Winter Golf

Northern Exposure

Continued (page 2 of 2)

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What Small takes the most pride in, though, is the facility's chipping and pitching area. "You can hit 30-, 35-yard pitches inside and have them react and spin," said Small of the 7,000-square-foot space (note: a basketball court is 4,800 square feet).

Four different heights of (artificial) rough are in place for players to work from. "We can hit 85 foot bump and runs," Small says. "We can hit flop shots, the ceiling is 3 stories tall."

While indoor facilities obviously allow golfers to avoid shoveling snow to get in some practice, they aren't just handy in the winter time. Brouse says Purdue's indoor area helps as much during the spring months when rain and wind can keep his players from practice on the course just as frequently as January snow.

For schools with such facilities, the thought process regarding how to approach the early spring has begun to change. The old model was to take your kids to the warm weather to get their games in shape, and in turn take your lumps in the process. Now schools can stay on campus to get ready for spring and feel they have a chance at competing.

"February and March we generally have a chance to hit a lot more golf balls and do a lot of work," Crabtree says. "It allows us to be farther along in the front end of the spring. Whether that translates at the end is another issue."

While not just allowing the players to keep improving on their games instead of building up winter rust, the facilities also have helped the programs attract a better caliber player in the first place. Quincy, Ill., native Luke Guthrie, an AJGA first-team All-American, was being courted by several nationally ranked schools two summers ago but chose to stay in-state thanks in large part to the amenities Illinois had to offer. Through the first half of his sophomore year, Guthrie has the second best scoring average (72.8).

If there is downside to these facilities it ironically cut at the one thing that players from northern schools always seemed to have an upper hand with: the ability to handle difficult weather conditions during tournaments.

"We used to get a 45 degree day and we'd go outside and play in the snow and rain and get tough," Small says. "Now we all go inside. So I think it kind of softens you up a bit, which is a drawback. Any day we can go outside, we'll go outside [though]."

Still, with his players avoiding the fatigue from being forced to practice in frigid conditions prior to having an indoor facility, Small believes in a better position than ever to excel.

"We're definitely more prepared come spring time than we were before," Small says. "Is it real golf? No. But I think physically and mentally we're more ready than we were before."

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