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Late snow means a late start for golfers

The outdoor patio area of the Alexandria Golf Club is still out of commission because the the winter-like spring weather. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)1 / 3
The golf course at the Alexandria Golf Club is still completely snow covered. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)2 / 3
A golf cart is being used to help with an outdoor renovation project outside of the Alexandria Golf Club while the course isn't open due to cold, snowy conditions. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press) 3 / 3

You can hardly escape a conversation without someone mentioning the record-breaking April cold or the snow covered roads.

The snowy conditions aren't just making it hard to engage in varied conversation but they're affecting local businesses. Golf clubs in the area are feeling the weight of a late spring more acutely than businesses that aren't centered around an outdoor activity.

"This is the latest actual opening date that I've seen," head golf professional at the Alexandria Golf Club Jon Crouse said. "If we miss a whole month of April people might come out more in May. But if they come out like normal and forget an entire month, then we might end up seeing a little bit of that on our bottom line."

Most golf clubs are used to opening their courses in the first week of April. With more snow and cold temperatures on the horizon, golfers aren't out on the courses and clubs aren't expecting the same April revenue stream they have in years past.

While this might be a later golf opener than normal, late springs are not unheard of. Chad Blank, owner of the Lake Miltona Golf Club, said their average open date over the last 23 years has been April 7. In 2013, Lake Miltona Golf Club didn't open its course until April 29. In 2002, snowy conditions pushed their open date back to April 23.

"You can't fight Mother Nature," Blank said. "She does what she wants to do. We still have our league meetings going on. You just go on but there are no golfers going on out there."

Clubs are trying to keep their members engaged and happy with social events and league meetings. But some clubs can't even open their doors until the weather turns. The Atikwa Golf Club hasn't been able to hold a meeting yet because the water in the clubhouse is shut off until things warm up.

"They've found that if they try to open the water lines before the frost leaves they've had trouble with breaking pipes," Dan Jackson said.

Jackson is the president of the Wednesday night men's league at Atikwa Golf Club and a veteran golfer in the area. This is the latest golf opening that both Jackson and Crouse have seen in their golfing days.

"We're one of the first one's to get out, typically," Jackson said of him and his wife. "Two years ago we went out golfing our first night and it rained and turned to slush. When we were even putting on the green we were getting a buildup on the ball like a snowball. When you get the bug, you just can't stay away."

Last year, the Wednesday night men's league played its first round on April 12 at Atikwa. This year's opening meeting was rescheduled from April 11 to April 18.

But golfers aren't able to get out to even walk courses until the snow melts, the frost clears and the temperatures rise.

"It's not just a matter of the snow being gone. It's a matter of the ground being thawed out," Crouse said. "If the frost isn't coming up then we don't let people on the course because it'll wreck the grass for the rest of the year."

As soon as the snow clears from the range at Lake Miltona Golf Club, golfers can start hitting balls even if there's snow on the range.

"A lot of it hinges on where that storm goes this weekend," Blank said. "I'm sure there's going to be quite a few people coming in for league meetings so they can just get back in the clubhouse."

Looking on the bright side

No one is certain how the late start will affect the golf clubs' overall profit, but in true Minnesota-fashion, the clubs are trying to make the best of it.

"We're just keeping busy with other stuff. Cleaning up, placing order for products, working on maintenance for equipment," Blank said. "We've got a new fleet of golf carts coming in so we've got to put the monitors on those and put the GPS on there. There's plenty to keep busy."

When the spring opener has been pushed back in the past, golfers tend to golf later into the fall. The clubs are hoping this give-and-take will even out profit margins.

"People are anxious to get outside in the spring obviously but it's like a six month season," Blank said. "I've been around doing this long enough. When it gets slow in the spring people play a little longer in the fall."

"I suppose we will golf into the fall as long as we can," Jackson said with a laugh. "There are a lot of them that when it gets below 50 that's enough for them. Some of us deadbeats will still be out there until it snows again or they kick us off."

At the Alexandria Golf Club, about a third of the club members aren't back from wintering in warmer states, Crouse said.

"A lot of our Florida, Arizona, California and Texas members, they're not back yet," he said. "They don't get back until May. They skip this stuff. We're still getting dues anyway. It doesn't matter if it's snowing right now or if it's 80 degrees."

Most of the clubs are hoping to open courses by the last week of April, but of course, that all depends on the weather.

"People are frustrated but then they remember that we live in Minnesota and we can't control what the weather does," Crouse said. "That's the good thing about living here, you never know. It could end up being 60 degrees tomorrow and melt a lot of the snow and then you're off and running."