Golf courses await nature's green light
Every year in early April, golfers in southeastern Minnesota are glued to their televisions, watching as the best players in the world compete at Augusta National Golf Club, the most pristine, perfectly manicured golf course in the world.
In a normal year, those same Minnesota golfers can put on light jackets and go out to a local golf course — or at least a driving range — and begin knocking some of the rust off their swings. But this hasn’t been an ordinary April.
The combination of unseasonably cold temperatures and lingering snow has hit golfers and golf courses hard. Calls to many clubhouses are going unanswered right now, as it could be weeks before most courses are ready for play.
Scott Rindahl, the PGA professional at Willow Creek Golf Course in Rochester, said the bad weather is definitely having a financial impact.
"I’m sure we’ve lost hundreds of rounds," he said. "And it’s not just the rounds lost, it’s the driving range. Everybody’s waiting to get outside and hit balls. When our range opens, that gets really busy before the course does."
And, when you run a golf course in Minnesota, there’s no way to make up for revenue lost to bad weather.
"This is like someone coming in and stealing a sleeve of golf balls," Rindahl said. "Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You lose a day of green fees in April, and it’s gone. You can’t get it back. You can’t add more tee times the next day."
Eric Idso, owner of Maple Valley Golf Course southeast of Rochester, said the course has opened as early as Feb. 28 in previous years. "Opening early can really be a big help," he said. "Normally, right around April 1 is when we open, but April can be iffy."
With his course situated in the Root River Valley, with a few well-shaded fairways and greens where snow can linger, Idso wouldn’t venture a guess as to when Maple Valley will open.
"It’s really wait-and-see right now, and opening will probably be a last-minute thing," he said. "Even after the snow melts, I still need a day or two for it to dry out. I’m sure down in the valley, it’s still frozen pretty hard. But once the snow is gone, the frost will come out pretty fast."
While Idso said Maple Valley probably won’t open until both the front and back nines are playable and ready for golf carts, Rindahl said Willow Creek’s front nine will likely open for foot traffic before the back nine is playable. Like Idso, Rindahl wouldn’t predict when the course will open. "It’s one of those things where I get phone calls all the time, asking when we’re going to open, but I don’t make predictions," he said.
"If I say it might be April 15, everyone starts saying ‘Hey, Willow’s going to open April 15!’ We’ll know a couple days ahead of time, but trying to put something out there right now is just too hard."
Rochester’s city-owned golf courses might not face the same financial pressures that privately owned courses endure in a cold, snowy April, but Jeff Gorman, PGA pro at Eastwood Golf Course, said people are getting frustrated. "Typically, we open in the first week of April, but for the past five to seven years, it’s been in March, so historically, we’re getting quite late now," he said. "Looking at the weather forecast, we’ve got to go out at least a week to 10 days before we’re looking at getting something open."
He said that while a lot of golfers wait until May to hit Rochester’s public courses, the late spring has had a huge impact on high school golf teams, which can’t even get onto a driving range right now.
"We were supposed to have a high school golf meet here on Tuesday," Gorman said. "Now we’re in the scramble of trying to reschedule meets. People aren’t happy about it, that’s for sure."
Like Willow Creek, Eastwood’s driving range and front nine will likely open first, but Gorman said it’s possible that golfers won’t be able to take carts out for 18 holes at Eastwood until May 1.
Idso, who has owned Maple Valley for 14 years, is taking a philosophical, wait-and-see approach. "We just have to take whatever the weather gives us," he said.
Rindahl is taking matters a bit more personally. "I have friends who live out in Nevada for the winter and come back to Rochester for the summer, and they’re supposed to be coming back in three weeks," he said. "I’m like, ‘Stay there while you can! Why come back to this stuff?’"