Winter is usually a dead time of year for the Michigan men’s golf team. But a new indoor practice facility in the basement of the U-M Golf Course clubhouse has given the Wolverines a competitive advantage.

Before this year, winter practice in Ann Arbor involved occasional trips to a local indoor driving range and putting practice on a small green in the basement of the clubhouse. This made it hard for the team to prepare for its spring season, which usually begins in Puerto Rico against tough competition from schools in warmer climates.

But this November, administrative offices moved out of the clubhouse basement and freed up space to build the indoor practice facility.

The 2,000-square foot area has an expanded practice green with 10 holes, six of them on slopes to mimic outdoor greens. Players can also chip short distances from artificial turf around the green to work on their short games. A retractable hitting net with a video system and mirrored walls allows the Wolverines to work with coaches on their swings.

“It’s been tremendous for us,” Michigan coach Andrew Sapp said. “Guys have told me they’ve practiced their short game three times as much as they have in the past.”

Sapp said the new facility will also help Michigan in recruiting. Many players from the south and west are hesitant to come to Ann Arbor because they can’t practice year-round.

“One of the first questions I get is, ‘what do you do in the winter?’ ” Sapp said. “Now that we can show them a short-game facility, it’s really beneficial.”

But the Wolverines have no set practice routine in their new facility. Sapp said players work individually on putting and chipping. The team still goes to the driving range for work on drives and longer shots.

Junior Nick Pumford noticed the improvement in his game while playing in Florida this past weekend with junior Bill Rankin. Many players on the team travel at their own expense to play during the winter.

“My short game was night-and-day different,” Pumford said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Rankin believes the new facility will help the Wolverines keep pace with teams from warmer climates that can practice outdoors all year.

“Now, we don’t have the excuse that our fundamentals won’t be in line,” Rankin said. “We used to assume that other teams would chip and putt better than us.”

Michigan hopes the extra work will pay off in the spring season.

Next weekend, Michigan heads south to play in the Puerto Rico Classic, where it has struggled in the past. The Wolverines finished second to last in 2007 and last in 2006.

But Michigan is coming off its strongest fall season in recent years, winning two tournaments and finishing in the top five in two others. Couple that with the extra winter practice time and expectations are higher going into the spring. Michigan is currently ranked 35th by Golfweek, the team’s highest ranking of Sapp’s six years in Ann Arbor.

But Sapp knows the Wolverines have a long way to go before achieving the breakthrough season he’s been looking for.

“We might wait until the end of the season to determine whether its been a breakthrough year or not,” Sapp said. “But we know that we can win and compete.”

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