Despite temperatures in the mid-30s, the golf balls flew as students from Benilde-St. Margaret's gathered Monday afternoon for boys' golf team practice.
"Just set up every shot like you're in a match," coach Dave Herbst told the boys. "We're watching every shot."
The bright yellow golf balls didn't land on the gently rolling hills of any nearby golf course, though. They landed in the plowed mud on the driving range of the Golf Zone in Chaska.
Frozen fields and unseasonable April cold have kept hundreds of youth, adult and high school teams sidelined and administrators sweating and scrambling to figure out how to get the games in. Driving ranges and places with indoor turf are being swamped with calls from organizers desperate for a place to practice.
Monday was supposed to be the season opener for sand volleyball players in Minneapolis, but the start of league games was pushed back at least until next week due snowy, wet conditions.
High school baseball, softball and lacrosse games that were supposed to have been played this week on fields maintained by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board have been called off. And with midweek rain followed by more cold and possible snow over the weekend, the outlook doesn't bode well for athletes and coaches who are itching to get out there and play.
"We are nervous," said Brent Kath, who works for the Park Board and is responsible for getting hundreds of athletic fields in playable condition. "Typically we are already into the season at this point in time. This has put us behind the eight ball."
It's pricey for Benilde-St. Margaret's and other high schools to practice two or three times a week at year-round driving ranges like Golf Zone, where golfers hit from heated stalls. Matches scheduled in the next two weeks have pretty much been canceled, coaches said, and even some practices aren't happening because of the weather.
In his pep talk to his players Monday, Herbst said the first match might be the week of April 29.
"There's nothing I can do about the weather," he said. "Just make sure you get all your schoolwork done.
"It's incredibly frustrating for the kids," he said a short time later. "We'll be really busy" once matches actually start. "You just gotta be positive."
Other sports — soccer, baseball and softball — are finding it tougher to find place to practice. Indoor options are scarce as gyms and facilities such as the Northeast Ice Arena with turf fields already have a full slate of activities that can't be bumped for groups that normally would be outside.
"Even the suburbs are calling and saying, 'You have a turf field, can you get me in?' " said Jack Bartsh, who oversees athletics for the Park Board. "It's frustrating because there is no place to put people."
Another chilly week
A sudden and dramatic warmup — which is not in the seven-day forecast, according to the National Weather Service — will not solve the field crunch. Frost needs to leave the ground and things need to dry out before fields can be used. Hockey boards frozen in the ground still need to be removed and the greenery made ready for play. That means one to two weeks after the cold snap breaks, Kath said.
"We might have to lose some adult programs and keep the youth programs," Bartsh said. "I've been with the Park Board for 20 years, and it's never been this late in April without being able to get on the fields."
The intention is to get all the games in, he emphasized.
That's true for the Minneapolis Public Schools, said Dave Wicker, the interim director of athletics for the district.
"There is a lot of red on my calendar," he said, noting the 33 games that have been scrubbed this week. "We are not at the point of canceling, but the season will be compressed. If we get some cooperation, we hope we can get something started next week."
It's not simple to move a game. A field has to be secured, umpires retained and transportation lined up. In short, it's a daunting task for each cancellation.
"We hope for good weather next week," Wicker said. "We are keeping our fingers crossed."
'Tough pill to swallow'
Businesses have also felt the pinch. The Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids had its earliest opening day in its 50-year history last year when golfers hit the links on March 3. They had already logged thousands of rounds before the calendar turned to April.
So far, the number of rounds played this year: zero.
"It's a tough pill to swallow," said Tim Anderson, Bunker Hills Golf Club's director of golf operations.
The course normally is open by April 1, but it might be another 10 days before that happens this year. But they won't be booking many tee times until the weather improves, Anderson said.
After a high in the 50s both Wednesday and Thursday, another round of rain is expected to move in Friday and that could mix with snow Friday night and Saturday when temperatures will slide back into the 30s.
Last year at this time, the Benilde boys' golf team would have been practicing at Meadowbrook Golf Club.
"You just gotta hope for good weather and for it to dry out," said Benilde junior Henry Witterschein, 16, of Chanhassen.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768
Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252