Released May 20, 2003


HATTIESBURG -- For golfers who haven't played a round at The University of Southern Mississippi's Van Hook Golf Course recently, it's not too soon to begin getting reacquainted.

"If you had someone who played here before, and you took them out there right now, they would think they were someplace else," said Van Hook Golf Pro Larry Lee.

The ongoing process of reintroducing an improved Van Hook to Pine Belt golfers began about a year ago. Since then, a number of upgrades have made the course more playable and attractive, and there are more improvements in the works.

Among the changes already visible at the course are those to the tee boxes, which serve as starting points for every hole played. Previously, some of the boxes weren't level, making for an uneven journey from tee to green. "You start each and every hole from the tee box," Lee said, "and if you don't start well, it's a disaster from there on. We had some tee boxes out there that were pretty silly."

Step number one was to reconstruct the tee boxes that were uneven. With that done, the Van Hook staff has been able to grow and maintain a higher quality turf than before, doubly improving the surfaces.

"We've also made them easier to get to by putting in steps," Lee said.

From the improved tee boxes, golfers will notice that there have been a number of landscaping improvements at the course. Flowering plants have been added in several places, including around some of the tee boxes and greens. The new landscaping helps accentuate some of the course's more classically designed and challenging holes, Lee said.

"There are some great golf holes out here," Lee said. "They are already, from a playing standpoint, well-designed holes. We wanted to frame them."

Also visible at Van Hook is new and improved signage throughout, as well as improvement to the course's system of cart paths.

Still in the works are improvements to two of Van Hook's greens, Lee said.

"There were some greens that had a hard time growing quality grass, for a number of reasons," Lee said. "It demanded that they be reconstructed."

Those greens are on the 11th and 16th holes. The greens have been reshaped and are now growing new grass. Temporary greens have been constructed near them for use until they are ready.

Another project Lee is working on has to do with the course's sprinkler system. The current system requires manual placement and movement of sprinkler heads, making watering the course a laborious process. But Lee hopes to begin phasing in some hydraulic components soon, which should make caring for the turf more efficient and less labor intensive.

In addition to the changes made to the course itself, the pro shop has been updated. Lee has moved away from some of the more expensive merchandise once sold there, in favor of equipment and apparel targeted toward students and the course's other regular players, many of whom favor Van Hook because of the great golfing bargain it offers.

Students are able to purchase a semester pass for $95, which allows them unlimited play. Nonstudents can buy monthly passes for $50, which also allow them to play as often as they like. Prices for individual rounds vary from day to day, ranging from $10 to $30. Overall, the prices Van Hook charges equate to $4.42 per round played, Lee said.

The course is on pace to see approximately 38,000 rounds of golf played there this year, he added.

Hopefully, most of the players involved in those rounds will have called and made tee times. Encouraging the setting and keeping of tee times is one of the administrative changes Lee has put in place at Van Hook. This and other efforts to streamline and modernize the course's operation have made for improvements that aren't as visible as those on and around the fairways, but are just as important, Lee said.

Lee knows there is work remaining at Van Hook, but what has been done so far has created a new look and atmosphere at the course.

"When you walk into this clubhouse, you're going to feel like you're at a golf course," Lee said. "We're going to call you by name, and we're going to treat you well."



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July 15, 2003 2:29 PM