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Back-to-back rough springs have Northland golfers feeling blue

Illustration by Gary Meader /

Duluth golfers didn’t quite realize how good they had it in 2012.

Well, they do now.

Two years ago area courses set records for an early start, with golfers, decked out in shorts and polo shirts, hitting the links with abandon in late March.

If they had tried that the past two springs, they would have been waist deep in snow.

While Northland golfers have developed a case of spring fever the past two years, courses have felt the financial pinch.

“The season is worse than last year, to be honest with you,” Duluth East boys golf coach Brian Rud said. “I’ve had to redo the schedule about 14 times already. It’s been a nightmare for coaches and athletic directors, that’s for sure.”

With more than 50 inches, last April was the snowiest month on record in Duluth. This April wasn’t much better, and once the bulk of the snow melted, Northland residents were given an added treat with about a week of overcast skies and freezing drizzle.

“The ground hasn’t even had a chance,” Duluth golf director Paul Schintz said. “If you walk around the course, you feel how damp and gross it is. That’s pretty much what we’re dealing with. We can’t get the mowers on the course because it’s too wet, and we can’t have carts. They wouldn’t even be able to get up the hills. The moisture hasn’t had a chance to leave.”

Schintz said Lester and Enger Park golf courses should open later this week.

The late starts put an added financial burden on area courses. Schintz said Lester and Enger will miss two weeks of league play, which is a big revenue generator.

And for people who were on the fence in terms of buying a season pass, they might opt to wait a year because of the short season.

Schintz said each missed day equates to about $10,000 in lost revenue for Duluth’s two public courses. Courses recoup some of that loss by not having their entire staff on hand until the season starts, but some of that money never comes back.

“It’s big,” Schintz said. “Last year with the (bad) weather, we were $300,000 down by June 1 between the two facilities. We made up $150,000, but you just can’t make it all up. People don’t play more golf because they missed a month.”

Mark Carlson of Nemadji Golf Course in Superior concurred with Schintz. Carlson said Nemadji, which opened May 7 last year, lost about 5 to 10 percent of its revenue last season.

Nemadji opened its West Nine course Saturday and will open the East Nine today. Carlson hopes Nemadji’s entire 36-holes will be open by Wednesday.

“This will be the second May opening in the past 35 years, and they’ve come back-to-back,” Carlson said. “It’s not the end of the world like with ski hills, but it hurts a little bit.”

Carlson said courses already are dealing with other financial challenges. He estimates that there are five million fewer U.S. golfers than there were 10 years ago, and junior golf is down 30 percent during that span.

“Young people don’t play the game as much,” he said. “It’s a combination of the economy and the fact it takes too long to play. People who are working don’t have the time. Poor weather just adds to it.”

If there was a silver lining to this winter and spring, Carlson said, it’s that area courses should be in great shape.

A heavy rain in December 2012 led to ice that wreaked havoc on course conditions. This year the heavy snow cover acted as a protective blanket.

“When you get ice on the greens it kills the turf,” Carlson said. “We didn’t have that this year.”

But the Northland has had just about everything else.

The weather has been so bad that East didn’t have tryouts. The team was picked through attrition, with about 40 interested golfers being whittled to 11 when most found something else to do.

“Practice outside has been pretty much nonexistent,” Rud said, laughing.

At least he’s been able to keep a sense of humor.

East has even gone to Adventure Zone in Canal Park to play miniature golf, just to beat the boredom of practicing inside for an outside sport.

Rud said he feels bad for his seniors, some of whom play golf as their primary sport and are hoping to gain exposure to college recruiters. They have been treated to one-month seasons the past two years.

Rud said there is serious discussion about moving the Minnesota high school golf season to the fall.

The good ol’ days of two years ago never seemed so far away.

“I’ve encouraged kids to go away on spring break with their families to find a place to play,” Rud said. “You have to pick and choose your battles. You’re not going to be able to have a full schedule because it’s a fine line between the amount of time kids are away from school and the amount of time they can spend playing. You try to balance the two. Unfortunately, until they put lights on golf courses, that’s the reality of things.”