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Mountain View golf goes virtual

If you've ever thought Mountain View Golf Club is boarded up and sits dormant under piles of snow during the winter, consider it a whiff. Instead, there's plenty of activity at the 18-hole championship golf course.

If you’ve ever thought Mountain View Golf Club is boarded up and sits dormant under piles of snow during the winter, consider it a whiff.

Instead, there’s plenty of activity at the 18-hole championship golf course. Club pro Jeff Wiggins and superintendent Derek Wirth are hard at work protecting the course from the strains of winter weather and preparing for some indoor rounds of golf.

Yes, you read correctly.

Starting next month, golfers can go play virtual rounds of golf thanks to a new Optishot Golf Simulator that makes the Nintendo Wii look like ColecoVision.

“It’s something different,” said Wiggins. “When you can go hit real balls with the Optishot - having that virtual component - it’s fun. It keeps you interested. It’s something to do a couple hours a week.

“There was a period of time, if you were a golfer, the only thing you could do up here is hit wiffleballs at the Canada Games Centre or go on a vacation and play golf.”

Inside the club’s pro-shop are two large, netted hitting bays, not unlike batting cages, that enable golfers to hit actual golf balls into a virtual reality.

The ball sits on a sensor that measures the speed and direction of the club and uses and infrared beam to measure the ball’s speed and spin. Golfers then look to a computer monitor to see how far the ball went and if they landed on the virtual fairway or in the virtual woods.

“It’s an opportunity for me to stay in shape, the juniors to keep swinging and keep their form over the winter, as well as the recreational players and the avid members who want to do something during the wintertime,” said Wiggins about the hitting bays.

“I’ll bring in the Optishot for the virtual golf component, that way people see where their shots are going to a certain degree. We can work on some shot shaping and work out some kinks based on that.”

Wiggins even hinted at the possibility of a virtual golf tournament in the New Year in which, over the period of a week, players can stop by to shoot a round and later find out how they placed.

“I’m thinking about introducing these new aspects, but it just takes time to figure out a schedule,” said Wiggins.

There’s activity outside the clubhouse as well. As superintendent, Wirth is the course’s first line of defence against the ravages of Yukon winters.

“Most of that work is done in the fall, to prepare,” said Wirth. “There isn’t too much you can do in the winter, but you do need to monitor it and know what’s going on. For example, the weird weather we had last week wasn’t ideal, so I monitored all areas on the course to see what’s underneath the snow.

“There are lots of winter-kill issues that can happen, so I need to know all the time what’s going on underneath (the snow).”

When golf season wraps up at the end of October, storing and maintaining over 100 pieces of equipment, such as golf carts and lawn mowers, is just the beginning. Wirth needs to keep snow clear from the driveway and the pro-shop, which remains open for much of the winter, but keeping an eye on the snow covering the 100-plus acres of course is his top priority.

“Freeze-thaw cycles are what you don’t want,” said Wirth. “So every time I have a positive (temperature) come in ... I wait until it cools back off again to go out and see what has gone on.”

A warm spell will require an inspection of the course, but it must wait until the temperature drops again. If the temperature is above minus five, give or take, stepping on the snow can compress it into ice, which will suffocate the grass. Even dormant grass needs to breathe.

Paradoxically, while ice coverage can suffocate the grass, too much exposure to the winter elements will also kill it.

“They’ll go through periods of the winter with no snow and get exposed to extremely low temperatures and die that way,” said Wirth. “There are lots of different ways grass can die because of multiple winter-kill issues.”

Hole 5 is a trouble spot on the course. The location of the Par 3 hole, which gives it great scenic views of the river, also positions it at the brunt of winter’s harshness. It absorbs high winds that can leave much of the hole, and particularly the green, exposed to the Yukon elements.

The best defence against winter is, get this, snow. A terrific insulator, it can be minus 30 above the snow while a comfy minus five at ground level.

“There are a lot of synthetic tools we can use out here, but nothing compares to snow,” said Wirth. “It’s the best insulator you can have. As long as you have a good foot or so, it’s protected from all those cold temperatures and the drying winds.”

Come spring, snow removal becomes a high-stakes judgment call. If the snow is removed from the greens too early, a drop in temperature could spell disaster.

“We’re constantly watching the weather, we don’t want to expose it because the grass is most susceptible in the spring,” said Wirth. “So you want to leave the snow on as long as possible. But if you have other problems like ice, you want to get it off. The timing is crucial.”

Adding another dimension to protecting the vulnerable greens is the variety of grass. Some of Mountain View’s greens are covered in the more robust bent grass species that is more resilient to cold temperatures and disease. But some are Poa annua, a more delicate species. Ironically, although more delicate, as a cultivated weed Poa is harder to get rid of.

“We have both,” said Wirth. “We are always trying to encourage bent (grass) and whenever we rebuild a green, we are rebuilding it with bent grass. If we reseed a green, we are reseeding it with bent grass. We are always trying to limit the Poa, but because it’s a weed and so opportunistic, you’ll never eliminate it. So you work with it where you have it.”

Just like with the real thing, would-be virtual golfers are encouraged to call ahead before heading to Mountain View for an indoor round.

Contact Tom Patrick at