WSU takes a swing at innovation while closing Braeburn Golf Course

08/19/2014 5:04 PM

08/20/2014 7:37 AM

I’m torn by Wichita State’s decision to close Braeburn Golf Course.

I’m all for innovation, which is what WSU president John Bardo has planned for the land on which the golf course has been since the early 1920s. A new innovation campus, with as many as 20 new buildings, a $70 million business school and a $43 million experiential engineering building, which would connect business partners with WSU students, researchers – and with high tech 3-D printers, plasma cutters and high-tech lathes and lasers, is planned for the next 20 years.

It’s all very Star Trek to me, but I applaud Bardo for his vision.

The campus expansion would also include buildings for business, restaurants, a hotel, new residence halls and a 600-car parking garage. No, there’s no football stadium planned. I know you were wondering.

Just one thing to mention in the midst of all of this excitement about high tech. We’re losing a golf course. And no matter the circumstances, it’s always painful to lose a golf course.

I learned to play golf during my college days at Wichita State from a drill sergeant of a teacher, John Hansan. I took a golf class from Hansan, for a measly one hour of credit, and it turned into my version of “Full Metal Jacket.” Hansan was tough. Golf was hard. I’m not sure how I made it through the class.

So I’ve hit a lot of bad shots at Braeburn in my life. But I also improved there. For several years, it was the course I played most. I can’t even guess how many balls I’ve lost in the water hazards on Nos. 14, 15 and 16, but probably enough to build a good chunk of that business school.

Braeburn has been a comfortable place for me. Because I spent so much time there in my formative golf years, I knew the layout better than any other course. Golf conquered me there more than I conquered golf, but it will always be a special place.

But there has always been a black cloud hanging over Braeburn. When Wichita State’s Board of Trustees agreed to purchase 150 acres of Crestview Country Club in 1967, it was with the understanding that future expansion of the university’s campus could take place there.

Almost 50 years later, that’s what is happening. Bardo, who is aggressively remaking the university, has decided that teaching students how to survive in an ever more tech-savvy world is more important than perfecting the art of using a pitching wedge.

A slice of Braeburn, perhaps three or four holes as well as the practice facility, will remain open, so that the WSU golf team has a place to train. Soon, though, Braeburn as we’ve known it for decades will begin to disappear, replaced by buildings where people with high brain activity will innovate.

This is a good thing for Wichita State. Even the most rabid golfer has to sign off on a plan that could help Wichita become more than just aerospace, agriculture and oil. It’s important to diversify our economic plan and Bardo’s vision could help this community do just that. If he says it’s important that we keep up with China then, by golly, it’s important that we keep up with China.

Comedian George Carlin did a great routine on golf years ago. He wondered why the United States devoted so much real estate to the silly little game. I’ve wondered the same thing over the years. But when I’m on a golf course, I understand why there are so many of them.

They’re beautiful and relaxing. No matter how poorly I’ve played, I’ve never had a bad day on a golf course. For duffers like me, it’s not so much about the skill or the score, but the scenery. Golf courses are relaxing. There’s always beer in the clubhouse.

I remember lining up with other students in Hansan’s golf class and trying to hit shots with our irons. I had a cheap set of clubs and I wasn’t progressing quickly. The game was frustrating and I’m sure I considered dropping the class.

Then Hansan took us out on the course to play a couple of holes. We hit tee shots, then went to look for our balls. We hit more shots. Then we reached the green and we putted. And suddenly golf started to make sense.

I continued to play and I improved to the point where I could hit some decent shots. I’ve even broken 80 a dozen-or-so times. Golf has been a wonderful outlet, as much a social event as an athletic outing. I’ve met people I would otherwise not have become acquainted with through golf.

It all started at Braeburn, so I’m going to be sorry to see the place go. The plan is to play at least a couple more rounds there before the bulldozers arrive, signaling progress for Wichita State. It’s time to put down our clubs and innovate.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

About Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.

Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com

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