New Ulm Country Club lies in wait

NEW ULM – Just when it appeared that New Ulm Country Club was going to be ready to open for golf, this past week’s wintry weather came along and held golf season hostage.

After initially planning to open the course for play this past week, NUCC PGA Golf Professional Tim Huffman is hoping that warmer temperatures forecast for early this week will allow the course to open by midweek, with Wednesday the current target date.

Huffman is eager to get players out on the course as soon as possible, but has to wait until night-time temperatures are consistently above freezing.

“We’re just excited for some warm weather, it’s been a long winter,” Huffman said. “We’re ready to kick it off, get some people out here golfing, eating, drinking, and having fun.”

This year New Ulm Country Club will have plenty to offer when golf season finally hits full stride, including special rates to encourage new membership and a revamped restaurant, the Cottonwood Grille.

Recently hired head chef Todd Kreilkamp unveiled his new menu at the Cottonwood Grille a few weeks ago, but many members have yet to make the trip to the club to experience the new food. Once golfers hit the course, Huffman expects that few of them will be able to resist the fresh, home-made recipes that Kreilkamp has on offer.

“I’m expecting a lot more traffic [at the Cottonwood Grille] this summer when the weather’s nice,” Huffman said. “It’s a nice setting to come and have something to eat – the food is absolutely unbelieveable. We’ve had so many good comments about the food, he’s cooking with all fresh ingredients and home-made recipes, so that’s always good.”

Huffman feels that compared to some courses that are similar in size – which often focus on providing pre-packaged food options that are quick and easy – NUCC’s emphasis on quality food service will be greatly appreciated by members and visitors at the club this season. The restaurant’s success has contributed to Huffman being able to hire a bigger staff than he had last season.

“That’s been the key to our success, is if they want it, give it to them,” Huffman said. “Golfers don’t want to eat vacuum-packed sandwiches, they want to eat a fresh wrap, or whatever. That’s kind of been our motto, is if the people want it, we give it to them. That’s true with the golf and with everything.”

For the third time in the past 15 years, NUCC will be offering a special offer for entry-level members, which will provide a discount for their first three years of membership (details in the box to the right). The previous times the offer has been extended were highly successful, with a member retention rate between 60-65 percent.

“The thinking behind the three-year plan was get them here, get them adapted, get them used to it,” Huffman said. “Over three years they’re going to know a lot of people by the time their three years is up, so they’ll have friends to golf with.”

The club has members from all around the area and also has members from as far afield as the Twins Cities. Membership discounts apply to those that live further away from the course.

Although joining as a member is the only way to enjoy the full spectrum of perks available at NUCC, Huffman has continued to emphasize his philosophy that the club benefits much more by being inclusive to the entire community rather than just catering to members.

“We did some other things to get the community of New Ulm to be able to use the facility more,” Huffman said. “The community has to support the facility if we want to keep it nice and want to keep making the improvements that we’re making.”

In order to encourage increased use by non-members in the community, the course is open for unlimited golf by non-members until about mid May and again at the end of the season. Non-members can also golf once a month in June, July and August.

Those that want to use the course on a more regular basis but still aren’t up for purchasing a full membership can buy a limited membership that allows for a certain number of rounds, but doesn’t provide all the same perks as a full membership.

The course has a special rate of $36 for 18 holes and a cart for locals that are non-members. Non-members are also free to enter in tournaments.

“We’ve tried to find a way for everybody that golfs in this community and around it to be able to play golf here,” Huffman said.

In terms of the course itself, there were some projects that were completed late last fall that will help add some fresh character to the course this season.

The most noticeable difference is that the tee boxes on Holes 16 and 17 have been leveled out and increased in size, with the retaining walls that were added also giving a nice aesthetic effect. There were also 11 new trees planted in various places throughout the course.

For golfers who feel that it is taking forever to get back on the course, having been spoiled with an early golf season last spring is likely the cause of that feeling.

Last year New Ulm Country Club and golf courses all around the state received a pleasant surprise when an early spring allowed them to open in mid March. However, this year’s opening date at NUCC will be more in tune with the usual date for its golf opener.

To put last year’s situation in perspective, the previous high turnout for golfers in the month of March since Huffman started working at NUCC in 1997 was 344, which was reached in 2000. Last year 500 golfers used the course during a three-day stretch over opening weekend alone, with 1,470 total golfers using the course before April 1.

“I’ve been in the golf business for over 30 years in Minnesota, and last year was the first time I’ve ever seen that happen,” Huffman said.

With the course ready and lying in wait, the only thing left to do is to wait for winter to finally surrender and allow the 2013 golf season to begin.

“Everybody’s itching to play, we’re all itching to play, and we want to get them out there as quick as we can,” Huffman said. “But we’ve got to make sure things are right.”

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