Looking north from the clubhouse at Lost Marsh Golf Course in Hammond last month, the rolling hills and water resembled a polar wasteland. Patches of deep snow still filled sand traps, and the lake was better suited for ice hockey.
In recent years, Lost Marsh had been open already in March and the course littered with golfers. This year the course isn’t projected to open until Friday or Saturday.
After a long, hard winter that’s been too cold and too snowy, it could be a while until region golf courses recover completely.
Local golfers have been spoiled in recent years with occasional mild days without snow in January, February and definitely March. The last two years there was at least one day in March at 75 degrees or higher, with a record of 82 for mid-March set in 2012. The result for local courses was bonus revenue from plenty of rounds played by the end of March.
In 2014, not one golf course in Northwest Indiana had even one round played before mid-March.
“We were open every month last year — nothing this year,” said Jill McCoy, head pro at The Brassie in Chesterton. “We’ve probably lost a couple hundred rounds.”
River Pointe Country Club in Hobart might have had even more hackers playing if not for 70-plus inches of snow over the past three months.
“Guys out here would be playing as long as there was no snow,” River Pointe manager Marv Crook said. “They don’t care about the cold.”
White Hawk Country Club’s head pro, Duane Borcherding, sounds cautiously optimistic, understanding that snow can help the actual health of a course.
“You want to get an early start to your season,” said Borcherding, who also oversees The Brassie and River Pointe since the three courses are under the same ownership group. “The regular opening date at Brassie has been March 8 the last couple years."
“Snow has its pluses and minuses. It depends on how it melts.”
Snow cover can provide protection for the greens and fairways. Even though the snow is gone, the winter is going to have a lasting effect well into April.
“The frost line hasn't been this low in a long time,” Crook said. “It’s all going to be about how it dries. The greens and the growth of your grass might not be good.”
The winter effect has been enough of a concern that the United States Golf Association has conducted seminars in many northern cities with agronomists suggesting ways golf courses can address winter injury concerns.
There were some golfers playing this week, but you won’t see any carts for a while. Multiple courses confirmed it will be walking only until the ground thaws and dries out.
An even bigger concern is high school boys golf across the region. The spring schedule is set to start in mid-April, but most teams had to delay preseason trials and workouts because of the winter carryover.
Hobart High School's team finally had tryouts this week at River Pointe. In previous years, tryouts would have been in mid-March.
It sounds even more desperate at Wicker Park in Highland, where the Highland Trojans practice and compete in home meets.
“Wicker Park projects to be open on April 15 and our first match is on April 16,” said Highland High School golfer Jonathan Payne while he and his teammates practiced putting indoors in the lobby outside the gym last month. “Even when it dries it’s going to be messy. It’s not going to be good this year.”
With courses taking a hit from lost revenue already, one common theme rings true from head pros and managers.
“Let’s hope we have a long summer,” Crook said.