When they’re off the field, football players need a place to rest and relax, and the new Smith Football Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides just that—on the roof.
The world-class Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center opened in August 2019, and is home for the Fighting Illini football programs. It features expanded strength and conditioning areas, sports medicine space, coaches’ offices, position meeting rooms, player development areas, locker rooms, and other areas for recruiting and prospect hosting, along with the recreational amenities like a rooftop mini-golf course.
“I think it was Josh Whitman, our director of athletics, who had the idea for including a miniature golf course on the rooftop,” said Tim Knox, assistant athletic director, football operations at the University of Illinois. “We were trying to maximize our space.
“On most buildings, this would just be wasted space,” he added. “We felt there was potential to use that space to expand the footprint of the building without expanding the building.”
“We are seeing more interest and demand for miniature golf to be offered as an amenity from colleges and universities—not only from athletic departments, but also for upscale student housing.”
— Scott Lundmark, President of AGS
Adding a custom-designed nine-hole miniature golf course to the rooftop of the new 112,000-square-foot U of I Smith Football Center was a change-order to the original project made possible by donations. “They were trying to be different from other universities,” said Adam Hebert, project manager for the Petry Kuhne construction company that was awarded the general trades contract for the project.
The entire rooftop was conceived as a player’s lounge for relaxation. It consists of the miniature golf course, a partially covered steel trellis with furnishings beneath, along with heaters. There is also a three-sided enclosed building with airplane-like doors that open to a kitchen sporting a 60-inch grill.
“It’s actually a pretty cool structure up there,” Hebert said.
The $79.2 million complex was originally designed by HTNB with world-class player amenities to impact recruiting and support a successful football program at U of I. The mini-golf course was custom-designed by Adventure Golf Services (AGS).
“We are seeing more interest and demand for miniature golf to be offered as an amenity from colleges and universities—not only from athletic departments, but also for upscale student housing,” said Scott Lundmark, president of AGS. “Our products are a perfect fit for fun activities to take a break from sports or studies, and can be designed to fit any space, theme and budget.”
At the Smith Center, AGS supervised the installation of the 1,800-square-foot miniature golf course using patented interlocking panels and anchoring the course to the roof pavers.
Hebert said AGS was “… extremely helpful.” He added, “They were absolutely fantastic. (The client) wanted to know what the course was going to look like right away. When I asked for more detailed drawings, they supplied them without hesitation.”
“I think it turned out better than we thought it was going to be,” Knox said. “It was a concept and a drawing, but until you see it built, I don’t think we realized what we were getting. We didn’t give them very much space, and they came up with something very usable. We’re really happy with the course.”
Hebert said the rooftop course at the Smith Football Center includes several obstacles players must shoot through, into or around to enhance the fun and playability of the course. Many of these obstacles incorporate some of the University’s extensive football heritage, including: an old leather-style football helmet (nicknamed the Dick Butkus helmet); an Illinois “I” bridge ; several footballs; the popular State Farm Center (a large indoor circular arena that hosts games for the Fighting Illini men’s and women’s basketball teams); and a replica of the U of I Memorial football stadium pillars honoring the names of alumni killed in WWI.
AGS also supplied one of its custom equipment benches for putter and golf ball storage.
In addition to the miniature golf course, the facility includes five pools and two bowling alleys among its therapeutic and recreational amenities.
When completed last year, the new building became the largest football players’ complex in the Big Ten Conference. RM