LEWISTON – On the upper level of what used to be a barn, in a room that used to be a hayloft, is where the golf teams from Lewiston-Altura High School dream of what might be.
The Cardinals have a big indoor advantage during this spring that never wanted to be sprung. While other golf teams are endlessly hitting balls into nets or padded gymnasium walls, the Lewiston-Altura girls and boys teams are cranking out full-bore tee shots, working on their short game and even sinking actual putts into actual cups.
Since the official start of practice on March 18, the Cardinals have been using their indoor home away from home inside the non-denominational Crossings Center. The facility was built by Joel Hennessy, the brother of Lewiston-Altura girls and boys golf coach Julie Hennessy, and the erstwhile hayloft gives the golfers ample opportunity to prepare before heading outdoors.
“It gives us a head start on the season,” said junior Elizabeth Hennessy, Joel’s daughter and the Cardinals’ top returning player. “It gives us an opportunity to practice when there’s still snow on the ground in Minnesota.”
Senior Sydney Rinn said of the weather, “It’s not really what anyone wants, but it’s really frustrating. Last year we had a lot (of outdoor experience) by this time.”
The Cardinals girls team knows all about preparation and success, having won the last two Class 1A state championships. In 2011 they won with a 46-stroke margin over the field and four individuals among the top nine; their margin last season was 15 shots with three golfers in the top 10. Elizabeth Hennessy tied for seventh place at state as a ninth-grader in 2011 and shared ninth place a year ago.
After school Tuesday, the Cardinals took their clubs out of their cars and carried them up a stairway at the former barn. The upper level is split, with half of the space filled with comfortable couches, tables and chairs, and a stage for musical performances. Behind the stage -- in a heated room with netting on three sides, four turf mats, a lengthy strip of artificial “rough” and a putting green with five cups – is where the golf season begins. As of Tuesday, the Lewiston-Altura teams had been outdoors exactly once this spring, hitting range balls at Lewiston Country Club. So having the Crossings Center available has been very important.
“This spring it means everything,” said Julie Hennessy. “It gave us the opportunity to hit and just get the feel; it’s easier to make swing changes when they’re not outside. It gave them the opportunity to at least do something; you can’t go over rules for three weeks.”
The first available date for golf competitions was March 28, meaning teams across Minnesota have already missed nearly a month of their season. Lewiston-Altura is scheduled to begin subsection play on May 20, so once the season begins it will go by in a flash. (Pictured are returning girls players Elizabeth Hennessy, Brittnie Kieselhorst, Sydney Rinn and Mandy Ranvik.)
“It is going to be fast and furious. I can’t even imagine,” said Julie Hennessy, who also coaches the women’s golf team at Winona State University and is the course pro at Lewiston Country Club. Hennessy, a Lewiston native, was the Class 1A state champ in 1982, captained the golf team at the University of Minnesota and played on the LPGA tour. This is her ninth season as the Lewiston-Altura coach.
“I don’t recall anything like this spring,” she said. “The owner of the course said his latest opening date was April 23, and that was in my senior year in high school here.”
About $5,000 has been spent on equipping the indoor golf facility, which includes 400 golf balls. The Lewiston-Altura girls and boys teams practice there on alternate days, which helps ensure no one gets physically worn out before playing one round of outdoor golf.
“These guys are rapid fire in there,” Julie Hennessy said. “It’s fun to listen to them hit balls, because on that wooden floor (beneath the mats) you can hear the contact they’re making with the ball. You can tell the difference ability-wise.”
The Cardinals regularly hold indoor competitions, trying to chip balls through hula hoops or into small, round nets attached to the nets on the walls. And as the weather improves and spring actually arrives, the players will be well-prepared to play real golf on real golf courses. Which will be, uh, different.
“You forget what the ball looks like when it’s flying,” said Elizabeth Hennessy. “You’re so used to hitting into the net.”
--See a photo gallery from Lewiston-Altura on the MSHSL Facebook page.
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(*During the 2012-13 school year)
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