It can’t be written that Oral Roberts University’s previous golf facility was inadequate. That’s because there was no previous golf facility.
For a program that dates to 1977, there never had been an actual home base for ORU golfers. There never had been a locker room or an on-campus facility. There was a racquetball court in which Golden Eagle players could hit balls into a net.
Now, the ORU program has a tremendous home — the John and Cheryl Clerico Golf Complex.
Of the nearly 350 NCAA Division I golf programs, ORU coach Lance Watson says, “maybe 5% have we what have now.”
For five years, ORU athletic director Mike Carter has overseen a flurry of activity related to the development of new facilities and the renovation of others.
When ORU basketball fans enter the Mabee Center for games this season, they’ll be stunned by the presence of a new state-of-the-art video board that, at 32 feet in length and 16 feet in height, is slightly larger than the University of Tulsa’s beautiful Reynolds Center video board.
As a former five-time time Southern Hills club champion, Carter is passionate about golf. His work on this ORU golf project qualifies as a labor of love.
On Nov. 9, Carter and Watson will preside over a dedication and ribbon-cutting of the John and Cheryl Clerico Golf Complex, a 5,200-square-foot space that also includes the Bill Brogden Golf Performance Center.
Outside, on previously undeveloped ground that envelops the building, is the Bob Canada Short Game Facility. The Brogden Performance Center includes a high-tech putting studio and a strength-and-conditioning area for the athletes. Former Oklahoma State golfer Jonathan Moore, the 2006 NCAA individual champion, designed the fitness area.
The Canada short-game practice area includes a pitching green and target greens positioned at 100, 125 and 150 yards.
In 1977-85, Brogden was ORU’s first golf coach. He went on to coach TU’s program. Canada coached the ORU men in 1991-2006. Watson coaches ORU’s women’s and men’s teams — the women since 2000 and the men also since Canada’s retirement.
“To have a golf facility with offices and a hitting bay — there are at least 50 schools that have that,” said Carter, ORU’s athletic director since 1994. “But to have it on campus, and with a country club finish, it’s rare.
“It’s just amazing that it all came together like it did. We call it a God thing.”
Over a period of 15 years, other campus locations had been considered for a possible golf facility. There were always disruptive circumstances, though, and the Golden Eagles remained stuck with their racquetball court situation.
This year, ORU purchased from Victory Christian a building on the southwest corner of 81st Street and Delaware Avenue. There wasn’t an immediate, specific plan for the building, but eventually it was determined that the colleges of nursing and engineering would be moved there. Also, there now are classrooms for the entrepreneurial students.
When Carter toured the building, he had the idea for a golf facility. After surveying the available space and an L-shaped hallway, Watson was skeptical.
“I promise you,” Carter told Watson, “this can work.”
As Watson crafted the design on a spiral notebook, Carter reached out to John Clerico, a Bartlesville native and longtime Tulsa resident who owns an investment company and serves on the boards of several major companies.
Carter and Clerico both attended Oklahoma State during the 1960s, but not during the same years. While both were members of the Sigma Chi fraternity, they had never met until a frat reunion a few years ago.
As they became friends and played a lot of golf at Southern Hills and elsewhere, Carter and Clerico would discuss donation possibilities.
“Cheryl and I have always been huge college golf fans,” Clerico said in reference to his wife of 12 years. “I was really disappointed when TU abandoned their (men’s) golf program. Shortly after that, I got to know Mike. We became friends and talked about what I might be able to do to help one of ORU’s programs.
“If you’re Boone Pickens, you can write a check for whatever amount you want. For the amount of money I was working with, I wanted it to have a real impact. What can really make a difference? At ORU, where they have to work harder for everything, I felt like I could do that with the golf program.”
In June, Clerico agreed to provide the lead gift on the $1 million golf project.
Clerico has a history of difference-making donations. When Oklahoma State renovated its men’s basketball locker room several years ago, that process was driven by his donation. His image is mounted near the entrance of the Cowboys locker room, and an image of him and Cheryl is mounted near the entrance of ORU’s John and Cheryl Clerico Golf Complex.
“This was just something I believed in, and for the amount of money I was able to give, I’m very impressed with what I see here today,” Clerico said Tuesday during his tour of the ORU facility. “It’s great. Our hope is that this restores ORU as a nationally relevant golf program.”
Over the past five years, ORU has invested about $6 million in athletics projects. There were dramatic renovations of both the women’s and men’s basketball locker rooms, along with a complete makeover of the practice gym (including a new court).
New facilities include the Case Soccer Complex, the ONEOK Sports Complex for track and the Bernis Duke Tennis Center.
At J.L. Johnson Stadium, there is a new infield turf, a new scoreboard and a new bullpen. Soon, for the first time since the original lights were installed more than 40 years ago, ORU’s ballpark gets better lighting.
ORU’s other programs always had facilities, even if they originally were modest. Within a period of a few months, ORU golf has graduated from having basically nothing to having something special.
Carter’s vision and Clerico’s generosity combined to result in the development of a striking, comprehensive golf complex.