As much of the country shivers away, most of us are watching our golf games wither away. You know who's got real big smiles on their faces, though? The golf coaches at several big Midwestern universities.
A few days ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting piece on how several golf programs at colleges up in Cold Country are thriving despite their golf-unfriendly winters. The secret is what writer John Paul Newport calls ''the arms race in luxurious new indoor practice facilities.''
And just as important, he notes, is that the most successful coaches at these northern schools are positiong their chilly locales as a positive rather than a negative during their ever-more-successful recruiting effort.
"Weather for sure is our biggest obstacle in recruiting against the Southern schools," Illinois Men's Coach Mike Small – well-known to PGA.com readers as a PGA Professional and quite a successful player in his own right – told the newspaper. "But we believe strongly that for certain players with certain mind-sets, the atmosphere and the coaching up here is going to help them become better players faster than they would if they went to some place with warm weather."
Illinois, we remember, finished second to Alabama in last spring's NCAA Championship, and is one of only six schools to make it into the 30-team NCAA team finals for six years running. That includes 2010, when Scott Langley won the individual championship. Langley is now on the PGA Tour, where other Illini alumni include Steve Stricker, Luke Guthrie and D.A. Points.
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Small's Illinois program was the first Big Ten school to create a state-of-the-art indoor practice palace, the 14,150-square-foot Demirjian Golf Practice Facility for both its men's and women's squads. The $5.2 million structure, which opened in 2007, has a 6,300-square-foot short game area that includes putting green, sand bunkers and different strains of artificial grass; six heated hitting bays that open onto the range so players can see the full arc of their shots; and team locker rooms, coaches' offices and a spacious team lounge.
"That was huge," Small told the newspaper. "We improved so much that winter, the team shot lower scores in our first two tournaments in February than we had averaged in the fall."
At least six other Big Ten schools have opened similar facilities since then, the paper said, adding that Ohio State in January will open one so big that its short-game area is large enough to service a Space Shuttle.
Practicing indoors during the winter is preferable to working on technique and building confidence, Small said, while Northwestern Coach Pat Goss – best known as Luke Donald's longtime instructor explains that working indoors in the winter is ''our best chance, as coaches, to make our guys different, better players.''