sealPurdue News

August 23, 1996

Illinois couple's gift boosts Purdue golf course project

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Chicago-area couple has donated $3 million to a novel Purdue University golf course complex that will blend academics and athletics.

The gift is from Michael and Katherine Birck of Hinsdale, Ill. He is president, chief executive officer and a founder of Tellabs Inc., which makes specialty telecommunications equipment and is based in Lisle, Ill. She is head of nursing at Hinsdale Women's Clinic. The $3 million is from the sale of 50,000 shares of Tellabs stock that the Bircks gave to the university for the project.

Purdue is working to raise a total of $6.5 million in private support for the golf project. Earlier this year Lois and Jim Ackerman of Indianapolis gave $1 million.

Legendary golf course designer Pete Dye of Carmel, Ind., is overseeing an upgrade of Purdue's 36-hole golf complex. The completed project will include the first comprehensive turfgrass research and diagnostic facility in the nation. The golf complex will be utilized as a living laboratory for teaching and research activities in a variety of academic disciplines, including agronomy, entomology and forestry.

The project also includes an enhanced practice range; a new clubhouse, cart storage and shelter facilities; and an 18-hole contoured putting course, a first in Indiana.

"We liked the idea of coupling the golf facility with academic activities," Michael Birck said. "It seems a natural opportunity to use the creative aspects of both to augment students' education."

Purdue President Steven C. Beering commented: "The Birck family has supported Purdue academic programs generously. I am grateful that they have recognized the unique potential of this project to enhance the university, create opportunities for students and serve the public."

Birck, who recently returned from Scotland where he played golf on some of its finer courses, said the project is an opportunity for the university to create a world-class golf facility. "It's a way to enhance our university and to support an activity that we enjoy," he said.

Dye is contributing his design and consulting fees to do a complete redesign of Purdue's 18-hole North Course, and extensive improvements to the 18-hole South Course.

"The Purdue project offers an opportunity to put the knowledge of the university to work on the golf courses," said Dye, who has designed more than 60 courses worldwide and is known for creating courses that are friendly to the environment. "We have a chance to make this the most environmentally sensitive golf course in the world."

As part of the overall golf course project, the Turfgrass Research and Diagnostic Center will be a living laboratory where faculty, students and staff can develop and observe various turf management systems, said Clark Throssell, professor of agronomy and a co-director of the center. Zac Reicher, turf specialist with the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service, is the other co-director.

The center's outdoor plots will allow researchers to investigate ways to correct turf problems, conduct research on the effect of golf courses on the environment, and look for ways to apply environmentally friendly agronomic techniques such as biological pest control to lawns and turf.

"Students will be able to see firsthand a wide range of problems encountered when maintaining turf, and they will see what weeds, insects and various plant diseases look like in a field setting," Throssell said. "This will greatly increase their comprehension of what we are teaching."

Work on the North Course is scheduled to begin this fall in conjunction with the widening of a highway that passes through the course. Construction of the turfgrass research facility is expected to be completed by the time the new golf course opens in spring 1998.

In 1993 the Bircks established a $2.3 million endowment in Purdue's School of Electrical Engineering. Income from the endowment supports undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and an academic chair in electrical engineering.

Birck received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Purdue and a master's in electrical engineering from New York University while working at AT&T's Bell Laboratories. He left the labs in 1966 and worked for two Chicago-area telecommunications companies before helping found Tellabs in 1975. The firm had 1995 sales of $635 million and employs more than 3,100 workers, many of them Purdue graduates.

Katherine Birck is a graduate of St. Anthony's Nursing School, which later became part of Indiana State University. The couple has three children, two of whom are Purdue graduates.

The Bircks are members of the Purdue President's Council. In 1991 Michael Birck received the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award from the Purdue Schools of Engineering, and in 1995 he received a Purdue honorary doctor of engineering degree. He also served on the national campaign cabinet of Vision 21, Purdue's campaign that raised more than $332 million in private support.

Sources: Michael Birck, (630) 512-7001

Steven C. Beering, (765) 494-9708

Writer: Ellen Rantz, (765) 494-2073; home, (765) 497-0345; Internet, NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Black-and-white photos of Michael and Katherine Birck and color prints of an architectural rendering of the new golf course and of Clark Throssell and Zac Reicher examining a grass plug pulled from a putting green are available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096. Ask for the photos called Birck, Golf Rendering and Throssell/Golf Course.

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