COLUMBIA — When Don Walsworth found out the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators unanimously voted to name its new golf facility “The Walsworth Family Golf Complex,” a sense of pride washed over him.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
The news, which came on June 13, was hardly unexpected, considering Walsworth and his wife, Audrey, asked that a portion of their recent $8.3 million donation to the athletic department go toward building a new clubhouse at Old Hawthorne Golf Course.
But for the Walsworths, whose son and daughter also played golf at Missouri, having the family name on the complex — which is scheduled to be completed in September — was about leaving a lasting legacy at the university they love.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I felt very proud of that situation,” said Walsworth, a former MU curator whose family has now given $14 million to Missouri athletics. “It involved not only my wife and myself, but it involved our children. It says ‘The Walsworth Family,’ and that’s what really made me feel good, because I knew this was going to be something that’s going to be there for many, many years.”
The Walsworth family’s latest contribution came on the heels of an anonymous $6.4 million donation last December and a $30 million donation by a group called the Kansas City Sports Trust in June 2012, which the school used as a platform to announce a sweeping two-phase, $200 million master plan to improve the school’s athletic facilities.
In all, that’s nearly $45 million in donations the athletic department has received since the school announced its move to the Southeastern Conference in November 2011. Walsworth says that isn’t a coincidence.
“I think (the move to the SEC) played a major role in generating people to step up and donate,” Walsworth said.
“In my opinion, when Missouri went into the SEC, we didn’t have quite the facilities that most of the schools in the SEC had. So I think its imperative that we start upgrading our facilities, and I know (athletic director) Mike Alden concurs 100 percent.”
Along with the increased revenue the transition to the SEC is expected to bring in upcoming years — good luck finding anyone who doesn’t think the SEC Network will be a cash cow — that’s why there’s a ton of construction happening around campus. The first phase of the announced master plan, totaling $72 million, is already well underway.
The most visible changes are happening at Memorial Stadium, where a $9.75 million renovation to the west-side press box is expected to be completed by September.
The renovation will include more suites and a new press level. Crews have also been working on a project to widen the north end zone concourse — which will give fans more room to move about during pregame and halftime — by pushing the traditional “Rock M” and grass closer to the field, a task that is also expected to be done in time for the season.
“The rock is all installed and it looks great; it’s going to give it a little different feel,” said Chad Moller, an associate athletic director at MU. “It will feel a little more intimate, but fans will still be able to sit on the hill. That’s a big tradition. We’d never look to change that.”
Moller added there won’t be any bleachers on the field level and they won’t add extra bleachers in the concourse, as they’ve done in the past. This, plus the ongoing construction on the east side of the stadium, will lead to a lower capacity this season. Memorial Stadium previously held 71,004.
“We’re still figuring the number out, but it’s going to be less,” Moller said. “We know that.”
The east-side renovation — a plan that Alden predicts will “change the skyline of Columbia” — is a $45.6 million project that will add more than 4,500 upper-deck seats and 1,200 premium seats. That phase is now expected to be completed before the 2014 season, after originally being given a conservative target date of August 2015.
“You can attribute that to, in a generic sense, mostly plans for funding coming along at a very quick pace,” Moller said. “That allowed us to expedite the design plans.”
The baseball team’s home field, Taylor Stadium, is also undergoing a renovation, as coach Tim Jamieson’s program will get a boost from a renovated clubhouse that is expected to be completed by next season. The $4 million clubhouse will feature a new locker room, meeting rooms, coaches offices and coaches’ locker room.
Softball, meanwhile, has arguably enjoyed the most success of any of the school’s sports in recent years, and that’s played a part in the school’s recent efforts to build the team a new stadium. Associate athletic director Tim Hickman has said the stadium will likely cost in the neighborhood of $15 million, adding that it would be nice if the stadium is ready in time for the 2015 SEC softball tournament, which Missouri is slated to host.
Fundraising still needs to be done, however, and a site has yet to be determined.
“The desire of everyone is to build a new facility, so that’s how we hope to be able to proceed,” Moller said. “But a decision has got to be made on the site and we have to go through the formal approval process with the Board of Curators. Once you do that, you can come up with design plans, start turning dirt and get moving.”
Meanwhile, renovations at the Green Tennis Center — which will add outdoor bleacher seats and a ground-level building featuring new locker rooms, concessions, offices and bathrooms — are expected to be done by next spring.
Then, of course, there’s golf. Walsworth can take pride in knowing the $1.4 million clubhouse currently under construction — which will feature offices, locker rooms, indoor hitting bays and the latest in swing instruction technology for both the men’s and women’s teams — will give Missouri one of the best golfing facilities in the country.
“You sure as (heck) can’t go play golf in January and February and December, so we had to create a practice facility so that they can still enhance their game and compete at the highest level when the season comes around,” Walsworth said.
The project is scheduled for completion by September.
“Right now, it’s scheduled to be dedicated I think on Sept. 27, the Friday before the Arkansas State (football) game,” Walsworth said. “We’re looking forward to that.”
But not as much as he’s looking forward to the future, overall, for all Missouri sports.
“It’s very difficult to get much more money out of the general assembly in Jefferson City,” Walsworth said, “so people are going to have to step forward with donations to help fund the university. I hope this is just the beginning.”