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Golf anyone? Tee time in Butte no longer a seasonal deal

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Highland View simulators

Marty Foote hits the ball at a screen with an image of a golf course in Hawaii on Nov. 16 as he and his teammates participate in the Highland View Winter League in Butte.

Mild weather has lingered far longer than usual for this time of year in Butte, and that’s good news for hitting the links at Highland View Golf Course.

The regulation course is still open, with temporary greens so the others can be winterized. A big snow would shut things down but it hasn’t come yet and it doesn’t look like it will arrive this week.

“We stay open until Mother Nature says no more,” said Mark Fisher, a golf professional who oversees the Butte-Silver Bow golf course and also manages Ridge Waters waterpark.

But setting a tee time at Highland View is no longer controlled completely by the weather and the seasons. No matter how cold it is outside or how much snow is on the ground, folks can swing clubs indoors at the Jack W. Crowley Jr. clubhouse.

High-tech simulators have been operating since February, when the new clubhouse opened, and they’re a hit. But this will mark the first full winter season they are available. And a full winter season in Montana, of course, can run from October through May.

The simulators use radar and sensors to analyze swings and mimic the actual game from the warmth and comfort indoors. They have been so popular, a winter league was offered up and folks making up 48 two-person teams quickly signed up.

They are playing nine holes on the simulator each week for 12 weeks, and like everyone else, have to make tee times in advance. Anyone can do so by calling 406-497-6578.

There are 130 courses to choose from, including the Reserve at Moonlight Basin in Big Sky, the St. Andrews courses in Scotland, Le Golf National in Paris and others all around the United States and world. The simulators replicate each one to a T.

The clubhouse recently started offering finger food, including chicken wings, chicken strips, mini corndogs, mini tacos, steak fingers and onion rings. Nothing fancy, mind you, but something tasty to tide folks over.

The new clubhouse and its simulators are part of $4.5 million in upgrades and improvements to the golf course and war memorials made possible through a donation from the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation and Montana Resources.

That’s on top of $5.5 million they gave for enhancements elsewhere at Stodden, including a plaza area and an elaborate $1 million playground.

The clubhouse also has a commercial kitchen and the county has been trying to get someone to lease and operate it as a restaurant. There has been a lot of interest, including inquiries from established restaurateurs, but so far, no takers.

“We have given so many tours for people that are interested I couldn’t even tell you a number,” Fisher said. “I’ve had people from Billings, Missoula and Dillon do walk-throughs, multiple Butte people and Butte businesses looking to come down here. Everybody seems to love the layout, it’s just that we’re back to that whole thing of you can’t find workers.”

Fisher says when many actually see how big the facility is, they realize they couldn’t just come in and cook for eight hours and do everything solo. And the labor shortage has not gone away.

“If you look at Butte, Montana, look at how many restaurants are closing left and right because they can’t staff it, or they’re closing early,” he said.

Highland View as a whole, however, has done well this year, including this past summer.

“This is my sixth season and by far this was my busiest season,” Fisher said. “Memberships were up, green fees were up, cart fees were through the roof. Youth was up huge.”

The simulators were popular in the summer, too, and that looks to continue into the new year.

Kim and Northey Tretheway are fans for sure.

“The biggest reason we wanted to do it is because it kept us kind of limber swinging the clubs,” Kim said. “Plus, it tells you how far you’re hitting the ball and it’s kind of cool because you can pick so many different scenarios, whether it’s a hard course or a not-as-hard course.”

The simulators are so realistic, she said, there are places in the rough that she wouldn’t have hit from if she was really on the course.

“I’d have picked it up and moved it,” she said with a laugh.

Kim even lost a ball on one course.

“You’re in this square and you’re thinking, ‘Where the heck did it go?’ But it is really fun,” she said.

Remember to call for tee times at 406-497-6578. The clubhouse and simulators are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursdays and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The clubhouse is closed on holidays.

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