At the northwesternmost point of the USC campus, tucked neatly in between the tennis courts and Dedeaux Field, is a lonesome — but well-maintained — putting green, along with rough grass for chipping and a sand trap.
On the fence nearby is a banner that reads “USC Women’s Golf 2019 Pac-12 Champions.”
While the green is clearly meant for the golf squads to use for practice, there are no clubs nearby. No piercings from golf shoes on the grass. The green has no divots. The nearby bunker is free of any evidence of frustrated swings. The hole in the middle of the green, hath no golf balls.
The green is for both the women’s and men’s golf teams when they are not at a golf course.
The putting green is exclusive to the two teams, and outside use is not permitted.
Along with other athletic teams, the varsity golf teams practice underground in Heritage Hall. But the green rests there, only disturbed by the grunts of nearby tennis players and a gentle wind that passes through the wire fence.
Students who enjoy tennis at the nearby tennis courts also know of the golf hole. They also don’t really know why it’s there.
“I’ve seen the chipping green behind the baseball field … I would love to play on it,” senior cognitive science and applied analytics major Malachi Andrew Frye said. “I have to drive down to Maggie [Hathaway Golf Course] to play a really bad par-3 course. If I could get on that chipping green sometime it would save me a couple of drives.”
Despite the lack of equipment nearby, USC women’s golf coach Justin Silverstein says that both the men’s and women’s teams do use it as a short game practice area, using it about once a week on Mondays. But Silverstein said he doesn’t know why exactly the green was placed there.
“I don’t know why that was the designated area for the short game facility,” Silverstein said. “I assume it was the only open space they had at the time but I wasn’t around SC when it was built, so I don’t why exactly that was chosen.”
Golf information director Paul Goldberg said that the green was positioned there out of a lack of space to put it anywhere else.
“It’s definitely a unique and unusual set up,” Goldberg said over email. “Got to get creative on an urban campus with limited space. It’s been around, I’d say, going on close to two decades at least.”
The hole is especially interesting, considering rumors of an underground golf facility that the golf team now uses instead.
Wait, an underground golf facility?
Eighteen holes of perfectly maintained Bermuda grass underneath the concrete of the USC campus. Vast lakes, trees and countless sand pits that are sure to test and improve the skills of USC’s golf stars. That kind of underground golf facility?
Goldberg said the underground facility is not a sprawling 18-hole golf paradise but instead is an area near the golf offices, where “they have a pair of golf simulators as well as a putting area and a team area.”
Goldberg added that it has been there since Heritage Hall finished its $35 million renovation in 2014.
“It houses three offices, one for myself, one for J.T. Higgins, our men’s coach, and then a shared office for our assistant coaches,” Silverstein said. “There’s also a big lounge area, almost like a living room for both teams. Huge sectional couch, study area, big huge TV, tables to eat at. It has a little kitchenette that our dietitian stocks with food and drinks for our kids.”
But Silverstein is still describing the practice facility, and not a luxury underground doomsday bunker.
“The main attraction there is we have three Foresight Golf simulators that are available for use and then we have a PuttView putting green, which is like a raised platform putting green that has a bunch of tech on it as well,” Silverstein said. “It’s pretty much a simulator for putting. But the green can move and give you different putts and then there’s a projector that shines down on it to tell you where the putt breaks.”
The green can move?
“It’s crazy and it’s really expensive, but it’s pretty sweet,” Silverstein said laughing.
“Sweet” does come at a high price.
Not including the price of Heritage Hall’s renovation, the Foresight Golf simulators cheapest option goes for about $5,000, while their aptly named “Albatross Package” goes for about $34,000.
USC golf has three of them, so the school could have spent anywhere from $15,000 to $102,000 on just the simulators. Meanwhile, the “Moving Green” on PuttView’s website is listed at nearly $19,000.
Back aboveground, Goldberg says the green is maintained by a greenskeeper hired by the university named Gary Crocker, who keeps it maintained with help from USC Facilities and has a background in golf course maintenance.
Crocker is also the father of former USC All-American Sean Crocker, who now plays on the European Tour.
Crocker said that he doesn’t actually maintain the green, but rather oversees its maintenance and guides the grounds crew on how to maintain it. He said that he goes there at least once a week to make sure the green is in pristine condition.
“The green is a mix of bent and poa annua turf,” Crocker said. “Cool season grasses … They can withstand the temperatures that we experience in SoCal. Places like Las Vegas and Arizona will grow Bermuda turf but overseed in their winters with a cool season-type grass. This is because Bermuda goes dormant when the temperature drops.”
By going dormant, Crocker means that Bermuda grass goes brown but it does not die, saying it goes to sleep for the winter, “like a bear.” He also says that the baseball and football fields overseed their fields for the same reason.
The process of overseeding involves mowing, fertilizing and then overseeding with a walk seeder, and made it clear that the green behind Dedeaux does not require this.
Off-campus is where the golf teams train other areas of their game. Silverstein says they practice five days a week and the other four days not spent on campus are spent at golf courses around the Greater Los Angeles Area.
“Rolling Hills Country Club in Palos Verdes is our home course. All of our kids are members there,” Silverstein said. “We use Palos Verdes Golf Course down there on the peninsula as well, and then Trump National Palos Verdes … And then we have playing access at other courses around L.A.”
All these accommodations that USC makes for its athletes shows that they are dedicated to their success, and Silverstein says the department plays a massive role in helping their athletes be the best they can.
“Similar to our Olympic sports, I think it shows that USC makes the biggest commitment possible to provide our student-athletes with the best experience possible athletically and academically,” Silverstein said.
Sophia Ketterer contributed to this story.