Oct. 4, 2009
MADISON, Wis. - It doesn't have the history of Camp Randall Stadium, or the atmosphere of the Kohl Center. It also couldn't be called state-of-the-art, like Porter Boathouse.
The University of Wisconsin's newest venue? It's just a strip of grass running through a field, really.
In the end, though, it's much more than that for the Wisconsin men's and women's cross country programs.
Just like the Kohl Center or the renovated Camp Randall, the completion of the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course is the realization of a dream. A vision come to fruition.
"It's been a long time coming," said the course's namesake, Tom Zimmer, who was on hand Saturday to see first-hand what his generous contribution had helped build. "It's something that Madison has needed for a long time, and it's going to be great for the entire community and the university."
Zimmer may be a bit biased toward the project, but many who could speak objectively about the course heaped praise upon it Saturday following the inaugural Wisconsin adidas Invitational.
"Terre Haute on steroids" is how one college coach described the venue, comparing it to LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind., which has hosted six of the last seven NCAA championship meets.
"Wisconsin has built one of the best cross country courses I've ever seen, and this is my fifth year running at the NCAA level," said Georgetown's Andrew Bumbalough, a two-time All-American who claimed the college men's 8-kilometer race. "Everything about it, from the way it was designed to the grass they used to even building the hill right by the finish line for the fans, goes a long way to making it a great course.
"It's just a treat to be able to run on such a nice course."
"The course is great," said BYU junior Cecily Lemmon-Lew, who won the women's 5-kilometer race. "It reminds me a lot of the nationals course in Terre Haute, and I've raced that one a lot before. They're very similar, except that I like this one better."
What makes the Zimmer course a natural fit for major meets is the quality of the surface, which UW women's head coach Jim Stintzi considers akin to the fairways golfers enjoy next door at University Ridge golf course.
"It was awesome to come out here and run on our home course," said UW sophomore Caitlin Comfort, who finished ninth in the women's race. "A lot of times everything will turn to mud when it's wet like this, but the course held up really well, even after the men's race."
Beyond the turf itself, which has grown in under the supervision of staff from the adjacent University Ridge golf course in just one season, the picturesque setting for the course also drew rave reviews.
"This course was the prettiest one I've ever run on," Texas A&M senior Joe Sauvageau said.
That was music to the ears of everyone who contributed to the course's development and were on hand to take in the end result of years of hard work.
"It's been in planning for five years, and now it's finally here," Zimmer said. "The university always does such a great job and never cuts corners. What we have here is first-class."
For second-year UW men's head coach Mick Byrne, who came on late in the planning stages for the course, Saturday's meet was just the tip of the iceberg for the Badgers' newest crown jewel.
"It's exciting to hear what coaches had to say about this course," he said. "Every single coach made a comment about hosting the NCAA championships down the road.
"We're going to bring some big-time cross country meets to Madison."
UW Athletic Communications