For years Montana's golf coaches were forced to tell prospective golfers they would have to rely on nets, simulators and mirrors to keep their swings grooved when the temperatures dropped. And for the short game? Well, there really were no answers -- until now.
Montana broke ground Monday at the Ranch Club on a new indoor practice facility that will allow its team of seven to continue working on just about every phase of the game when the ground is frozen and covered with snow.
The 1,500-square-foot steel structure is being built on the south side of the driving range at the Ranch Club Golf Course just west of Missoula. The only indoor facility of its kind in the Big Sky Conference, the structure includes four hitting bays that open into the course's driving range, allowing golfers to study their flight paths instead of relying on nets and simulators.
"The UM golf facility is coming to fruition because of the support and generosity of several individuals and local businesses, our Montana State Golf Association and our Grizzly Scholarship Association chapters across the state of Montana," Stephens said Tuesday morning.
The building will also include a putting green and chipping area the program purchased from Play Gr8 Golf, a now shuttered indoor facility the program used last season until it closed its doors.
Stevens said the putting and chipping green is a grass-like turf that has a sand and dirt base that replicates real playing conditions.
"We're the next to most northern team in our conference so we fight the weather," Stephens said. "We have some teams who have a little bit of an advantage as far as weather over where we are in Montana. So this will be a big deal."
Montana won its only Big Sky crown in 2006 and hasn't finished higher than fourth since. The program has produced two individual titlists; Katie Jacobson claimed the first in 2003 and Jasi Acharya in 2006.
With the addition of the new facility -- which is planned to be completed sometime within the next six weeks according to Fred Carl of Carl Construction -- Stevens sees little reason why the Griz can't consistently challenge for future titles.
It should also make recruiting southern states, where four of the Grizzlies' seven golfers are native to, a little easier, Stephens said.
"This is kind of our missing puzzle piece," Montana's second-year coach said. "For us, our championship season is our spring season so we have to be able to adequately prepare over the winter time and this will help us to do that."
Upon her hiring prior to the 2013-14 season, Stephen's started to scour about for a building that would allow her golfers to overcome Montana's nasty winter climate. Eventually she received a call informing her that the exact building she was looking for was being liquidated and was available for far less than previously quoted.
The Ranch Club allowed the structure to be placed on its property, with the caveat that club members be allowed to use the facility when Montana was not.
"We're very thankful to them for allowing us to do that," Stephens said. "They're as excited as we are."
Montana was selected by Big Sky coaches to finish third in the conference's preseason polls. The Griz begin their season March 10 at the Donnis Thompson Invitational in Oahu, Hawaii.