SSM: Building up golf program with indoor facility

It may be cold outside, but golfers at Shattuck-St. Mary’s can go inside to use this new indoor facility on the prep school's campus.

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NHL All-Stars Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews have helped make Shattuck-St. Mary’s known as a factory for young hockey talent in Faribault, Minn. Ten, 15 years down the road, Director of Golf Mike Higdon hopes a few PGA and LPGA Tour alumni can do the same for the golf program.

The sixth-through-12th-grade boarding school has taken what it believes is one of the biggest steps toward that vision by constructing a $550,000 indoor facility, which opened Dec. 9.

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The new locker rooms at Shattack-St. Mary's indoor facility.

The facility includes a 2,800-square-foot turf room with a putting and chipping green, a 550-square-foot video and putting analysis room with JC Video software and TOMI putting system, a 700-square-foot study room, locker rooms and offices.

“Our whole goal was to mimic some of the top facilities in the Midwest, look at their facilities and try to emulate as best as we could those things they have and what would give our kids the best opportunity to practice and call a home,” Higdon said.

Higdon, along with coach Sarah Butler, runs the nearly 3-year-old boarding school golf program. Higdon’s seen his numbers grow from six to 13, attracting students from South Korea to nearby parts of Minnesota.

The goal is to prepare kids for college golf, and beyond – a hefty task for a school in the Midwest, where Higdon estimates about six months are cut off from practicing outdoors due to the weather. The purpose of the new facilities is to allow the golfers to practice, even when it’s freezing outside.

“With the 12 (students) we have now, we were praying the weather would stay nice and we could get in as much as we could because we just didn’t have the space and the resources to practice,” Higdon said before the opening of the new facility. “Building a golf program in Minnesota for high school kids, it’s a challenge in the great North here. Parents say, ‘Why would I send my kid up there to practice golf?’ It’s a big investment to put ($550,000) in an indoor facility, so they wanted to make sure the premise of the program was going to take off and be successful.”

Shattuck-St. Mary’s travels around the country, competing in AJGA and Future Collegians World Tour (FCWT) events and going toe-to-toe with schools from warm-weather states, where dodging below-zero temperatures is never a concern.

“It’s hard to compete on a national level or at a higher level when you’re only playing golf for half of the year,” said Greg Eisenhuth, whose son, Sam, is a senior in the program. “Shattuck is known for its hockey program being one of the best in the nation. It’s modeling its golf program after its hockey program and that’s been a big success. I think the same thing will happen with golf once they get this facility going and continue their excellence with the best teachers and the best facilities.”

Eisenhuth would know. He and his wife, Kim, have seen what national exposure can do.

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Some players practice at the new indoor facility at Shattack-St. Mary's.

“(Sam’s) had the opportunity to play in several national tournaments. Last year, around this time, he was playing out in California and he shot a couple of his best rounds, a 69 and a 71,” Kim said. “While he was playing in that tournament, the coach from Master’s College in Santa Clarita was following him. It was because of that exposure that he is going to The Master’s College, and they offered him a scholarship to go and play there.

“And that’s something that would have never, ever happened if he had stayed (at home).”

Part of the benefit of playing at a boarding school is the college preparation. Nathan Zhao, a junior in the program, came to Minnesota from Guam, and, after adjusting to the weather, he learned some of the finer points of independent living.

“Not living with my parents (was the biggest adjustment),” Nathan said. “I had to do everything by myself – doing my own laundry, going to eat, stuff like that.”

Students in the program practice for nearly two hours during school days as a part of their class regimen, but were forced to shoot shots of 100 yards or less in a multi-purpose dome and putt on 10-foot mats in a gym before the facility upgrades.

“(Sam) said the first time they went into the new hitting bay … he said they were able to identify five teeny, tiny mistakes in his swing he needed to correct,” Kim said. “I believe that they have a very solid groundwork there, and the kids that are there as eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders are really going to benefit from this system.”

Greg said the “sky’s the limit” for the program, but Higdon would like to keep his feet on the ground.

“We want to keep it where we can give the individual attention to these kids, where the player-to-coach ratio is at a good number,” Higdon said. “We don’t want to turn this into a factory. I believe what we have is building a relationship with these kids and giving them something to offer that they can’t find at other places — the one-on-one coaching attention and the combination of academics and social life.”

Higdon said that the school is looking to start another phase of construction within the next year, which would include the addition of three enclosed, heated hitting bays.

Shattuck-St. Mary’s will have the luxury of practicing as the winter ramps up in Minnesota, much like the opponents they’ll face when they travel to California, Arizona and Florida throughout the year for tournaments.

“The past two years we’ve had this program, we’ve been able to compete with kids from California and from Florida,” Higdon said. “Kids in the Midwest lose a lot of opportunity not being outside (during colder months), and we want to provide them with that opportunity where they don’t lose a beat."

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