28 Feb, 2010By: Juli Anne Patty
Setting the Course
The world of sports is wide. Competition is fierce, both on the field and in the world of sports facilities. So how do some facilities set themselves apart? Well, in the case of course events -sports played on a specific, prescribed landscape- one of the primary keys to putting your head above competitors' shoulders is to design and build a course that can be certified. Here are a handful of sports homes that know how to partner with their sports' leadership organizations and national governing bodies (NGB) to blaze the path to sports dominance.
Built to Succeed
Course events are a specific segment of the sporting universe, events in which every competitor must conquer the same distance, obstacles, etc. Unlike sports such as basketball and baseball, where the playing field is simply the agreed-upon boundaries of play, course events, like golf, skateboarding and racing of all kinds, are all about the beginning, end and all the stuff in between.
Some courses, like the ones for golf and car racing, are permanent, and others, like road race and watersport courses, can change with each event. Courses vary from amateur to professional as well, and this can be one of the major determinations of the difficulty of the course and the kind of certification the course requires.
For many amateur or youth courses, certification by a sports organization or NGB isn't required. But in many cases, if a facility wants to host events that will be sanctioned by their sport's leadership organization, and especially if they want to host elite or professional events, certification is critical. For this reason, many local sports organizations, cities, and parks and recreation departments work with the experts in a particular sport to create a first-rate course from the ground up.
West Michigan has a history of sports excellence, beginning long before one of the state's most historical athletes, Gerald R. Ford, passed up two pro football offers to become a lawyer and eventually, President of the United States. Today, West Michigan is known for its serious commitment to sporting, a commitment that shows in the area's many course facilities and events.
In 2010, West Michigan will host the 33rd annual Fifth Third River Bank Run, America's largest 25K race, which offers USA Track and Field (USATF) certified 5K, 10K and 25K courses, including the world's only 25K wheelchair racing division and the USA 25K Open Championship.
"Being certified and having a course under guidelines of USATF has allowed us to become recognized as one of the country's premier courses," explains Mike Guswiler, executive director, West Michigan Sports Commission. "A certified course that is sanctioned under a national body draws more competitors, as well as elite events and athletes, because competitors know it's a track or course they can feel confident in."
West Michigan is applying that logic to its other courses as well, including the new Grand Rapids BMX, a National Bicycle League (NBL) certified course that opened in 2008. In 2009, the track brought hundreds of riders and spectators to Michigan at the NBL Midwest Regional, and 2010 promises even more growth.
Butler County, Ohio
Tucked into Southwest Ohio's Cincinnati-Dayton corridor, Butler County offers more than a wealth of sports facilities. It also treats visitors to a variety of historical, recreational and family attractions and events.
"One of the best reasons to bring an event to Butler County," says Stephanie Gigliotti, sales manager, sports and events, Butler County Visitors Bureau, "is we have excellent and new facilities, all located within a day's drive of 65 percent of the U.S. population. A lot of people are trying to drive and save money these days, so our location is definitely a big attraction."
One of the biggest games in town is golf, with nearly 30 golf facilities in the area. Home to a variety of state, regional and national events, Butler County's golf courses offer a variety of terrain, scenery and ranges of difficulty.
One of the area's classic courses is Weatherwax Golf Course, a 36-hole municipal golf course that opened in 1972 with the design of architect Arthur Hills and the Wadsworth Golf Construction Company. The course's well-planned landscape has given it a reputation as one of the country's best, drawing events such as the 2010 Ohio Optimist International Junior Golf Championship Tom Frazier Memorial. In 2004, Golf Digest gave the course a four-star rating, naming it one of America's "Best Places to Play."
But it's not all quiet landscapes and scenery in Butler County. One of the area's other hot certified courses is Tri-State Dragway, a member of the National Hotrod Association (NHRA). As part of NHRA's roster of member tracks, Tri-State participates in the NHRA Summit Racing Series, which pits division champions against winners from NHRA's other six geographic divisions for a $118,000 national championship.
Roanoke Valley, Virginia
Virginia may be for lovers, but it's also for runners. The Roanoke Valley is home to two cross country courses that exhibit the beautiful Virginia countryside in its finest glory.
Located in Botetourt County, Greenfield Trail, a 5K cross country course, follows the perimeter of the 125-acre Greenfield Recreation Park. Part of the attraction of cross country is that while distances are standardized, every course is unique. Some courses are fast, some are challenging and others are simply beautiful to run. Greenfield is beautiful, no doubt, but it's also known for some serious early hills, making it a go-to competitive event course.
Greenfield Trail hosts a number of sanctioned cross country meets annually, including a high school invitational and, this past November, the Region III cross country championships. The facility, which is also plays host to a number of charitable 5K runs, could possibly be hosting even larger-and longer-events in the future.
"The park is adjacent to a business park with 800 acres, as well as a recreational park and a school, which means we've got basically 1,000 acres total to work with," says Pete Peters, director, Botetourt County Parks, Recreation and Tourism. "We have plans for many more miles of trails in the future."
