Miller helps with third
Greatest Golfer event
By Ryan Buck
The past 12 months have been an extraordinary time for the Mill Creek Park Golf Course.
The 84-year-old, 36-hole municipal facility has made renovations to its North Course, finished construction on an impressive new driving range, completed a digital indoor practice structure and saw Dennis Miller, its golf director, achieve national stardom in his qualification for June’s U.S. Open.
On Friday, the course will be the host site of the opening round for all divisions of The Vindicator’s Greatest Golfer of the Valley, presented by Farmer’s National Bank.
The opening round of the tournament will feature more than 250 amateur golfers and a gallery of spectators descending upon the wooded enclave between Route 224 and Shields Road in Boardman.
Mill Creek — under the direction of Miller, head professional Andy Santor and superintendent Perry Toth — has been preparing.
“We’re going above and beyond what we normally do with general maintenance,” Miller said. “We actually started our preparation for this about a month in advance.”
A course dedicated to serving the community is — for the third year — hosting what’s grown into its largest event.
“I was very excited and we bought in really quick because growing up in this area, there were a lot more amateur events that we could participate in and a lot of them have gone by the wayside,” Miller said. “There’s still active junior programs and junior tournaments, but as far as an amateur playing in a competitive atmosphere, that’s why we really bought in and it’s grown. It’s 252 golfers this year. It’s incredible.”
Miller has worked with the MetroParks and outside golf authorities in how to improve the overall facility that complements the course itself.
“With everything we have going on here — we have 36 holes, Donald Ross (design), it’s a fantastic public facility, we did a nice renovation that included adding I think a state- of- the- art practice facility here, there’s going to be two indoor teaching bays with video and there’s eight target greens, a very large natural tee,” Miller said.
All of the activity in developing the new features did, however, mean augmenting the legendary designer Ross’ 1928 layout. Miller thinks it’s all for the best.
“Unfortunately, we did have to change one of the holes on the North course, but I think No. 18, when the guys play it this week, they’re really going to appreciate it,” he said. “It’s much more playable. We took out the sharp dogleg and the view is fantastic from the tee.”
The new practice facility, between the original North course holes 10 and 18, is a great point of pride for one of the Mahoning Valley’s most popular golf destinations. It will include bunkers, a driving tee, a teaching tee and an improved putting green.
“We started about a year and a half ago,” Miller said. “We hired a golf course architect. The way the holes were designed allowed us to have almost like a practice fairway where we can teach. We knew we had to make some changes to the golf course and when the architect put it together, we really fell in love with it. Everything we can think of as far as having the best practice facility is what we’re doing.”
Mill Creek plans to break ground on a new short game area in the fall to allow players all facets of preparation and demonstration.
“I think it’s going to be something that families can come out here and enjoy,” Miller said. “We have seven high schools and both university teams play here. Hopefully we can cultivate some young talent, get them some scholarships and like Jason Kokrak (of Warren), make it to the Tour.”
With all his responsibilities in overseeing the course and its construction, Miller earned the opportunity every player dreams of this summer.
His 12-foot putt on the fourth playoff hole of the U.S. Open Qualifier at Scioto Country Club in Columbus sent him to his first U.S. Open after 12 attempts. The video of his qualifying putt — which hung on the lip of the cup for what seemed an eternity — and the crowd’s reaction made him a golf sensation.
Miller is thankful for the attention his achievements have had for Mill Creek.
“When I qualified, it’s almost like it brings credibility back to everything we’re trying to do here,” Miller said. “We (Miller and Santor) have played in the largest tournaments in the country and we want to run the Greatest Golfer of the Valley the same way.”
For continuing tournament coverage, see vindy.com/golf and on Twitter @vindygreatest.