By Jaclyn Brandt
No one said Wisconsinites aren’t innovative. And so in Neenah, where snow covers the ground for months of the year, locals have taken to turning their summer playgrounds to winter uses.
The Bridgewood Golf Course turns into a winter destination when they transition their grounds into a cross-country skiing course in the months where golfing is nearly impossible. The golf course owners decided to take that cross-country course to another level by starting a tournament.
“It all started last winter,” explained Director of Corporate Sales Joe Williamson. “A number of us had Matt Kenhaken (with the Convention and Visitor Bureau) over visiting the Bridgewood. He happened to look out and see these skiers go by and said, ‘Gee, we should have a ski event here, that would be great.’ We never thought of it before. It’s just a nice place for people to come out and enjoy themselves.”
And the tournament was born.
The company that owns Bridgewood also owns the Best Western Premier in Neenah, the Best Western Premier in Oshkosh, and the Copper Leaf in Appleton. The Neenah hotel alone hosts up to 110 weddings a year, as well as numerous other events. They have become a staple in the community, and the golf course is a favorite among locals.
The course has been in use by cross-country skiers for years, and is maintained largely by a volunteer who lives in the area.
“A gentlemen, he is one of the most active guys I know, he took it upon himself a number of years ago to start grooming the cross country trail that everybody comes out and enjoys,” Williamson explained. “He has a snowmobile and has over the years purchased equipment to create the trails. He does a masterful job.
“He puts out a pail for people to voluntarily contribute to help pay for the gas and equipment every year. Last year he made over $1000. So this year, hopefully, we will get some more and have a nice track.”
And they hope to attract some big name cross-country skiers, because they are holding their event the weekend before the Birkebeiner in Cable, Wisconsin.
“People from all over the world come and participate in this ski race,” Williamson explained, “and a lot of these people that come like to have a kind of a warmer-upper the weekend before. Up in Cable they have an event the weekend before. But not everybody likes to make the six-hour drive. So we thought for everybody around here, we could be a warmer-upper.”
The Birkebeiner will be held Feb. 22, 2014, this year and will draw more than 10,000 skiers to the Hayward-Cable area in northwest Wisconsin. The Bridgie plans to host significantly fewer skiers, but it will be held the weekend before, on February 16.
And while the staff of Bridgewood and the three hotels they manage in the area are used to planning events, this one has been a brand new experience.
“We just kind of thought, the first year, we didn’t want to create a huge event,” Williamson said. “We came to a crossroad. We don’t know the first thing about running a cross-country race event, so it could be interesting. But we will learn, and we will try our best.”
He added that they had wanted to “just start small and let it grow until we know what we’re doing,” but the event continues to evolve. Williamson said the event could now include a band, food and other events.
“We’re going to have a competitive race call the Bridgie Sprints, and that will be for serious cross country skiers, people who want to compete,” Williamson said, “and a separate track for families and people who just want to have fun.” Skiers of all levels are encouraged to sign up.
The Birkebeiner is a huge event for Wisconsin. Whether or not you are planning to head up north for the big race, the staff and volunteers at Bridgewood are hoping the Bridgie gives skiers an enjoyable weekend in Neenah, leading up to the bigger event. And for non-skiers, it will be a fun local event to come out and celebrate with the community.