By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Snow may still blanket its home course fairways, but the Lone Peak High School boys’ golf team has begun its title defense in earnest. The Big Horns won last year’s Class C state championship in the program’s second year of existence, while the girls hope to improve on last season’s encouraging results.

Without a single outdoor practice, the team traveled to Missoula for their first competition April 3-4 at the Loyola Sacred Heart Invitational, after EBS went to press April 2. Formal preparation for the season began March 19 as the team began hitting balls into the net and practicing their putts on AstroTurf, in a barn in Beaver Creek West.

“We’d love to be outside but it’s just not an option,” Head Coach Mike King said of the wintry conditions in Big Sky. “[It’ll] probably be a month until we see grass on our course. It’s a challenge, typically we’re ending the season about the time our course is opening.”

However, Big Sky’s challenging spring weather didn’t stop the boys’ team from making a big splash in Montana’s high school golf scene last year. In addition to taking home the team championship, captain Tate Tatum, now a junior, won the Class C individual title for the second consecutive year. Trevor House, also a junior, repeated his top 10 showing at the state tourney as well.

Now, defending their team title is on their minds.

“I’m really hammering on them this year to bear down and focus hard,” said King, who was a PGA professional for almost 20 years. “Rarely do you get a chance to defend a state championship, and it’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”

The team that started with all freshmen two years ago can lean on experience now. In addition to third-year players Tatum and Trevor House, juniors Griffin and Quinn House, Joe McGough and Andrew Garcia anchor the team. King expects much-improved sophomore Charlie Johnson to compete for a starting spot, and Steven Meyers is the lone freshman on the squad.

The Big Horn girls return junior Teyha Brown who finished fourth in states last year, after picking up golf for the first time as a freshman the season before. The girls are competing with their best squad yet and the goal this year is to finish in the top three at the state tourney, according to King.

Juniors Gabrielle Gasser, Janie Izzo, Molly Sharr, sophomore Katie Reid and freshman Maria Lovely join Brown on the links in that effort this year.

King’s assistant coach is David Hardwick, a current PGA pro at the Yellowstone Club, and their combined experience gives the LPHS athletes the teaching experience that most of the competition doesn’t have.

Although the Big Sky Resort golf course could still be drying out from a heavy snowpack when the team competes May 21 and 22 at the state tourney in Seeley Lake, the Arnold Palmer-designed course is still a valuable asset to the Big Horns.

The resort typically allows the kids out there even when the course is still closed, when there are patches of grass big enough to hit their own balls and retrieve them. It also provides a complimentary season pass to everyone on the team so they can work on their game during the offseason. And King encourages his players to get out there all summer and play as many non-school tournaments as they can.

“Golf is a life sport,” he said. “The more you get to play as a kid, the more you will enjoy it and play as an adult.”