Golfers in Central Kentucky -- not to mention the entire state or most of the United States for that matter -- will have had a hard time playing for most of the past three months. The winter has been brutal across the country, and certainly in the Lexington, Ky., area.
For a college golf team, especially one in Kentucky, snow -- in addition to cold -- can seriously hinder success on the course. Without a place to put in the work needed to hone their games before the start of college golf's spring season -- which really begins in February -- golfers run into all sorts of challenges.
And up until this season Kentucky's golf teams have had to combat those challenges, but not anymore.
In recent months the Wildcats have begun using a new all-conditions practice facility. Thus, both the men's and women's teams have a place to put in year-round work for a sport that demands constant repetitions to be great.
"Twenty-six straight days of snow has been a little bit tough for our teams, but to their credit a few years back we won a SEC Championship in men's golf and we didn't have this facility, so it can be done," Athletics director Mitch Barnhart said at the UK Golf House's official opening. "But I think this gives us the added dimension that it gives us the chance to compete in the SEC. I think it gives us a chance in this league, being the northernmost school in the league in a sport that is sunshine-driven. It's really important for us to have an opportunity to have a facility like this.
"It gives our golf teams a home, where they can put their gear and work at it on a daily basis."
Players must constantly hone their games - even when the weather is bad -- and up until recently practicing in inclement weather was a challenge for the Wildcats, but the teams' new practice facility gives them state-of-the-art solutions to the problems posed by Mother Nature, which any golfer can relate to.
Included in the new facility, located at the University Club in Lexington, are multiple covered, heated outdoor hitting bays that open out to a driving range and feature mirrors and cameras for in-depth swing analysis, as well as a large indoor putting/chipping green that would be better described as a short-game paradise in addition to beautiful, yet cozy office, lounge and locker-room spaces.
Both Brian Craig, the men's team's head coach, and Golda Borst, the women's team's head coach have been pleased with the new facility in its early stages of use.
"Mitch is right I've been kind of harassing him about this for quite a few years now. When we recruit kids that aren't in the state of Kentucky, we don't tell them what the temperatures are in January and February up here," Craig joked. "Now we have a building we can provide that's really going to give them a chance to practice and train. You can see what some of our teams have been doing, both the women's and the men's, the last month in here.
"We've been doing some great work, really productive, and the women had a really good showing their first outing, which is not easy to do in February in Kentucky. Thank you to Mitch for putting this together because it would not have happened if he didn't support golf the way that he does in supporting these young men and women."
Both the Wildcats' men's and women's teams have gotten off to strong starts in 2014, and as Craig suggested, much of that success can be attributed to their ability to practice more parts of their games when conditions prevent them from actually getting on the course.
The UK men's team has turned in six top-five finishes in as many tournaments this season, including a runner-up result at the season-opening Mobile Bay Intercollegiate in mid-February and more recently a fourth-place performance at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate.
The UK women's team also had a strong 2014 opener, placing fourth at the UCF Intercollegiate, before turning in a top-15 at last weekend's Darius Rucker Intercollegiate against one of the nation's top fields.
The women's team also has an excitement around it, and not just from the new facility. The team is began the year ranked No. 17 in Golfweek's rankings after its best fall season in years, meaning the Wildcats take plenty of momentum into the rest of the campaign.
The new practice options certainly can't hurt the forward direction of both the men's and women's teams.
Borst certainly seems optimistic.
"It's really turned out fantastic better than Brian and I could have imagined," Borst said. "To have an opportunity to have this building is huge for us especially in the SEC, it's such a strong conference for both men's and women's teams. I really want to reiterate how important this is for the future success of our teams. I think you will see a difference in how we play throughout the spring here."