The program that Herb Page built: How the KSU men’s golf coach created a national powerhouse

Amanda Levine

In the doorway of the Ferrara & Page Golf Training and Learning Facility, there’s a plaque dedicated to Ben Curtis, the winner of the 2003 Open Championship and a former Kent State all-American. 

In coach Herb Page’s office are framed pictures of Curtis and Don James, as well as pictures of Page’s other former players, teams and coaches. James served as Kent State’s football coach at Kent State for almost 40 years.

The plaques and photos are the people who have influenced Page, the man who has built a national-level golf program at Kent State.

In 2003, Curtis won the Open Championship in his rookie season, which pushed Kent to the national map. Page described the golf program and facility as “The House that Ben Built.”

With Curtis’ success, Page and then-athletic director Laing Kennedy worked on a plan to create a new golf facility to bring in bigger prospects. The two worked together to raise money to build the new building.

“Ben Curtis won the British Open, and it validated us,” Page said. “We had some young men that were on the PGA Tour and that made this building easier to build.” 

Page ran all the fundraisers for the initiative. He knew the addition of the golf facility and Curtis’ success would help further advance the golf program and become more appealing to prospective golfers and international players. Page currently has four international players on his team, two from Iceland, one from Canada and one from Italy. 

Whenever Kennedy had to make decisions, whether it be about the golf program or another sport, he turned to Page for his opinion.

“I looked on at coach Page as kind of the spokesperson for the head coaches,” Kennedy said. “If there was something we were thinking about, wondering about our strategic plan, I would say to Page, ‘What are the coaches thinking?’ He’s very honest and forthright.”

Curtis wasn’t the only reason the Kent State golf program was put on the map. In ‘92, the Mid-American Conference had dropped the limitation in golf scholarships thus making it easier to compete with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) universities.

“The MAC dropped the scholarship limitation, and it was sort of like, ‘Oh, OK, now we can go compete with the SEC, the ACC and the Big 10,” Page said, “We were doing it in ‘84. I went to the national championship with two scholarships and everybody else had five.” 

Then — and still today — Page said one of his biggest obstacles is recruiting against Southern schools where golfers can play year round. The golf facility allows players to work on their game in winter, and Page knew the building and all its features would help the golf program excel. 

Assistant coach Jon Mills has coached alongside Page for three years. Mills said he’s learned a lot from him as a coach and as a mentor.

“It wasn’t easy for him early on,” Mills said. “When (Page) brought it from practically nothing to what it is, it comes down to a lot of hard work, a lot of tireless hours of fundraising and recruiting.” In addition to the golf facility, Page said Curtis’ British Open win made it easier to recruit because of his success. More prospective students were interested in coming to Kent.

“(Curtis) validated what we do at Kent State, and it was a lot easier for me to go out and ask people (for money),” Page said. “I don’t think sometimes people realize and understand that, that the commitment that people have made because they know the quality (of the program).”

In 2016, Page had a heart attack. While he was recovering from heart surgery, Curtis stepped up as interim head coach. Curtis and Mills teamed up as coaches during Page’s medical leave as the Flashes competed in their first tournaments of the fall season.

In an interview with Golfweek, Page said, “He offered to help; I didn’t ask. I would never ask someone to make that commitment. I think that just shows his loyalty to the program and to me. And that’s a special thing.”

The combination of Curtis and the golf facility is what brought Kent State golf on the map, but Page’s coaching abilities are what helped turn student-athletes into PGA Tour golfers.

In the corner behind Paige’s desk is a picture of James, Page’s former football coach when he played for Kent State. Page was the backup kicker for the Flashes his junior and senior years; the only year Kent State football won a MAC Championship.

During his football career, Page played alongside hall of famer Jack Lambert, a defensive end and current Alabama football coach Nick Saban, defensive back. Page said James instilled a coaching principle for him and his former players that valued passion, attitude and hard work, all characteristics that former players ascribe to Page as well.

