RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Arnold Palmer sent a wedge shot about 50 yards down the driving range Friday to open the golf course he designed at North Carolina State.
Palmer’s appearance marked the opening of the $12 million Lonnie Poole Golf Course, a par-71 layout on N.C. State’s campus that measures 7,358 yards.
“Only time will make it much, much better,” Palmer said. “With the maturity of the grasses and the things that are happening with the greens, I can’t tell you how good they are.”
Palmer said he wasn’t surprised by the greens, adding, “They’ve come to where we think they should be.”
The course offers views of Raleigh’s skyline and is the first built inside the city’s Interstate 440 beltline since 1948. It will be used by the school’s turfgrass program and the Wolfpack’s men’s and women’s golf teams.
“What I would hope is (that) everybody recognizes what this means for the university,” Chancellor Jim Woodward said. “This is a tremendous asset for N.C. State but maybe even more importantly, a tremendous asset for this state and region.”
The opening marked the start of a busy few weeks for the course, which in two weeks will play host to the V Foundation’s annual celebrity tournament – one of the marquee events for the cancer-research group that bears former N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano’s nickname.
The event, which was held the last two years at Pinehurst after 13 years at a suburban Raleigh course, reunites N.C. State and the name of the coach who led the Wolfpack to an unlikely national title in 1983.
“I get goosebumps coming back to N.C. State, having the tournament in Jim’s name at State,” said Nick Valvano, the coach’s brother and the foundation’s chief executive. “This man’s name (Palmer) is a cherry on top of the whole thing.”
The 79-year-old Palmer flashed his trademark charisma.
Palmer played college golf at Wake Forest in the 1940s and 1950s, when the school called the city of Wake Forest home before it was moved across the state to Winston-Salem. Jokingly stoking the rivalry between the schools, he feigned reluctance before pressing his middle and ring fingers together with his thumb, forming the Wolfpack’s hand gesture.
“In this day and age, to have what North Carolina State will have in this golf course is something that is starting to spread,” Palmer said. “It’s so nice to see this happening here in Raleigh and for the university. You can’t take a thing away from what has been built out there. … From the standpoint of an architect, I’m very pleased and proud of what’s happened here.”