What are the good folks in Minnesota doing today?
Not playing golf in shorts.
Amid stories this week detailing a “polar vortex” that’s wreaking climatic havoc on the eastern two-thirds of the United States and drought conditions in Sacramento that’s making life miserable for fish, skiers and water agencies, area golfers and golf course operators are enjoying the best early winter in history.
In January, in temperatures warm enough for shorts.
Every bogey makes somebody happy, as the golf saying goes.
Turkey Creek hosted more rounds in December than it has in the month since opening in 1999. Ancil Hoffman hosted 1,311 more rounds this December than last. And golfers are getting summer-like fast and firm conditions, albeit a bit brown, with pleasant mid-60s high temperatures.
Even retail, sluggish in general during the holidays, is booming as it relates to golf. Sales at iFit Golf in Folsom were up 8 percent over last December, store owner Bobby Siravo said, meaning that while golfers might not be sacrificing course time to consider big purchases, they still have needs.
“Yes, people are playing instead of hanging out in the store,” Siravo said. “But the more golf they play, the more balls, tees, gloves and consumables they need.”
The last measurable rainfall in the region was .03 of an inch Dec. 7. It rained 14 days in December 2012. This time, there was a two-week frosty stretch starting Dec. 6 during which overnight temperatures dipped into the mid-20s, delayed the start of play and narrowed the window of tee times, but high temperatures have been record-setting for warmth.
“For two or three weeks around the holidays, we were booked daily without doing (any marketing),” said Brent Cohen, who manages Turkey Creek and Empire Ranch. “People were calling two and three days out and upset they couldn’t get a tee time. I can’t recall that ever happening.”
Course operators keep detailed records of golfers’ habits – how much play declines when the temperature cracks 90 and then 100, when kids go back to school, when there’s rain in the forecast (whether it materializes or not), when there’s enough snow to entice players to put away their clubs for winter. They probably know your playing habits better than you. With profit margins thinner than ever, they can’t afford not to.
Rod Metzler, who manages Ancil Hoffman, Auburn Valley, Cherry Island and DarkHorse, said the ski resorts’ loss is the golf courses’ gain.
“More people are thinking about golf later in the year this year,” Metzler said. “Most recreational golfers put away their clubs in December. Most skiers are recreational golfers. Since there’s no snow, we still have all the skiers. That’s as significant as anything.”
With record-low water levels in regional reservoirs, a continued lack of snowpack and rainfall could turn counterproductive to golfers and courses. Superintendents, unaccustomed to watering in January, are using between 10 percent and 20 percent of their weekly summer totals to keep key areas alive.
None contacted said they’ve heard about impending rationing, but if drought conditions persist, their stress levels might depend on whether their water source is a well or water agency.
“It’s still early in the winter, so who knows?” said Brad Bonino, the superintendent at Whitney Oaks. “I’ve seen it rain every day in February, March and April. I’m thinking about it, obviously, but I’m trying not to worry about it.”
Call The Bee’s Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.