When the weather outside is frightful, the Western Carolina University golf teams don’t miss a beat. They just head to the Cordelia Camp Gymnasium and step into what feels like a virtual video game where they can practice nearly every aspect of their golf game — all with detailed feedback on how they’re doing.

It’s a game-changer, say WCU golf coaches and players about their new indoor golf facility, which has led to performance improvement on the golf course, more efficient practices, better study time and a boost in players’ self-confidence.

That’s just what Tony Zande ’76 and wife Lynne were hoping for when they donated $70,000 to finance the new dedicated space, which features a professional-grade data analytics system. The gift was part of “Lead the Way: A Campaign Inspired by the Belcher Years,” WCU’s comprehensive fundraising effort that concluded in April.

WCU golfer Cameron Wood, a sophomore from Waxhaw, uses the simulator to practice her swing in the new indoor golf facility.

This is not the first time the retired couple, who live in Florida and are avid golfers, have shown substantial support to WCU’s golf teams. They donated two Mercedes vans for traveling to away matches, established an endowed scholarship and are Catamount Club supporters. The Zandes say they made the recent donation because they wanted to level the playing field for WCU’s golfers whose practice opportunities have been affected by weather — and by a growing university that had to sacrifice a campus driving range for space for a new residence hall.

“This is the only sport that had no facility to practice in,” said Tony Zande. But the golfers do now, and they are loving it. The new facility includes a simulator, five-hole putting green, two hitting bays and a TrackMan, a data analytics system that tracks each golfer’s swing, distance, club face position, club speed and more. The TrackMan also is mobile and can be taken with the teams when they practice outside at various area golf courses. 

“With all the diagnostics they give us on each swing, you can see what is different from swing to swing and what you might be doing wrong or what is good about your swing,” said sophomore Cameron Wood, a member of WCU’s women’s team from Waxhaw. “It gives you everything you need to know to improve.”

Michael Coe, a sophomore from Cary and men’s golf team member, has been working on improving use of his driver based on the TrackMan’s feedback. “We always want to practice, we always want to be in here,” Coe said. “We love the simulator. If we didn’t have the facility we would just practice outside when we could, and we would have a lot less confidence. This helps us gain confidence so we can perform at a higher level.”

Tim Eckberg ’04, WCU men’s golf coach, said the new indoor facility is more than a dry, warm space to hit golf balls. The technology provides details on launch angles, spin rates and club path, which teaches golfers the physics behind their swings and how the nuances of their touch affect the golf ball in flight. That’s a huge advantage, Eckberg said, for a team that can’t always practice as much as it needs to year-round because of weather.

Women’s coach Courtney Gunter agreed the new facility is already filling the gap of missed practices caused by snowy, cold or rainy weather. “We haven’t missed a day of practice since the facility was set up,” Gunter said. Another benefit to the new facility is that students have more flexibility in scheduling classes, study time and practice, which results in classroom success.

Zande, 65, who serves on WCU’s Foundation Board of Directors and the advisory board for The Center for the Study of Free Enterprise, said he believes student golfers’ grades will improve because they’re not spending so much time traveling to practice, which can be a 45-minute drive one way. “It affects your ability to study,” he said.

Eckberg is grateful for the Zandes’ commitment to WCU golf, which he says is a win-win for everyone. “Now we can really take hold of this program and schedule the way we want to schedule and be successful in the classroom and on the golf course,” he said.