By Jeff Murphy, September 26, 2023
University of Central Missouri alumnus and supporter Randall “Rand” Harbert, ‘85, sinks a putt symbolizing moving forward with the construction of the Randall and Kelly Harbert Collegiate Golf Center at the UCM. Looking on are: Randy Eckert, Reasbeck Construction project manager; Matt and Julie Roberts, project donors; Courtney Goddard, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the UCM Alumni Foundation; Matt Howdeshell, vice president for intercollegiate athletics; Roger Best, university president; Chris Port, Jennies golf coach; and Tim Poe, Mules golf coach.
WARRENSBURG, MO – With site preparation already underway, the University of Central Missouri on Sept. 22 celebrated the beginning of construction for the new Randall and Kelly Harbert Collegiate Golf Center at Mules National Golf Club. The official launch of the university’s newest construction project took place near the patio area of Traditions, located adjacent to the new facility at the university-owned Pertle Springs.
The university’s Board of Governors in June 2023 approved the naming of the golf center in honor of UCM alumni and lead donors Randall, ’85 and Kelly Harbert, ’86. Board members authorized a contract with Reasbeck Construction, Warrensburg, to provide all labor, materials and provisions to build the new facility, which is made possible via substantial donor support and university funds.
The ceremony featured remarks from representatives of university Intercollegiate Athletics, the UCM Alumni Foundation, University President Roger Best and Randall Harbert. To symbolize moving forward on the project, after hearing several speakers’ remarks, the gathering moved to a makeshift golf green where they watched Harbert successfully nail a ceremonial golf putt.
In his remarks, Harbert recalled how the vision for this project grew out of a conversation he had previously with Mules Golf Coach Tim Poe, a 40-year friend and former golf teammate at the university. Months before this ceremony, the Harberts donated a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van for use by the Mules golf team. Following acquisition of the van, Harbert asked Poe, “So what’s next?” That’s when the seasoned golf coach shared his dream for a new facility that would serve both men’s and women’s golf teams.
“This vision really belongs to Tim,” Harbert said. He stressed that although it was “a nudge” from Poe that led to his involvement in the project, it was also the efforts of individuals within the UCM the Foundation, Office of the President, Board of Governors, Intercollegiate Athletics and many other donors who were vital to the decision-making and funding processes that are making the new facility possible.
“We are delighted to be part of it, and are so excited to see it come to fruition. We will look forward to seeing you when we open the doors,” Harbert told the gathering.
He also commended both Poe and Jennies Golf Coach Chris Port for the strong programs they have created.
“There’s a reason why they get great kids (for their teams). There’s a reason why kids come here to play their hearts out, and that’s because they are leaders,” Harbert said. “I cannot say enough about them.”
Accommodating Mules and Jennies golf team members, the new 2,100-square-foot, single-story building is expected to be at the top of all such facilities in Division II collegiate golf programs. The facility will be completed in spring 2024, and will include amenities such as lounge space for both the men's and women's golf teams, offices, restrooms, a recruit lounge/meeting room and a laundry room.
In addition to serving students, this project provides a small economic boost for the community. Dr. Matt Howdeshell, vice president for intercollegiate athletics, said the project is putting more than 50 people to work in the Warrensburg and Johnson County area.
He noted that in his role at the university, he has three priorities: 1) ensure that UCM’s student athletes have the resources they need to maximize their athletic and academic potential; 2) foster a strong focus on the community and engagement with alumni and donors and the UCM campus; and 3) focus on excellence, “being best in class in all that we do athletically, academically, and operating with integrity.”
“This facility is the culmination of all three of those priorities,” Howdeshell said, while speaking before a group that included members of Mules and Jennies current golf teams and more than 30 alumni who are former team members. “This project is made possible by the generous support we have received from our alumni and donors who support our student athletes who want to provide them with best-in-class resources.”
Courtney Goddard, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the UCM Alumni Foundation, expressed her gratitude to the Harberts. She also acknowledged the financial support by alumni that included Jim Pollard, Matt and Julie Roberts, Randy Russell, Chip Gentry and many more individuals, some anonymous, who committed gifts for the facility.
“This facility is for all of you,” she told UCM past and present golf team members. “Without the enduring support of a very large group of people who are here today, this facility would not be possible.”
Mules Golf Coach Tim Poe said the celebration was taking place on the same day as the 31st annual fundraising tournament to benefit UCM golf programs. He praised the contributions of three individuals who were influential in the golf programs over the years, including Jerry Hughes, who passed away in January 2023 while serving as Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, and former golf coaches, Norm Short and Earl Keth. He also recognized how valuable donor support was for this project.
“In my wildest dreams, I never thought we’d be here today. We had a lot of talks about this and what my next dreams were, and they made one of them come true.”
Jennies Golf Head Coach Chris Port recalled that when the women’s program launched 12 years ago, he gave each member a t-shirt with a phrase printed on it, “The Tradition Starts Now.”
“As a former Mule and a coach of the Jennies, I can tell you without question, one of the biggest traditions of these two programs is our donors. They are fantastic,” Port said.
Wrapping up the ceremony, President Best pointed to a strong tradition of producing excellent competitors on the golf course, who were exceptional in many other ways. As he put it, “Let us be very clear, today is really built on the legacy of successful programs over a long period of time. That success falls predominantly to the men and women who are on our golf teams and who have put in many, many hours of hard work to be successful. You were successful on the course. You were successful in your classes. You were successful in your professions, and you have been successful in your communities. All of that helps us build this tradition that we know as Mules and Jennies Golf.”
UCM has invested in golf since 1964, when the original nine-hole golf course opened. Designed by Earl Keth, the first UCM basketball player to become an All-American, the course expanded to 18 holes in his honor. Improvements were made over the next three decades that included cart paths, an automatic irrigation system, and even a designation as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for preserving the ecology of its wildlife setting. During the last decade, the course received a multimillion-dollar renovation and was renamed Mules National Golf Club, and a new Clubhouse was added that houses Traditions restaurant and meeting facility.