feb. 21, 2020, at a special dinner prior to the Feb. 22 dedication of the Byron Nelson Clubhouse, “We are surrounded by his history.”
The first such collegiate golf facility named after the late Nelson, former ACU trustee (1965-74) and longtime ambassador for the university, is a jewel. It’s the new home of Wildcat golf, giving the program Nelson helped build one of the finest venues in NCAA Division I and the best on-campus one in Texas by a long shot.
Donors gathered the night before the Feb. 22 ribbon cutting to recognize major contributors, marvel once more at Nelson’s career accomplishments, and listen to Bill Rogers, 1981 PGA Player of the Year and devout Christian who talks about his faith with players and coaches through College Golf Fellowship.
Tom Shaw – the fourth longest-tenured ACU head golf coach behind the late Vince Jarrett (1986-2003), Mike Campbell (2003-14) and Dr. Joe Marshall (1955-64) – described how the influx of resources at Abilene Christian is helping attract student-athletes to his team who are “high in character, rich in spirit, gifted in athletics, and blessed with high intellect and inquisitive minds. They are an honor to coach and a joy to be around,” Shaw said.
The current team responded to its impressive new digs last week with a stirring win in the La Tour Collegiate Invitational in Matthews, Louisiana. The Wildcats, behind Clouse’s final-round 9-under-63, shot a school-record 19 under par (44-under 820 for 54 holes) to win their first tournament of the semester by 13 strokes. Clouse’s round tied Alex Carpenter (’13) for the lowest vs. par in ACU history, among other records.
Shaw’s team averaged 68.33 strokes over three rounds, matching Nelson’s season scoring average in the magical year of 1945, when he shattered and set PGA Tour records that may never be broken.
Nelson won 18 tournaments and 11 in a row that season, widely considered one of the greatest accomplishments in professional sports.
Images of Nelson and signs of his career achievements are omnipresent in the new clubhouse’s two major spaces: a Great Room inside the main entry and in the state-of-the-art Eric and Danna Oliver Family Training Room.
The Great Room features display cases depicting the history of golf, Nelson’s life and career, his relationship with ACU, and Wildcat golf history. A colorful painting by artist Jack Maxwell (’78) of the famous 12th green and Byron Nelson Bridge at Augusta National Golf Club is the backdrop for one wall, and a bronze bust of Nelson sculpted by Maxwell and cast by Geoff Broderick, assistant professor of art and design, overlooks the room from one corner. Maxwell is professor emeritus and sculptor of ACU’s iconic Jacob’s Dream.
The Wildcats’ top former players and coaches also are recognized in the venue:
- Jeev Milkha Singh (’93), who led ACU to the NCAA Division II national title in 1993 and has starred on PGA, Asian and European tours.
- Cyril Bouniol (’11), 2010 Division II medalist and twice a first-team All-America who plays on the Web.com Tour.
- Alex Carpenter, four-time All-America who twice represented the U.S. on Palmer Cup teams, became the first ACU student to play in a PGA Tour event (2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bayhill), and plays on the Korn Ferry Tour.
- Jarrett, who coached ACU to a NCAA Division II national championship in 1993.
An impressive collection of Nelson’s memorabilia in display cases was supplanted for the dedication weekend by other treasures, including replicas of U.S. Open and Ryder Cup trophies, a collection of medals from major tournaments throughout his career, gifts from the Masters Tournament, and Byron’s Congressional Gold Medal.
A sit-down interview on Friday night with Grant Boone (’90), the voice of the Wildcats and a commentator for CBS Sports and ESPN, revealed several Rogers coincidences.
Rogers grew up in Texarkana, where Nelson was the club pro at the Texarkana Country Club in 1934 and returned there each year to practice at “little Augusta” in preparation for the Masters Tournament. “He had a big impact on the community and on me as a young man,” said Rogers, who, like former ACU head coach Jarrett, played collegiately at the University of Houston. And Rogers shared golf history with Carpenter, a former Wildcat star attending the dinner that night. Both are former winners of the prestigious Southern Open; Rogers in 1972 and Carpenter in 2010.
“I see a lot of significant things happening here,” said Rogers, who won six PGA tournaments, including The Open Championship in 1981, and met with the ACU team Friday afternoon to share his faith.
“Everything I’ve heard and observed here is happening because the people financially supporting this program are doing it with passion,” Rogers said Friday night. “The golf coaches, president and athletics director are all walking in the same direction. This is what it’s supposed to look like. We represent a Kingdom and a King, and this game of golf is a wonderful platform from which to share his message.”
Benefactors Mark Anthony (’86), Eric Oliver (’81), Jon Bradley (’72) and Peggy Nelson Jaros, Nelson’s widow, were recognized for their support and leadership of the Byron Nelson Golf Endowment, and in raising funds for the clubhouse.
Bradley, vice president of the Byron Nelson Foundation and a longtime member of the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, organizer of the AT&T Byron Nelson tournament, announced a five-year, $250,000 cumulative commitment from the foundation to ACU golf, to be matched by Mark and his wife, ACU board chair April (Bullock ’89) Anthony.
Bradley recounted Nelson’s career accomplishments and noted that as outstanding as Byron was as a golfer, he was an even better person. “He was the most humble man I ever met,” Bradley said.
“His life and times, the way he conducted himself, his Christian character, his fierce competitiveness, will permeate everything we do as a team,” Shaw said. “There is no better model for our players to emulate and we are humbled to be in a facility of this magnitude with the name Byron Nelson adorned everywhere.”