Green grass, blue skies and birdsong
At least 20 golfers have been getting their winter golf fix through a virtual program set up in the back room of The Parts Place.
“This way, golfaholics can hit in the winter. It’s just something really fun to do,” said owner and avid golfer Tomi Scovill.
Scovill purchased Dancin’ Dogg OptiShot in September. Golfers hit a real ball at a cushioned, projected image of a fairway or green. The trajectory of the ball appears on the screen as a digital image, showing the distance traveled and the ball’s lie.
As in the real sport, golfers who slice or hook the ball end up in the bushes, or in someone’s back yard.
By late November, members of the Haines Golf Association were swinging away on the program’s various courses that are photo images of famous ones around the world.
Images of holes at seven courses are pre-loaded into the system, including one with a canyon that has challenged some Haines golfers. “Forty-one strokes later and the ball was still in the canyon,” Scovill said.
Each time they play, golfers put a dollar or two into a donation jar, which Scovill plans to donate to a nonprofit organization.
The game includes some lifelike touches such as birds chirping. Golfers get a quick tour of the course, and information ranging from club recommendations to distance from hole. Other information includes par number, swing speed, face angles, and swing path.
For help getting started, Scovill consulted golf pro Tyler Barrack, who helps run the Haines Valley of the Eagles Golf Links in the summer.
Barrack assisted Scovill in choosing Dancin’ Dogg OptiShot over similar programs. High school teacher Mark Fontenot’s engineering class helped mount the projector, and performed the necessary calculations for proper set-up.
In past winters, golfers played with colored balls on the Valley of the Eagles Golf Links, or used the cage, consisting of turf and a net, set up by course owner Stan Jones.
Scovill’s program analyzes golfers’ swings, gives feedback, and allows golfers to observe the flight of the ball.
Jenny Lyn Smith golfs at The Parts Place about five times a week. “It’s wonderful. You get exercise, and you get to work on your swing and concentrate on your putting… And the time goes fast. We look up and go, ‘Man, we gotta get home and get work done.’”
Smith, who used to practice putting on the rug in her house, likes the instructional aspect of the program, which helps her enhance her skills. She also enjoys being able to play against other golfers.
“But it’s not as user-friendly as I want it,” Scovill said. Using the “course” is by invitation only. Golfers include association members as well as Scovill’s 10-year-old niece and her friends. However, she said she’s open to those who contact her. “It’s really not set up for people just coming in and hitting in the back of the store.”
In addition to limited store hours, the room’s restricted space gives only right-handed golfers the opportunity to play.
Scovill hopes to move the program to the golf course, or possibly the gym. With easier access, she would be able to start a league and hold tournaments, raising more money for nonprofits, she said. One idea is to hold a Big Brothers Big Sisters tournament.
She hopes to use the program to help promote summer golf events such as the youth golf camp, a free camp organized by the association, and the International Open Golf Tournament, which raises money for special projects such as the Veterans Village.
“Tomi’s just great. She’s really a valuable asset to our community. She’s behind the scenes a lot,” fellow golfer Toni DeWitt, who helps organize golf events with Scovill, said. “I think it’s awesome that she did this. There are a lot of people who play golf and a lot of people who might just want to learn.”