“When I start off on the first tee I have a smile on my face,” he says. “Then reality sets in—my score goes up, my concentration down, and the smile disappears for the remaining holes. But I’m smiling again on the nineteenth hole, planning a next game with friends, each of us confident we will do better next time.”
Since the age of 12, Cook has played the links. He appreciates how the sport is one of the few a person can play for a lifetime. “How many athletes are still playing football after 40?” he asks.
Cook knows he is intense in his pursuit to improve his game.
In the fall semester of 2018, Cook’s enthusiasm for golf and his commitment to the community of Juniata College came together in his generous gift to fund the Cook Family Golf Performance Center, now located in the Kennedy Sports and Recreation Center.
The Cook Family Golf Performance Center (CPC) is equipped with a practice putting surface and a full-swing simulator. The technologies in the Center help players develop skills as they work to improve their golf mechanics using full interactive simulation. Providing swing analysis information necessary to develop a consistent and repetitive swing, the Center’s system also saves all the data it collects for each athlete. The more the golfers practice, the more swing details and patterns will emerge to help guide their quest for consistency.
Players can learn about everything from the spin rate of the ball to their club face angle to how they line up. Golfers gain the information they need to adjust to conditions or detect a slump—and the coach can use that information to get a player’s swing back into proper condition.
And as a reward for their practice, occasionally players can “golf” on a variety of world-famous courses—all year long, regardless of the weather.
Juniata added golf to its varsity sports offerings again in the 2016-2017 academic year, hiring coach Matt Baer and working to recruit a team. Given the weather of central Pennsylvania—last year included record—setting rainfall—having the simulator for training and feedback will be important to fielding a competitive team.
“The golf center should help with student recruitment,” Cook says. “Juniata has a good coaching staff and I believe winning golf teams, men’s and women’s, are right around the corner.”
While supporting the team was important to Cook, he also wanted the center to recognize the long and entwined history of his family at Juniata. Cook’s father, uncle, and two aunts were among the graduating classes of the late 1920s through the mid-1930s. Over the years, 20 family members either earned their degrees at Juniata or worked at the College.
The trend started with Cook’s father, a superintendent of schools in Ebensburg during Cook’s youth. After graduating from Juniata, the elder Cook coached football before working his way to superintendent of the Central Cambria school district.
Among those who made the trek from Ebensburg was John himself, preceded by his sister, the late Nancy (Cook) Catando ’61, and brother, James Cook O.D. ’64, also deceased. Both James and John lettered in golf at Juniata. Nancy’s husband, Bob ’60, their son, Bruce Catando O.D. ’86, and Cook’s youngest daughter, Kelly Cook Ferrell D.C. ’00 attended Juniata as well.
Cook was happy to see a golf team return to Juniata and his personal enthusiasm for golf drove the project he chose to support at Juniata. While Cook has made gifts to support students at Juniata regularly since returning to Huntingdon in 1972, he saw in this moment a chance to do something more—and to honor his family by naming it for them.
“I have always wanted to make a positive impact in this community,” Cook says. “I recently had the opportunity to provide new ocular equipment for the ER section of J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital. Now I am pleased to support the College. Juniata and the hospital offer services crucial to the local economy. Parents are impressed with Juniata’s high quality education and the rapid availability of medical care for students when necessary.”
In early December 2018, on a dark and rainy day when the ground outside was spongy, Cook and some family members and friends visited the facility, along with Juniata President James Troha and some College staff, to celebrate the gift and use the simulator and putting green, where sun and palm trees were plentiful.
“I am really pleased to provide the CPC,” Cook says. “I hope the coaches and players find the facility useful. Key to good golf is efficient use of practice time, and that is the purpose and the great opportunity in this space.”
Inside, the optometrist had a new thing on which he could focus. “If my golf game were to improve, it would not be because of my focus,” he said. “It’d be a miracle.”