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Mitchell: The home of state golf for South Dakota?

Golfers are silhouetted on the green of the sixth hole at Wild Oak Golf Course in Mitchell Wednesday afternoon. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

The DakotaDome in Vermillion is South Dakota's home for high school football championships.

For the Class B state high school wrestling meet, it's Aberdeen's Barnett Center.

The two cities and venues have become synonymous with those annual events over the years, while Mitchell has lost state tournaments and now has no signature state high school event.

On Monday and Tuesday, for the first time, Mitchell will host the combined Class B state golf tournament, which will be split between the two courses in the city, Lakeview Municipal and Wild Oak. Mitchell's Lakeview has hosted state Class AA tournaments in the past, but this year marks the first time the combined Class B event -- which means both the boys and girls will compete on separate courses in the same city -- will be in Mitchell.

With Class B wrestling using Aberdeen on a regular basis, and Vermillion's DakotaDome hosting the state football title games annually, should Mitchell attempt to become the go-to site for state golf?

"Our kids like really golfing in Mitchell," said Howard Activities Director Pat Ruml, whose school will be represented at state by both its girls and boys teams. "Mitchell has lost out on some state tournaments in the past few years. Having state golf, that might be one of the few things they get."

Mitchell is one of 13 cities in South Dakota with two or more 18-hole courses within close proximity to one another. That's one of the prerequisites to host the Class B state golf tournament. When the tournaments start Monday, the Class B girls will play at Lakeview and the boys will be at Wild Oak. They will stick with those courses on the final day Tuesday.

Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Jacki Miskimins said hosting state high school golf on a regular basis would be good for the economic vitality of the city. It brings roughly 200 high school golfers to town, plus families, fans and coaches.

"We know that while there are a number of cities in South Dakota that can host state golf, we feel that the spectators, fans and the players themselves enjoy Mitchell," Miskimins said. "We would love to be affiliated as the home of golf for South Dakota."

'An advantage for Mitchell'

To host the Class B state boys and girls golf tournaments, which take place on the same dates and at the same time, a city must have two courses in close proximity. That's partially because a number of Class B schools have one head coach, and the coach needs the ability to travel back and forth between courses.

"A lot of teams have one coach for boys and girls, and to be able to provide the opportunity for them to be able to be there to support the kids as much as they can at both venues is an important factor," said South Dakota High School Activities Association Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand.

Wild Oak Clubhouse Manager Dave Backlund Jr. said Mitchell has an advantage bidding for state golf tournaments because both of its courses are open to the public.

"A number of sites have two courses, but one may be private," Backlund said. "Sometimes private courses don't want those players or those tournaments on their courses. I definitely think it's an advantage for Mitchell."

Among the other cities able to host the Class B tournament are Aberdeen, Brookings, Dakota Dunes, Huron, Pierre, Rapid City, Spearfish, Watertown and Yankton. Sioux Falls is capable of holding the event by itself, or in conjunction with nearby Brandon, Harrisburg or Hartford.

Krogstrand said because Wild Oak and Lakeview are near each other, it allows the city, in cooperation with a nearby Class B school, to bid for the event. Any school may bid for the tournament, which includes a proposal for where the event will be and which school will host.

This year, Plankinton School District is hosting the 2014 Class B golf tournament in Mitchell.

Plankinton Athletic Director Todd Karst said the process for getting the tournament was simple, as his district only had to submit a request to the activities association, and the tournament was awarded.

Aside from his duties as activities director, Karst is also the golf coach for Plankinton, which plays high school golf as a cooperative with Mount Vernon.

Karst spearheaded the movement four years ago to bring the Class B tournaments to Mitchell. Any Class B school from the area can be named host. Krogstrand said the host must be within a close distance to the tournament site. The exact distance the school needs to be in relation to the tournament's site is not defined by the activities association.

"We were going everywhere across the state for golf and I knew when Wild Oak went to 18 holes, it was going to mature and provide an opportunity for the state tournament to be in Mitchell," Karst said. The second nine holes were added 10 years ago.

Karst and Plankinton school officials are supervising the tournament and are responsible for helping to bring in volunteers to keep track of tournament scoring.

Mitchell Activities Director Geoff Gross said he is doing what he can to help Karst in hosting the event, such as providing equipment and a trailer from Mitchell High School.

"Todd has it pretty well under control and knows what he is doing," Gross said. "Plankinton is the official host and has been gracious enough to bring this event to the Mitchell community. It is very important that the event goes well. For the average fan, if they come into Mitchell and have a great experience, that reflects well on Mitchell."

