Golf already? Yes, please! Your guide to Duluth, Northland-area courses, tournaments
It had to feel a bit surreal as Mike Daniels teed it up on No. 6 at Poplar Golf Course, reared back and let it fly.
Here it was, mid-March and 80 degrees in northwestern Wisconsin, and golfers were along the course wearing shorts and T-shirts as Daniels' 7-iron shot bounced once and rolled into the cup on the 150-yard hole.
It is believed to be the earliest opening in Poplar history, and safe to say, the earliest hole-in-one ever recorded there. After all, it was March 18. About 70 golfers showed up that first day.
"This year's been unbelievable," said Poplar club pro Paul Stein. "We're already cutting fairways, the greens have been mowed a few times already. I mean, March 18? It's unbelievable. That's about all you can say."
Over in Minnesota, golfers are experiencing the same thing. Blueberry Hills in Deer River opened in record fashion on March 17, one of an incredible 121 courses listed by the Minnesota Golf Association as having officially opened in the Gopher State in March alone, with three courses opening March 9.
It was by far the warmest March on record for the nine-state Midwest region, according to the Midwestern Regional Climate Center. The average temperature for the region was 50.3 degrees, topping the 46.9 degrees recorded in 1910, with Minnesota averaging 42 degrees and Wisconsin 45.3.
There was even talk at some Minnesota courses of golfers playing at least a round in every month.
So far, 2012 has been on par with the early spring of two years ago, and that has been a welcome relief for area courses after a drawn-out spring in 2011 (even the Northland Golf Directory is two weeks earlier this year).
"Last spring was pretty terrible for golf, so there was some pent-up energy and demand for golf," said Pat Ocken, clubhouse manager at Grandview Golf Links, which opened March 17. "We've had about 100 rounds a day since we opened."
The early openings can be challenging as courses aren't always prepared for it. The demand is there, but the delivery can be more difficult.
"Opening a month early certainly took us by surprise," Stein said. "We didn't have any tap beer."
But it was 80 degrees, and people were calling. They had to open.
Courses adjust on the fly, and when the weather is nice, the golfers come out. Stein said the early spring extends the season and helps supply the demand.
"That's the nature of golf at this time of year," Stein said. "Everyone is chomping at the bit to get out."