NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - In the wee hours of a recent morning at Bethel College, Jaden Schmidt made golf history. Virtual history, that is.
Schmidt, a senior from Moundridge, brought back and cocked his club, made contact with a golf ball and sent it hurtling towards a lit projector screen. After a slight pause, a simulated golf ball soared through the air and landed on a fairway, as grins swept across the faces of Schmidt and Gregg Dick, Bethel head golf coach.
After months of work, the Esau Golf Training Facility was officially open.
The facility was Schmidt’s brainchild, conceived in the fall semester during his internship for his business major.
“I’d always hated not being able to work on my game during the winter,” Schmidt says. “I knew a couple other schools in Kansas had a type of indoor practice facility, but nothing like my idea.”
Schmidt’s internship was with Dick, who is Bethel’s controller in addition to being the golf coach.
“Jaden was helping me out with a lot of logistical planning for our season,” Dick says. “It’s lucky we ran out of things to do or else this may not have been a possibility.”
The first obstacle was where to put the indoor training facility. Those familiar with Bethel’s campus know every building serves a purpose (sometimes several). Raising an entirely new one was a daunting prospect in terms of the meetings and money that would be required.
“We went to Kent Allshouse with the idea, and seeking his opinions,” Schmidt says. “He proposed we use part of the athletics shed where football and track store their equipment.”
Allshouse, Bethel vice president for athletics, was behind the idea immediately, and helped secure the space needed.
“It is fantastic we were able to establish a presence for the men’s golf team,” he says. “While it is subtle in its existence, a place for them to call home is important. This will be a great tool for Coach Dick, and will help the program reach the next step.”
Schmidt and Dick got to work. With the help of Schmidt’s father, Darin Schmidt, they built the initial framing for the facility, which measures 10 feet tall, 16 feet long and 14 feet wide.
“I first thought it would only take a total of 25 hours of work,” Schmidt says. “I worked probably 20 hours in one week, and realized this would take a bit more time to do it right.”
“A lot of volunteering, whether it was physical work or supplies, was offered for this project, and it wouldn’t have been possible without all of it,” Dick adds.
Bethel maintenance staff made sure that wiring was done properly and safely. Moundridge Lumber Company donated most of the lumber, while Kropf Lumber of Hesston gave a door.
“We also couldn’t have [done this] without funding, and for this I’d like to thank the Esau families,” says Dick. “Rex and Connie were more than happy to help, as was Rex’s brother Todd and his wife Julie.”
The four are Bethel alumni –Connie and Rex Esau live in Austin, Texas, and Julie and Todd Esau in Hutchinson.
“They are all parents of former players in my program,” Dick adds, “and [played a large role in] getting the golf program off the ground years ago.”
Though Schmidt had joked that the facility should be named after him, he understands the importance of the Esaus to making his dream a reality.
“I didn’t get hung up on the naming rights,” he says. “I did, however, make Gregg promise that the first swing belonged to me.”
While Schmidt was gone in January on a class trip to South America, Dick put together the final pieces of the indoor training facility by ordering the projector, screen and software for the simulator.
The software can track and analyze a player’s swing in many different ways. A player lines up a golf ball on a red laser dot, and the software takes into account club speed, ball speed, angle of the club on contact, and many other elements of a swing.
“It’s impressive,” Dick says. “It opens up the doors for endless possibilities. We will now be able to hold practice during harsh weather conditions, but in addition to that, the analysis we can create from the simulator is incredible.
“It should also really draw the attention of future recruits. I expect to gain an increase of interest in kids down south who maybe aren’t used to the weather up here.”
The donation of a laptop from team member Nathan Gamache, sophomore from Halstead, enabled the finishing technical touches to be put into place.
“This is where the entire team came into play,” Dick adds. “We’d kept it low-key and didn’t let the word out too much, but once the structure was [up] and we showed the rest of team, they were obviously very excited.”
Team members painted the facility both inside and out and helped with attaching the roof.
“I was pumped we could beat our deadline,” Schmidt says. “I wanted to be sure I could have as much access to it during my senior year as possible.”
Asked whether Schmidt had earned a lifetime pass to the facility, Dick’s response was, “There’s no doubt of that.”
Plaques in the facility note the Esau family’s gift, as well Schmidt’s initiative and hard work.
For a photo gallery, see the Bethel College Athletics Facebook page.