The Roanoke Valley is home to another cross country course in nearby Salem, which hosts NCAA sanctioned events for Roanoke College, but that's only the beginning of the Valley's course events.
"We've got some fabulous golf courses, with incredible scenery and great golf weather," says Kelly Burd-Adams, director of convention sales, Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. "In fact, Roanoke Country Club hosts an annual amateur golf event that brings together a lot of the sport's rising stars."
Designed by renowned golf architect A.W. Tillinghast, Roanoke Country Club's layout features three nine-hole courses, played in three 18-hole combinations.
Bakersfield is home to so many sports enthusiasts and facilities, it can be hard to choose which sport to start with, but for course events, one sport truly stands out, and that's racing. The city is home to three car-racing facilities, which sounds like a lot for one town, but Bakersfield is unique-located just a short drive from drag racing's birthplace, this California town is carrying on the West Coast car racing tradition in a big way.
Buttonwillow Raceway Park is home to three separate tracks, offering a combined three-mile course that can be run in both directions. Accommodating up to 700 cars for a variety of racing and testing purposes, the Park also hosts motorcycle, vintage car and kart racing. Buttonwillow's 2010 schedule includes Vintage Auto Racing Association, California Sports Car Club, Porsche Owners Club and National Auto Sports Association events, as well as the Park's Performance Driving Clinics, which allow participants to spend the day learning safety and performance driving techniques.
Known as the world's fastest 1/3 mile, high-banked clay oval, nearby Bakersfield Speedway will host 33 racing events in 2010, including 17 International Motor Contests Association (IMCA) modified stock car races, a variety of U.S. Auto Club (USAC) races and the 25th Annual Budweiser Nationals.
Just north of Bakersfield, the Kern County Racing Association (KCRA) operates historic Auto Club Famoso Raceway with a full schedule of year-round races, including the California Hot Rod Reunion and the recognized mecca of nostalgia drag racing-the world famous March Meet.
San Bernardino, California
As proof of San Bernardino's sports enthusiasm, consider the fact that this California town, just an hour away from L.A., is home to American Sports University, the nation's only four-year college dedicated entirely to sports education. And if it's courses you want, San Bernardino has those too.
Surrounded by mountains on one side and desert on another, San Bernardino is a popular place to golf and is home to some excellent golf facilities, including the Arrowhead and San Bernardino Golf Courses. But the town also has a big following in a sport that's California born-and-bred: BMX. The National Orange Showgrounds, host of the 2007 SoCal American Bicycle Association (ABA) BMX Nationals, features BMX racing weekly, and the Gen Helen Regional Park has a popular BMX park as well.
Beyond sports enthusiasm, facilities and experience, however, San Bernardino has another key attribute that draws the sports crowds-location. "We're very centrally located here-that's the key thing. We're close to Palm Springs and L.A., close to mountains and not far from the beach," says Lynn Knutson, recreation supervisor, San Bernardino Parks and Recreation. "You can go an hour in any direction and be in pretty much any landscape you might want to see. All that without the high prices of L.A."
A Course in Course Construction: Skateboarding
According to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), for the last decade, skateboarding grew faster than any other participatory sport, increasing from 5.8 million to 10.1 million participants between 1998 and 2007. In 2010, skateboarders will likely soar well beyond that 10 million, making participation in the sport roughly equal to football and mountain biking. So, as one skatepark architecture firm, Skate Parkitecture, puts it: If 10 million tennis players were out there with nowhere to play their sport, what would you do? You'd probably build them some tennis courts. And that's exactly what the world is doing.
Skateparks, enclosed skateboarding courses, are popping up all across the world, with some of the best, like Portland, Oregon's iconic Burnside Skatepark, drawing major events and huge crowds. But alarmingly, many cities and private organizations aren't working with credentialed, professional skatepark designers, resulting in unsafe and sometimes unskatable facilities.
"It's really important that cities and private groups work with qualified builders. It doesn't cost any more to build a skatepark to standard, and it can really reduce your liability," explains Heidi Lemmon, executive director, Skatepark Association of the United States of America (SPAUSA).
Those standards, written by SPAUSA, have been adopted by ASTM International, one of the world's largest voluntary standards development organizations. For organizations planning their own skatepark, says Lemmon, both the designers and builders should be familiar with these standards and experienced at putting them to use, but organizations like the SPAUSA can help too.
"More than anything you want to be concerned about your liability going into it. You don't want to find that out in court," says Lemmon. "It's really important that you work with professionals who know how to limit that liability. We help cities and private groups find those professionals and spend their money wisely."
With skateparks and skateboarding events drawing big crowds all across the world, cities and organizations that follow Lemmon's advice are now reaping the rewards in the form of elite events and increased tourism, and that's true for any course. Well-designed and certified courses can be a boon for any community's sports scene. Build with the best, and the best athletes are sure to follow.