Usually, when November rolls around, the folks at Stevensville’s Whitetail Golf Course lock everything up tight and go home to wait out the winter.
This year, something different is happening at the course surrounded by the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
Starting this week, golf enthusiasts will gather inside the clubhouse for 18 holes of simulated golf at courses like Pebble Beach and Augusta National. When the snow comes, the course’s board president will fire up a snowmobile and groom a pair of cross-country ski tracks that will offer mid-valley folk a place to go glide without the long drive.
“We want to come up with some things that people could do in the winter and provide some revenue for the course,” said Randy Hodgson, the course’s board president. “If you’re not a big skier, there’s really not a lot to do in the wintertime here.”
When the golf course board was faced with a much-needed upgrade to its bathroom facilities in the clubhouse, Hodgson said they decided to think a little bit out the box. The course’s golf pro, Jason Lehotla, had seen the growth in the popularity of simulated golf around the state and country. He brought the idea before the board.
“Everyone was a little bit lukewarm about the idea until we started to research it a bit,” Hodgson said. “We found there were several in Helena and Polson has one. It definitely seemed like a good way to keep the course open during the winter months.”
Since they were already in the midst of a building project, Hodgson said the board decided to make certain that they did it right.
“A lot of planning went into this,” Hodgson said. “People will be able to come here in the winter and play a round of golf while watching an NFL or college game. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Apparently, local golfers think so too.
The course will start league play this week. With only word of mouth for advertising, they have already signed up 24 two-person teams for this first go-around.
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“People will be able to call in for tee times,” Hodgson said. “They can pretty flexible on when they want to play.”
If four golfers show up at the same time, the cost to play is $7 an hour. If one person wants to get some practice on the simulator, the charge is $15 an hour.
“It’s a great teaching tool,” he said. “The machine tells you if you hit the ball straight or if hooked or sliced and how far the ball would have traveled. I think people are going to enjoy being able to improve their game during the winter months.”
For those who want to be outside, Hodgson said the course has purchased a cross-country ski track groomer for this upcoming winter season.
“This course really seems to hold the snow well,” he said. “The snow can all melt in Stevensville, and we’ll still have 8 to 10 inches on the ground here. I skied around here quite a bit last winter.”
The plan is to groom two side-by-side trails so people can ski next to each other. The cost to use the trail system will be $5 to help pay for the gas and upkeep on the grooming machine.
“They can go out and ski for a while and then come back inside and get something to eat,” Hodgson said. “And they won’t have to drive very far to do it.”
The board hopes the clubhouse will be a busy place this winter. It can be set aside for parties or other group events. People can get a tee time and come in and play a round on one of the 99 simulated courses.
Anyone interested in setting up a tee time or learning more about the opportunities this winter at the Whitetail Golf Course can call 777-3636.
“Right now, it’s just one step at a time,” Hodgson said.