Area Golf: Rivals become allies as CI and Aitkin combine golf programs

Cayden Turk putts in last year's Mid-Minn Conference championship meet at Cragun's Legacy Courses. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The crosstown rivals Crosby-Ironton Rangers and Aitkin Gobblers plan to combine for boys and girls golf starting this season — hopefully.

Still pending approval from the Minnesota State High School League due to school closures during the pandemic, “CIA Golf” is moving ahead as if they will get approval when the COVID-19 crises subsides.

The new boys team will be headed by Rich Aulie who was the C-I boys coach with his assistant being Mike Statz — former Aitkin head coach. On the girls side, Aitkin’s head coach Jason Cline takes over for the co-op.

With schools closed and no golf courses open, Aulie and Cline have been using social distance learning and coaching to connect with their players.

“We can’t have any direct contact with the guys,” Aulie said. “But my assistant coach Mike Statz was the Aitkin head coach last year so we have a good connection over at Aitkin. Then I am overseeing that and checking in with the kids at Crosby.”


Aulie emphasized with his golfers is to set up putting stations in their living rooms.

“I created some putting stations videos for them with some common things you can find around the house,” Aulie said.

One station uses a sleeve of balls and a dime 20 inches away. They practice getting the right starting line with the putter face on line to a target which is the dime.

Another station uses a 4-foot metal ruler with a small hole at the end. A golf ball gets put on the small hole and with the putter squared up the ruler, it’s used as a putting track. The goal is to get the ball to stay on the ruler with the putting track.

“I sent those to the kids and asked them to show me what they have created for their putting stations at home,” Aulie said.

One picture Aulie received had two lightweight dumbbells for a putting track. Another put a small hole in the carpet to practice putting at a small target.

“If you aim small, you miss small,” Aulie said.

If there is a season, Aulie says CIA boys will be tough.


“If we get to play this year we are pretty excited,” Aulie said. “I have six kids that are all capable of breaking 80 when they tee it up on the golf course. That would be the ultimate goal.”

Last season, C-I was three strokes behind Section 6-2A champion St. Cloud Cathedral for a chance at a state appearance. The top five finishers for C-I in that section meet — Casey Finnerty, Cayden Turk, Colten Turk, Will Meyer and Frank Meyer — all return for the hopeful 2020 season.

The sixth golfer in the lineup almost certainly would be Sam Sadlowsky of Aitkin who placed seventh in the Section 6-2A individual meet last season, one place off from making the state tournament.

“We were pretty excited about the season,” Aulie said. “I try to stay in contact with the kids every day. We do those google chats, to get the whole group together and just talk about how everyone is doing and how they feel.”

This isn’t the first time these two school districts have combined forces. C-I and Aitkin were co-oped for cross-country a few years back and the boys’ hockey program is combined with Pequot Lakes to form the Northern Lakes team.

For the girls, Cline hopes to grow the program.

“The girls’ side has struggled for quite a few years as far as numbers,” Cline said. “I have five girls from Aitkin and I know there were five or six from Crosby last year. I’m not exactly sure what we have for numbers this year.”

Cline has been teaching golf similar to Aulie. He has taken the putting stations idea and told his golfers to chip in a bucket in the backyard if they can. He also sent drills to work on the tempo of their swings.


“I’ve been trying to get them to work on the tempo of the swing and the tempo of the putt,” Cline said. “Rich sent out the putting stations in the living room and I’ve done that too. Anything to get the club in the girls’ hands.”

CIA golf plans to split its time practicing at Cuyuna Rolling Hills and Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge. The invitational hosted by CIA was scheduled for May 7 at Ruttger’s.

There is no nickname for the co-op yet. The colors of CIA will be white, black and gray to stay neutral.

If the season is lost, and if governor Tim Walz allows the golf courses to be open, the hope is student golfers can play a one-day competition with all the area schools at an area course.

“We are kicking that around a bit as to give us something to look forward too if the season were to get canceled. We might still be able to get out and play golf,” Aulie said.

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