The red-winged blackbirds have made their way to a swamp near you on Tuesday and ornithologically speak-ing, their return is consi-dered a sure sign of spring.
Equally telling is the sound of drivers smashing golf balls at the first tee and starting Thursday area golfers will be doing that at the Bemidji Town and Country Club.
"In 2010 we welcomed our first golfers on March 30 but this will be the earliest we have ever opened the course," said BTCC pro Rick Grand.
Beginning today Grand and his associates will be accepting tee times and at 11 a.m. Thursday the golf season at the country club will officially open.
Golfers have been playing at Longbow north of Walker since Saturday, according to course superintendent Jay Gustafson, and the weekend business was steady.
"We were very busy on Saturday," Gustafson said, "and Sunday's traffic was okay. Last year we had a crummy spring and every course's rounds were down. But this year we have the opportunity to get out early and set the ball rolling. And everybody is excited."
On Tuesday the executive course at Greenwood opened while Sandtrap at Cass Lake is scheduled to begin its sea-son Thursday morning and Twin Pines in Bagley is set to open on March 31.
Barring a return of winter, Maple Ridge is expected to open on Tuesday.
Unlike most of the area golf courses that are built on sand, Castle Highland is con-structed over clay and there was some standing water on the course on Tuesday.
If the weather holds, however, the course will probably open within the next week. For updated information contact the club-house at 586-2660.
Course officials at Blackduck and could not be reached Tuesday for infor-mation on the opening of their courses.
"The course looks very good," Grand said of the BT&CC. "It came through the winter as well as anyone could have hoped.
"Because of the way winter went this year I thought we could open early but I never guessed it would be this early," Grand continued. "Just to get outside and have these warm days is exciting. We don't get this opportunity very often."
To celebrate spring's early arrival Grand is offering a special early-bird member-ship option. Starting Thursday a golfer can purchase a BTCC membership that will provide unlimited play through May 28. The cost is $299 and if the golfer decides to extend the membership throughout the remainder of the summer that fee can be used to help fund the full membership.
Daily green fees for the early season are $30 and $40 with a cart.
Greenwood also survived the winter in terrific shape.
"Everything came through the winter very well and the greens are perfect," said co-owner Bob Arndt. "Hopefully we won't turn back to winter again."
Green fees are $12 for nine holes, $16 for 18 holes and $22 for all day play on the par 29-29-58 layout.
Memberships are also available starting at $325 for a single.
Owner Jeff Zigan of Maple Ridge said the rates will remain the same as a year ago. From opening day to Memorial Day Weekend a 9-hole round will be $11 and beginning that weekend the fee will be $13.
For membership rates, tee times and other information golfers can call the course at 751-8401.
Sandtrap in Cass Lake also is ready for play, according to Bev Larson.
"We probably could have opened the course on Mon-day," she said. "The greens, the fairways, everything looks very good. We've owned the course since 1986 and this is the earliest we've ever opened."
Reduced green fees are in effect until Memorial Day Weekend. The summer green fees will be the same as last year - $12 for nine holes and $20 for 18 holes. A single membership costs $445 (plus tax) and course officials offer a variety of membership options.
"It is always exciting when you start a new season and we're exciting to begin this one," Larson said.
Longbow's opening is the earliest on record and Gus-tafson sees only one negative to the early start of the golf season.
"It sure cuts into the ice fishing season," he said. "The extent of my ice fishing was one trip and two big crappies."
Gustafson, however, is more than willing to trade his ice fishing rig for a 9-iron and move from a frozen Leech Lake to Longbow's plush green fairways.
"This is the best I've ever seen the course," he said. "This winter the snow came late and left early and because of that lack of snow there wasn't much time for snow mold to develop.
"As a result, the greens are in great shape," he added.
To help jump start the sea-son Gustafson is offering a reduced green fee of $35 (including cart) for the remainder of March. Starting on April 1 the weekday green fee will be $37 and the week-end price will be $42.
Single memberships this summer start at $825 and there is a 20 percent discount for new members.
Twin Pines at Bagley also survived the winter in top form, according to Leroy Riewer.
"The course looks very good," Riewer said. "If we don't get any cold, wet snow the greens should stay in great shape."
Off-season rates, which run through Memorial Day Weekend are $10 for nine holes and $15 for 18 holes without a cart and $20 for nine holes and $30 for 18 holes with a cart.
A single season member-ship will be $310. Member-ships are also available for couples and families.
For more information or to make a tee time call 694-2454 or visit www.bagleymn.us.