Rugby center’s calendar quickly filling

07/04/2014 12:00 AM

07/04/2014 5:51 PM

A defunct Southend driving range reincarnated as an outdoor complex for rugby and other sports is garnering attention, with tournaments lined up for the next several months.

Rugby Athletic Center, a 13.5-acre complex at 3722 S. Tryon St., opened three weeks ahead of schedule on June 12. The outdoor sports complex has the capacity for rugby, Gaelic football and soccer and has hosted a statewide tournament, said Doug Shipley, director of development and operations.

“We had a couple of opportunities to accept some events and we wanted to take them on for publicity,” Shipley said. “So we decided to go ahead and crank it up a little bit early.”

Shipley said a driving range sat unused for more than a decade. But then Charlotte resident Bernie Funck saw its potential.

Funck, who coached rugby at Charlotte Catholic High School, was traveling with his team to competitions in Indianapolis and Salt Lake City when he decided he wanted to bring a similar facility to Charlotte.

Although there is another rugby facility about 15 minutes north of downtown called Skillbeck Athletic Grounds, it’s a private membership club and is farther from the center city, Shipley said.

Funck was aware of the old driving range from previous business transactions and that it would be a good fit because of its location and because it already had a stadium. The triple-decker driving range featured 25,000 square feet of building and 28,000 square feet of stadium space.

Funck and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased the property for about $1 million in December 2012, said Shipley, adding that no public funds were used.

The facility was redesigned to allow 2.5 regulation fields with natural grass. Rugby fields are 120 yards by 78 yards, Shipley said.

The three-tiered stadium can hold 1,800 fans, he said.

The center also includes a clubhouse, lockers, showers and concessions. It also features a gym that is leased to CrossFit South Tryon.

The center has hosted the Powerade State Games, which features several sports including BMX racing, rugby and soccer, and an Ultimate Frisbee competition, Shipley said.

On July 19, the facility will host the Connolly Cup, attracting Gaelic football and hurling teams from Boston, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

“We’re hoping we can bring in more tournaments eventually. We want to promote these events and promote the city,” Funck said.

The facility is particularly busy on weekday nights, Shipley said.

“There’s a big push for rugby and its popularity right now,” he said. “Charlotte’s considered a hot bed for it because colleges recruit this area heavily.”

And its not just rugby, Shipley said. Other sports are rising in popularity, creating demand for space.

This trend has led to the construction of other niche sports venues in the area, including the new $1.8 million curling rink off Old Statesville Road, the Giordana Velodrome at the Rock Hill Outdoor Center, and the Whitewater Center in west Charlotte.

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