Lakeview has hosted a Class AA meet -- which is for the largest school districts such as Mitchell -- in 2008 and 2012 and will again in 2016.

In 2008, the Class AA girls were at Mitchell's Lakeview. In 2012, the Class AA boys were at Lakeview. Sabers said the Class AA girls tournament is returning to Mitchell in 2016.

Wild Oak is hosting a high school championship for the first time in its 85 years of existence.

The course has hosted big tournaments in the past, including the Great Plains Athletic Conference qualifier tournament. That's one of the championship meets for the Dakota Wesleyan University men's and women's golf teams.

"I think it is a great deal to have the kids play on a new course," Backlund said about Wild Oak's first state tournament. "It brings a lot of people to town and it's nice that they can do both in the same city at one time."

Losing state tournaments

Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy said he is excited about having Class B state golf in Mitchell, and added that the city is looking at options for bringing more state competitions to town. The Mitchell Sports and Events Authority -- a group that aims to increase nonresident spending in Mitchell through the expansion, recruitment and development of multi-day events -- has met regularly over the last three months to work on ways to drive events to town. The authority was created recently with an extra $1-per-night tax on occupied hotel rooms in the city, a measure that also helped fund the addition of a second indoor ice rink at the Mitchell Activities Center.

There are some events that may never call Mitchell home again, though, including high school basketball, which made regular appearances at the Corn Palace in the early 1990s. The activities association has since determined there is not enough seating in the Corn Palace to host state basketball.

"Given the requirements established by the activities association, Mitchell is certainly going to be limited in regards to hosting basketball and things of that nature," Tracy said. "I guess we are just going to have to live with that."

Staff for the activities association released a report in January showing the deficiencies some communities have as state meet and state tournament hosts. Based on the report, Mitchell was previously eligible but no longer meets the guidelines to host state competitive cheer and dance, state soccer and all-state band. Fifteen communities received deficiency marks in one to as many as eight events.

Some of the deficiencies listed on the report were for not having enough hotel rooms, not having enough seating in venues and not enough restaurants open to feed competitors.

According to the activities association report, Mitchell meets the requirements to host three sports for state events. It can host cross country and golf, and one class of volleyball.

State soccer will be played in Mitchell in 2014 and 2015, because the city was awarded the events prior to the new guidelines. Tracy sounded hopeful that Mitchell will be able to continue to host state soccer, but the SDHSAA is looking toward always playing it at facilities with artificial turf.

Krogstrand emphasized that the new guidelines are not law, but a suggestion for future sites. Ultimately, the SDHSAA board of directors decides where all state tournaments are held.

The new guidelines also revealed that Mitchell and its facilities no longer meet the requirements to host state cheer and dance due to the seating capacity at the Corn Palace being below the minimum of 2,700.

Mitchell was scheduled to host the Class A and Class AA state competitive cheer and dance event Oct. 24-25 at the Corn Palace. The school won its first-ever bid to host the state cheer and dance meet three years ago. Now, the meet will be in Watertown, because it was realized by the activities association and Gross that the Corn Palace would not have enough seats to host all spectators.

Tracy said there are no plans to equip the Pepsi-Cola Soccer Complex with field turf or to increase seating at the Corn Palace.

Future tournaments

Tracy said Mitchell will continue to seek future state tournaments, including soccer. The SDHSAA will review any bid for a state tournament before voting on it. The eight-member board has the final say on state tournament sites.

"It think some folks in the city are disappointed at some of the reasons that we can't host some events in Mitchell, but are understanding that different events have different requirements," said Miskimins, the Mitchell CVB director. "Sometimes Mitchell fits the bill, and sometimes it doesn't."

From the 2013-14 school year until the end of the 2015-16 school year, Mitchell will have hosted seven state tournaments, with two being soccer. The Corn Palace played host to Class AA volleyball last November and will see Class B volleyball this year, while the two Class B golf tournaments this season and Class AA girls in 2016 will be played at Mitchell's courses.

During the same timeframe, Rapid City will host 20 events, Sioux Falls 17 and Aberdeen 12, giving 52 percent of the state's events to three cities. Sioux Falls will be home to all three state volleyball tournaments for the 2015-16 school year. The event is typically divided among three sites, one for each class.

The SDHSAA typically awards state tournaments three years ahead of the event's scheduled date. The next round of host sites will be voted on at a board meeting in June. The next school year that will be voted on for state tournaments is 2016-17.

