With the Class A state boys' and girls' golf tournaments just around the corner many area teams are fine-tuning their swings as they attempt to qualify for the tournament.
Many area teams appear to have a good shot at advancing, along with a plethora of individuals. This year's tournament, however, possesses some unfamiliarity for many teams.
Or does it?
Since 1982 the site of the Class A tournament has been the St. Cloud Country Club, but because the course's membership no longer wanted to host the event, the Minnesota State High School League has changed the site to Izatys Golf and Yacht Club in Onamia.
With two, 18-hole championship-style courses available, Izaty's appears to be a good pick. The boys will play the 2-year-old Black Brook course while the girls will tackle the Sanctuary. Both courses will challenge the preps, but some teams may have an advantage.
"It's a course that we used to golf quite regularly when we golfed against Onamia in their invitational," said Crosby-Ironton Rangers girls' coach Deb Hoffman. "The Sanctuary is similar to what the kids see during the course of the season. It's a very nice course, but you have to place your golf ball where you want it. We see a lot of that at Ruttger's and the Pines and Preserve."
During the course of the regular season, teams like C-I, Staples-Motley and Pequot Lakes, which have expectations of advancing to state, play many resort-style courses similar to Izatys.
So far this year those three schools have played the Legacy Courses at Cragun's, the Classic at Madden's Resort and the Preserve and Pines courses at Grand View Lodge to name a few. Plus, living in this area high school golfers are able to play challenging courses all summer.
That championship-course experience might give them an edge come June 7-8, the dates of the state tournament.
"I think it will be a little bit of an advantage, especially with courses that are more confining like Izatys is," said C-I boys' coach Rich Aulie. "It may help them.
"The one thing this course will do is identify the better golfer."
Aulie was a member of the advisory committee that helped the MSHSL decide where to conduct the tournament. He has mixed emotions about the site, though. Aulie said the good thing is the course is centrally located, which wouldn't put additional pressure on a team's travel distance. But he did say it will be a challenging course.
"It's going to be a very difficult course for the kids to play," said Aulie, "especially for the No. 5 and 6 golfers on the team who aren't as accomplished. They're going to have a tough time navigating that course."
Hoffman reiterated that fact, saying course management is essential to conquering Izatys.
"There are holes that are totally open and wind is a factor on those," she said. "You're getting tree-lined fairways but you're also getting some water holes and that makes club selection crucial."
Thanks to the Onamia Invitational April 28, C-I, S-M, Pequot and Wadena-Deer Creek have already played the course. So has Caledonia, which was at the state tournament last year. S-M won the tournament with Caledonia second. C-I was fourth and Pequot, playing without its top golfer, Jackie Heslop, finished fifth.
In order to find the new tournament site, MSHSL executive director Dave Stead, who is also director of the golf tournaments, looked at eight different courses and evaluated them on course quality, facilities and price. Izatys ranked first in all categories.
"The state high school league paid $25 per golfer, per day, at St. Cloud," said Aulie. "St. Cloud made $25,000 just on the green fees. Izatys is lower and that's why they got the bid."
Hoffman guesses that members of the St. Cloud Country Club didn't care about the extra income and were tired of giving up their course for three days.
Despite the concern about the course set up and the challenges it creates for golfers, Stead believes Izatys will prove to be a great site. He pointed to the fact that during the summer a few Minnesota Golf Association junior tournaments are played there.
"We've adjusted some of the lengths of the Sanctuary course but other than that the course is going to play as it did last year," said Stead.
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