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Golfers caught in white-out

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Snow Valley: On Friday on the east side of Willmar, the popular nine-hole public course is yet days away from booking tee times, one year after a mid-March opener.

The difference between Augusta, Ga., and central Minnesota is as clear as green and white.

Just look out the window with the TV on.

Typically, the second weekend in April is when you could swing out to your local golf course in the morning and then sit back in the afternoon and watch the pros attack Amen Corner at the Masters.

Not now; this is the Endless Winter.

At The Crossings at Montevideo, operations manager Kari Huntley shoots for an April 1 opening (last year it was March 14).

“Looking at the 10-day forecast, we will be lucky to be open by April 24 if things don’t heat up soon,” she commented in an email Thursday.

Like many courses, The Crossings is discounting first-time membership (25 percent), plus the 18-hole riverside layout has a reciprocity membership with clubs at Benson and Ortonville (three memberships for the price of one).

Huntley added: “Once we open, spring rates will be in effect for the first couple of weeks, and starting May 14, The Crossings Restaurant and Lounge will be open Tuesday-Sunday at 11 a.m.”

It’s possible to look at this as the law of averages just bringing the starting date back to the middle, which generally falls around the second week of April at Little Crow.

“Last year was a dream come true for the golf industry,” said Sam Drodofsky, golf pro and manager at the 27-hole Little Crow Country Club between Spicer and New London. “This year it’s back to reality. With the extended forecast calling for well below normal temps coupled with this snowstorm we will be lucky to open by May 1.”

Regardless, Drodofsky emphasized “We intend to continue [the] tradition” after being voted one of the top public courses in the state.

Contacted Friday afternoon at the Eagle Creek GC pro shop, Joel Jacobson had this comment: “Unbelievable.”

He knows it’s tough on members itching to get started, the Willmar boys and girls golf teams who sometimes would have in one or two meets by now and it cools interest among potential new members.

“We’ve got members going down to Omaha to get in some play,” said the teaching pro and manager.

A week ago he and grounds superintendent Tom Wodash speculated opening the course by April 15, which would be in time for the first round of the two-day Willmar/Litchfield boys high school invitational on the 19th. The Cardinal girls have their invite three days later on April 22.

But Thursday’s snowfall — a half-foot up to a foot — is a discouraging setback, though moisture in any form is to be welcomed after the 2012 drought.

Eagle Creek opened March 17 when the weather turned Missouri-like in 2012. More typical is April 7. Jacobson thinks the record might by April 19 which may well be surpassed this spring.

Once the snow disappears, there’s still the threat of frost and soft turf which would be damaged by equipment.

“We still have to get out there and brush the greens,” said Jacobson, noting that snow mold retardant and sand are added at the last moment in fall.

Lost green fees these early weekends can’t be regained, but Jacobson said walk-up traffic is slight in April anyway. He would like to be giving lessons by now, however.

The course is again offering a half-price initiation fee to build up membership.

The golfing boom of the 1990s has cooled forcing club managers to offer incentives to bring new faces through the pro shop door.

Island Pine, an 18-hole challenge south of U.S. Highway 12 on the west side of Atwater, offers a free 2014 membership with the purchase of a 2013 membership.

But when the yard still looks like mid-January, it’s hard to get excited about golf without tuning in the Masters and seeing those emerald fairways.

The almost constant cloud cover, seasonal highs 10 degrees below normal and the cold nights continue to thwart even a mid-April opening.

“When the snow goes, we’re opening,” proclaimed Nick Ebnet, owner/manager at Valley Golf on the east side of Willmar, a gentle nine-hole layout especially favored by youth and seniors.

“We’re all so ready to get going,” he said. “If we don’t have standing water, we’re golfing.”

Greg Snow, the pro at the Olivia Golf Club, said eight inches of his namesake fell on the city 27 miles south of Willmar on Thursday.

“It’s just a setback, but the frost here is already out so as soon as the snow disappears we’ll jump for joy and start playing.”

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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