GREAT FALLS – If you have been playing golf at Meadow Lark Country Club the past 40 years — as this writer has — the phrase “winter golf” has been more of a fantasy than a reality.
To be sure, there have been a few Christmas Eve afternoons when a chinook wind softened the course enough to play a chilly round, and I actually witnessed a hole-in-one by one of my best friends on New Year’s Day more than a decade ago. But even during the mildest of Great Falls winters, the turf was usually frozen and the quality of the golf experience was marginal, at best.
“Let’s face it, golf is a six-month sport in Montana and other northern climes,” said Scott Longenecker, head golf professional at MLCC. “There are years when the hard-core golfers can play a few times from November through February, but not everyone is willing to brave those conditions.
“That’s why we felt we had to do something to offer our members more value for their membership.”
MLCC’s cure for a lack of winter golf opportunities proved to be the introduction of the simulator, a computer-based technology that’s been around for 40 years but has gained great popularity in Montana over the past decade or so. Longenecker, in fact, has promoted the use of simulators since 2009, when he was head pro at the public Bill Roberts Golf Course in Helena.
Longenecker was hired at Meadow Lark in the fall of 2020, replacing veteran pro Dudley Beard, who had served for 34 years. In early 2021, he ordered the club’s first simulator, which was installed in a meeting room on the second floor of the clubhouse.
Many of the early machine users were golfers taking lessons from the professionals or trying out new golf clubs. The MLCC board of directors noted the popularity of the simulator and made the bold decision to make a major investment in facilities and equipment.
The club not only purchased two more …
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