The Class A golf tournament is eligible to be held in Mitchell, but traditionally goes to Class A sites. Krogstrand said there are 13 Class A schools that are eligible to host the tournament, and they all typically put in to host. The Class A event for the girls is in Spearfish this year, which is a Class AA school.

Mitchell has never hosted the Class A tournament, while Milbank, Hot Springs and Madison are among the Class A schools scheduled to host over the next two years.

Parkston golf coach Tyler Hockett said he has talked recently with Parkston Activities Director Rob Van Laecken about the possibility of hosting the Class A tournament in Mitchell.

"We had a conversation a couple of weeks ago, and I said I would be more than willing to go forward with hosting," Hockett said. "I think Mitchell is an excellent place to host a state tournament, with two solid courses."

Showing what Mitchell golf has to offer

Until 20 years ago, Wild Oak was a private country club. The facility, which originally opened in 1929, is now open to the public and plays a bit different than most courses. The original nine-hole course features plenty of tree cover that can create a hazard on an errant shot, but also aids in blocking the wind on blustery days.

The second nine holes added 10 years ago at Wild Oak made the course eligible to become a site to host state high school golf meets and provided a different challenge with an open links style layout.

"It is not uncommon for a player to shoot really low on one side and then have trouble on the other," Backlund said. "It's like playing two different courses for sure."

Wild Oak will play at 6,300 yards for the Class B boys tournament on Monday and Tuesday.

Lakeview has been a staple of the Mitchell community since 1926 when the first nine holes were built, while the second nine was opened in 1977. Sabers said Lakeview's tree-lined layout will provide one of the longest challenges for girls high school golfers at 5,708 yards.

"I've seen just about every course in the state for high school and haven't found one within 100 yards of that length," Sabers said. "If you hit it straight you are going to score."

With the winter months over and warm weather slowly returning to Mitchell, the courses are getting ready for not just the high school competitions, but for the prime golf season. Both Backlund and Sabers said the courses will be ready for the state tournaments Monday.

"It's spring golf in South Dakota," Backlund said. "We've got our winterkill like every other course, but for the most part, it's ready to go. It's going to be in as good of playing shape as it can be this time of year."

Backlund said the course's groundskeepers plan to mow down the rough a bit to speed up the pace of play, and tee boxes will be adjusted for the high school athletes.

Lakeview also had a little winterkill on the course, according to Sabers, and the recent rain and cold has limited the time the course workers have to maintain and prepare the course.

According to Mitchell Director of Golf and Cemetery Kevin Thurman, the groundskeepers at Lakeview will put in as much as 100 extra hours of work compared to normal business hours. The work begins two weeks prior to tee time, according to Thurman.

"We are working to have the course in top condition for the players," Thurman said, adding that the damage to the course is minimal after a state tournament and the benefits of hosting outweigh the extra work.

Recommendations for the setup of the course -- length, rough cut, pin placements -- come from the SDHSAA.

Why host?

Having state golf in Mitchell means more work for the courses, but that's a good thing, Sabers said.

"We try to make everyone's life a little easier during the event because we want them to come back, for the course's sake and for Mitchell's," Sabers said.

Added needs for hosting a state tournament include parking, volunteer scorers to help ease the burden on coaches and running a hospitality room for players, coaches and media. Wild Oak has a 250-seat banquet area that Backlund plans to utilize for the event.

The courses receive $1,800 each from the SDHSAA for hosting the state tournament to offset operational expenses, while the Plankinton School District will receive a total of $600 for hosting the two events. The Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau has also allocated funds to the courses for the event, though the amount was not disclosed and had to be requested. Funds are available from the CVB for any event in Mitchell but must be requested and granted.

Tracy said the city is looking at options for bringing more state competitions. The Mitchell Sports and Events Authority has been meeting regularly over the last three months to work on ways to drive events to town.

"The success that we've had so far indicates that there will be more success in the future," Tracy said.

Starting Monday, 121 boys and 75 girls will compete in the Class B state tournaments, with athletes coming from all around South Dakota along with coaches, family and friends staying in hotel rooms and eating at Mitchell restaurants.

State tournaments are great for businesses and give the city a chance to show off its quality hospitality to a variety of visitors, according to Miskimins.

"We got the word out that a very large crowd was coming to Mitchell and they will be making great use of our hospitality businesses in town," Miskimins said. "It is important that our businesses know that this is one set of days that we are going to have increased crowds."

Traditionally, the Convention and Visitors Bureau uses a $190 per-person, per-day figure to determine how much is spent in the city by visitors.

"It is very much a state tournament descending upon Mitchell," Karst said. "The restaurants better be ready."