Bighaus column: After long winter, Billings courses can't wait for golf season

2014-03-27T16:51:00Z 2014-03-28T16:09:05Z Bighaus column: After long winter, Billings courses can't wait for golf season The Billings Gazette

With Billings closing in on 100 inches of snow, it wasn’t that long ago — during the winter of 2010-11 — that area golf courses also went over 100 days without any rounds being played due to snow-covered tee boxes and greens.

So how have some of the area’s head professionals, golfers and courses fared while once again being pent up during this winter of record snowfall?

“Very slow and lonely,” Aaron Pohle, the third-year head pro at Peter Yegen Golf Club, said with a laugh this week. “But it gives us a lot of time to catch up on our paperwork and get things ready for the coming season.”

“I’ll tell you, it has been incredibly tough just sitting around and doing nothing,” offered 72-year-old Larry Heimsness, before heading out to play at Exchange City Par 3 Golf Course earlier in the week.

“Oh my gosh,” exclaimed Bob Eames, the 10-year head pro at Yellowstone Country Club. “The Maytag repairman has nothing over on us.”

The greens, fairways and roughs on the Billings’ courses seemed to have held up well during what was the snowiest winter since 1934, when records were first kept.

The pro shops? That’s a little different story.

“This is one of the tougher ones,” Scott Pekovich, The Briarwood’s director of golf, said of the persistent winter. “Maybe it hasn’t been as cold or anything, but just for overall snow and lack of play, it’s real close to being as tough as I’ve ever been around.”

“I can honestly tell you I would rather work that 12-hour day in June than sit out here for six hours watching ESPN, CNN, Fox News,” Eames said. “It’s a long day.”

Eames and his staff passed time by renovating the pro shop and reorganizing the club storage room.

“Mark my words, we’ve got El Nino next year,” Eames said. “So we’re going to have golf every month of the year next year. I know I’m an optimist, but I’m predicting it.

“Next year, when we’re having this conversation, you can tell me how right I was.”

Renzi Lee, head pro at Lake Hills Golf Club, said he

used some of his downtime this winter revamping the course’s website.

“I don’t think I saw anybody in January, except for two days,” he said. “Last year we were pretty much open all of January.”

Saturday’s forecast calls for a high temperature of 61, which is a positive sign.

“That’s all I’m doing is preparing for Saturday,” Lee said. “Getting carts ready, cleaning. It seems like it has taken three months to get to that day. We’ll be ready to rock.”

At the moment, most of the Billings courses feel they’re about a month behind schedule.

“The biggest financial cost or hardship is going to be starting off the spring so slow,” Pohle said. “Usually when March comes, we’re ready to get things rolling and we’re expecting a full day from sunrise to sundown.

“We’re already into the third week of March and we’ve been closed a few weeks already because of the snow.”

“Leagues start during the first part of April,” said Mark Hahn, head pro at Par-3 “When we start losing some league days — and weekends — that’s when we’ll really be affected.”

It’s not that unusual for golfers in Billings to get in at least one round 12 months out of the year. Heimsness said he once played 76 consecutive months in Billings, with that streak ending in December 2009.

It was just three winters ago that Yellowstone Country Club went 114 days — spanning November to March — without a single round of golf being played.

The stretches of snow cover weren’t as long this year, but they were still significant.

For instance, The Briarwood, with its hilly, forested back nine, experienced hardly any play between Nov. 19 and March 16, Pekovich said.

Pohle said Peter Yegen didn’t have any rounds played from mid-November to mid-January. There were just a few days of activity in January and February, and March hasn’t escaped winter’s wrath.

“I’m tired of seeing that white stuff on the ground,” Pohle said. “I’m ready for the grass to turn green. I’m ready to get busy again.”

The same is true for Hahn, whose course is normally closed in January, and Eames, whose YCC layout had no rounds in February.

“At this point in time, heading into the first of March, our budget has not been that much affected,” Eames said. “But it is starting to get that way now.

“When you go the whole month of March and you only have a couple hundred dollars worth of cart revenue and no green fees, it starts to make an impact. If we get it straightened around in April, we’ll be all right.”

But, not so quick.

Following the tough winter of 2010-11, nearly 10 inches of rain fell in May. That, coupled with spring runoff, led to The Briarwood and Pryor Creek Golf Club courses being inundated by flood waters.

The entire front nine at The Briarwood was closed until early June, as was a waterlogged portion of the lower six holes on the North Course at Pryor Creek.

“We’re equipped better, let’s just put it that way,” Pekovich said of the possibility of dealing with floods again. “We’ve widen some of the banks (of Blue Creek), so it’s able to sustain quite a bit more water.”

What does the Farmers’ Almanac say about the coming months?

While Saturday’s forecast is promising, the long-range outlook includes more snow and rain through mid-May.

“All we can do is prepare for the next day, and hopefully the weather does what we want it to do,” Pohle said.

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The Billings area will be the site of two state golf tournaments this summer, including the Montana State Golf Association State Juniors June 23-24 at Laurel Golf Club and the 97th annual Montana State Women’s Golf Association Amateur & Senior Amateur July 24-26 at Yellowstone Country Club.

The women last played at YCC in 2003, while the State Juniors was last played at Laurel in 2004.

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