“It was very influential watching him, listening to him, seeing how he was organized, how he motivated, how he prepared us and all those attributes,” Page said, “Whether you’re coaching football, basketball, golf … I just learned a lot and then through the years maintained a relationship with him.”

During Page’s senior year, he was drafted in the fifth round to play professional football for the British Columbia Lions in the Canadian Football League. At the same time, he was offered a graduate assistant position for Kent State within the golf program. Instead of going on to a professional football career, he took the graduate assistant position. Page said it “was about getting an education, something his mom and dad didn’t have.”

 Page grew up in Ontario, Canada, where he began playing golf at a young age. His favorite sport at the time was hockey, but he knew he would become more successful playing golf.

“I started when I was 12 years old,” Page said. “My father took me to a little par three course. I didn’t give up on hockey, but it was because I was small and he thought, well, a small guy can play golf, but maybe you can’t play hockey at the elite level.”

During his time as a graduate assistant, Page also worked at the Windmill Lakes Golf Course in Kent. He now owns the golf course, but at the time; he was a manager. In 1977, the head coach of the men’s golf team retired. The athletic department offered Page the position.

“I’m this young golf pro, just three years out of college, and you want a coach,” Page said, “There was minimal resources to scholarships. I coached my first year for $1,500. I think I coached my first five years for $1,500. It wasn’t about the money. It was just I love the sport. I love competition.”

Mark Wysc, a former men’s golfer who was a part of Page’s first championship team in ‘84, had known Page since he was 12 years old. Wysc grew up in Ravenna and worked at the Windmill Lakes Golf Club where Page was his boss.

“I was just a kid working at the golf course as a cart kid,” Wysc said. “I was playing pinball with my friend of mine. He was going to be our new boss, and he walked in the pro shop. He saw us and the first thing he said was, ‘Well, I can see the first thing that’s got to go.’ I looked at my friend and said, ‘Is he talking about us or the pinball machine?’”

It wasn’t Wysc, who then went on to be a high school golfer who was recruited by schools like Ohio State and Stanford.

Wysc wanted to stay close to home, receive a good education and be able to play golf, and he knew playing for Page would give him this opportunity. He signed his scholarship letter of intent in Page’s kitchen.

“When I talked to Herb about going to Kent, it was just the perfect scenario,” Wysc said. “I knew that’s where I wanted to go.”

Page has still maintained friendships with his former players, coaches and alumni. Wysc and Page have been friends for 42 years. Every year, Page and the golf team host alumni in a competitive round of golf. It gives current and former players a chance to meet and play golf together.

Mills also played under Page. Mills graduated in 2002 and went into playing professional golf for 15 years before he began coaching alongside Page. He knew Page’s current assistant was taking another job, so he reached out to Page to join the team. Mills said he’s learned a lot from him.

“He’s great at communicating with his players — whether it’s scheduling or whatever,” Mills said, “I think that’s the biggest thing.” 

A major lesson he’s learned from Page, Mill said, is how to make decisions. He said that most important thing to focus on is how a coach communicates with his players, “whether they agree with it or not, as a coach, if you tell them that, they respect it.”

Mills said Page expects a great deal of his players, both on and off the golf course. He wants the best amateur golfers to come to his program, but also wants them to be well-respected individuals. Wysc described the team as the “nicest bunch of men.”

“He’s very demanding of his players,” Mills said. “He expects the best out of you, and when you don’t do that, he’ll let you know, and he’ll make you better that way.”

Ned Weaver’s senior year was Page’s first year as a coach. Weaver describes the golf program as “Herb’s program.” He said Page is like an “Energizer bunny,” that he is always filled with enthusiasm. Before Page was the coach, Weaver said the golfers had to do a lot on their own. Page paid a lot of attention to detail, and he cares about the success of his players. 

“(Page) cared about the team and to have them play their best,” Weaver said, “(He) recruited quality kids who are good players.” 

Weaver describes Page as “part psychologist.” The values Page instilled into Weaver still stay with him to this day: Do the right thing, work hard and you’ll succeed. “If you go there, you’re going to get better.”

Amanda Levine is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected].