Golfers having a ball at Cantigny driving range, so workers must do 'The Big Pick' in snow
Not even a snow-covered course can keep the die-hards from hitting some beauties at the heated driving range at Cantigny Golf in Wheaton.
It's been one of the busiest winters at the Cantigny Golf Academy despite a stretch of freezing temperatures and what would make for a tough lie: about 18 inches of snow blanketing the driving range.
And while golfers are keeping their game sharp through the dead of winter, all the ball whacking left the grounds crew with a quirky job called the "The Big Pick."
During the golf season, a "picker" rides a cart to collect balls off driving ranges. Some practice facilities in the winter have golfers hit into nets.
Cantigny opens the big doors of the Golf Academy to let golfers hit out onto the range in any weather so they can track their ball flight.
But Cantigny had been unable to "pick the range" and retrieve tens of thousands of golf balls since January because of the deep snow.
It's been so busy that the Golf Academy would have run out of golf balls if not for "The Big Pick" Thursday, when 15 employees fanned out across the range with shovels, rakes and sharp eyes to dig out white balls from under the white stuff.
Why not buy more golf balls?
Matt Tullar, the club's head golf pro, said 20,000 range balls are on order from a factory in Tennessee, but the shipment has run into weather and COVID-19-related delays. Cantigny hopes to have the shipment early next week to help get by until the snow melts.
But to have enough inventory to get through the weekend -- golfers can hit up to about 7,500 range balls in a day -- the pickers had to trudge through the snow and collect golf balls by hand.
Of the 75,000 in the club's supply, Tullar estimated there were some 70,000 balls out on the range.
The group found golf balls by shoveling around the range targets. Balls also came into view after leaving little tunnels through the snow.
Once they had a visual, it was just a matter of digging the balls out with a narrow shovel or small rake, Cantigny Park spokesman Jeff Reiter said.
The initial goal was to recover 15,000, but frozen layers of snow made "The Big Pick" a big task.
"Realistically, today, we're probably gonna get 6,000," Tullar said. "That's enough for one day."
• Daily Herald photographer Brian Hill contributed to this report