FARGO-They're no longer hitting golf balls into a net in somebody's garage. The North Dakota State men's and women's golf programs acted the part of a Division I program when the school made the transition more than a decade ago.
Now the Bison look the part.
The latest addition is a 2,500-square foot Golf Short Game Facility that was completed last week in the Sanford Health Athletic Complex. Gone are those days years ago when Bison golf was considered one small step above an intramural sport.
"I know we're not one of the bigger sports, so this is nice to see the school put in all this work for us and made it pay off," said Bison junior Will Holmgren. "When I first got here we were 258th in the country and we got it down to 130. I know after all of this, the school is paying attention to us and they're here to help us grow. So that's great for us right now and great for the players coming in after I'm gone."
Take freshman Lucas Johnson from Fargo Shanley, whose family is experiencing the different commitment levels of college golf in a northern climate. His father, Mark Johnson, played at the University of North Dakota, which dropped the sport in 2016.
Lucas doesn't have to put a club down all year around, whether it's using all the clubs in his bag at the indoor bubble over Dacotah Field or the Short Game Facility.
"It was a tragedy to see the program in Grand Forks get dropped," Lucas said. "But to be able to have this opportunity and to show people golfing in North Dakota isn't something to be laughed at is great. And to be able to go out there and perform because of the facilities we have here is something special for sure."
The Short Game Facility occupies a third floor space in the northwest corner of the SHAC. For those needing further reference, it's located above the old pool area in the old Bison Sports Arena-a space most people didn't know existed.
"A lot of us that had been up to the old third floor saw it as a really scary spot," said Bison women's head coach Matt Johnson. "It was full of junk and equipment and it's not a place you wanted to be. There's more space up there than you would think and more than I thought there would be."
NDSU previously had a short game facility at a warehouse on Seventh Avenue North in Fargo. The new stuff has a large putting green that has a variety of flat and sloped surfaces. The chipping areas have longer fairway turf and one-inch rough to simulate different conditions. All of the turf is sand infilled.
In essence, the golf programs have their own corner of the world.
"Our guys can come up here anytime during the day between 6 in the morning and 11 at night," said Bison men's head coach Steve Kennedy. "It's more for them to work on certain aspects of their game. Golf is a little bit different than other sports. Will may need to work on chipping or Lucas may need to work on 5-foot putts. They all need something different most of the time."
Johnson said he'll hit the facility after dinner or if there's a break between classes.
"If I'm up here alone, I'll blast some music and work on some stuff," he said. "It's better than sitting around in your dorm room. There's a nice study area in here and when we get the TV in here, I don't know if I'll ever leave."
The women's team opened its season this week at the Texas State Invitational. The men's team begins its spring season this weekend at The Invitational at Savannah Harbor in Savannah, Ga.
Johnson said he's not sure yet how realistic the indoor turf will translate to real grass this week. He's also a northern-climate golfer who will probably figure it out quickly.
"My whole life growing up has been playing golf and hockey and as soon as the snow hit the ground, I put my clubs away and got out the stick and skates," he said. "To be able to have this and fine tune your game during the winter is leaps and bounds better than what I'm used to."