The Orono Lions Annual Snowball Open is not one of those “weather permitting” events.  It’s more like “weather welcomed.” All about cold hands, hot drinks, and warm Lion hearts.

Ice golf course
Orono Lions in Minnesota spend the better part of three days preparing their course on Long Lake.

When the golfers get ready for their tee time at this open, they leave their nice, new golf shirt at home and grab their parka. The Lions 35th Annual Snowball Open in February drew 512 golfers plus spectators to play 18 holes of ice golf on Minnesota’s Long Lake, 15 to 20 miles west of Minneapolis.

The day started at -6 degrees (F) and climbed to a balmy 24, but cold temps have never deterred this club of winter-hardy folks. One time, about 10 years ago, they had to move their course to a park close to shore because it wasn’t cold enough, says club president Bradley Hansen. The ice was not safe. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and water patrol require the ice to be 15 inches thick before issuing a permit.

With 28 members, the Orono District Club is not a large one. But the Snowball Open, their primary

GOlfer tees off at ice golf tournament
Local businesses sponsor each of the 18 tee boxes where golfers can play games, warm up, and get food and drink.

fundraiser, brought in more than US$16,000 this year for charities. And they pulled in another US$6,000 through their raffle, which went to the Read Every Day school program encouraging first and second graders to read.

“We earn our money and we earn it hard,” says Hansen, the ring leader responsible for coordinating the outing and setting up the work load–a job that’s heavy, cold, and wet.

Lions plow the snow from the surface of the lake, blueprinting the course on Thursday. Friday is “all hands on deck” day, as club members and other volunteers help build the course and prepare for a crowd. That means drilling out 18 holes in the ice, plus holes for the flags and the 200-plus Christmas trees that are trimmed up and then brought in to line the fairway and outline the holes. They set up tents, toilets, the registration area, fire pits and wood, tables and chairs, and tee box markers, all on the frozen lake.

Early in the morning on Saturday their labor continues as they finish setting up tents and wrapping them with plastic to protect them from the wind, says Hansen.

On this course, tennis balls replace golf balls that could be lost or hurt someone, and golfers carry just

Golfer in fur hat
Lion Bradley Hanson sports his best fur hat to stay warm at his Orono Lions Annual Snowball Open in Minnesota.

their wedge and putter, some transporting it all on a sled. Local businesses sponsor each of the 18 tee boxes where golfers can play games, warm up, and get food and drink. Still other businesses sponsor the overall outing with their name on tents provided by the Lions.

Year to year the Lions have added fun competitions. On one of the coldest years they gave prizes for the funniest fur hats.

Although Hansen has been a leader in the club for many years, it takes a team effort. Lion Dave Potter plows the course, does the grooming, and stores all the equipment from year to year. Roger Adams is the course designer in charge of setting up the course and taking it down, and Lion John James manages the books and runs the registration. Other club members solicit sponsors and work the event, helping dismantle it all when it’s over.

“It’s a community event that people look forward to,” says Hansen. “It’s about some challenging holes and lots of laughter.”

And in just six months, when all the ice and snow has melted away, they will host their annual Carp Fishing Contest during Buckhorn Days on the same, but much warmer, Long Lake.