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Practice made perfect.

Sports Park of Arkansas Provides Golfers With Million-Dollar Facility

CALLING THE SPORTS PARK of Arkansas a "driving range" is short-changing the place.

The year-old facility on Wedington Drive west of Fayetteville is actually

classified by the Professional Golfers' Association as a "specifically approved PGA practice center."

When you step on the perimeter of the complex, you suddenly realize why.

This isn't your stereotypical driving range -- you know, the kind with a shotgun shack, a caretaker puffing on a cigar and calling you "Pard," golf balls that look like they were in Ben Hogan's bag in the 1940s and clubs that have met the rock-hard ground far too many times.

No, there is a touch of class at this facility that lets a golfer or duffer know he's arrived at something special.

There is a 4,000-SF full-service pro shop, a 3,000-SF restaurant and sports bar, a huge practice putting green with a sand bunker, a nine-station batting cage when Dad wants to bring along his Little League-playing sons and a 1,600-SF deck on the restaurant where Mom can read if she's not inclined to slamming Taylor Made drives toward the 250-yard marker.

And when it comes to the actual driving range, this is serious stuff. The complex has 90 tee stations -- 30 matted and 60 on grass. Twelve of these are covered and heated for winter play.

When you're finished, a club-cleaning machine is handy that doesn't cost a dime to use.

Rick Collins, a longtime PGA pro turned entrepreneur, put in the $1 million-plus facility. The restaurant opened in May 1992, and the range debuted a month later.

Collins, whose father was a professional at Springdale Country Club, attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Following graduation, he spent four years at the renowned Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., and two of those were as head teaching pro. After the U.S. Open there in 1977, he moved to the head professional job at Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia.

Longing to return to his native northwest Arkansas and make his mark on the area's golf business, Collins made the move in 1990.

"We were first wanting to build a golf course," he says, adding that his idea was a fancy setup with cabins to draw tourists, much like golf resorts in the East. A company performing a feasibility study said he "was ahead of my time."

The study, by the Florida-based National Golf Foundation, concluded that Arkansans were "fence-sitters" as far as the national golf boom was concerned, Collins says. Then, only the Country Club of Little Rock had a waiting list, and other courses had easy access for play.

"They said the area was more suited for putting in a golf practice facility," Collins says. "The more I looked into it, the more I liked it. There's not too many here. I have tried to incorporate what I have had at other Top 100 clubs and put those things here."

First in Arkansas

The PGA of America has two classifications for "driving ranges": a recognized driving range, which Arkansans can find in many cities, and a specifically approved practice center. Collins says his facility, the latter, was the first in Arkansas.

A specifically approved practice center allows the owner the right to hire teaching pros who can earn credits toward gaining PGA membership. It also must have all the aforementioned amenities that separate the Sports Park from other golf facilities.

"It's awful tough for beginners to be introduced to the game," Collins says. "Most of them at the beginning just tee it up. At least this place will give them a chance to learn all phases of the game. Then they can play more relaxed and comfortable and enjoy it.

"We're creating a bunch of new golfers. It's been great for the area with all the golf courses."

Collins purchased 80 acres to build the facility, but for now he is using only 27.

Phase 1 of a three-phase project was the practice facility. Phase 2 will feature an 18-hole miniature, natural putting course in front of the pro shop. Collins says he's also toying with the idea of a quarter-mile go-cart track.

The use of the other 50 acres would be Phase 3 "if Phases 1 and 2 can support it," he says. That would be a lighted 18-hole par-3 course.

"The stand-alone driving range facilities are risky to build," Collins says. "The more you have, the more people you can draw."
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Title Annotation:Sports Park of Arkansas
Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 12, 1993
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