HAMMOND | You'd think Montana is in a temperate zone, too.
Though area temperatures finally dipped below zero on or around Jan. 22, the conditions at Frenchtown, Mt., home of the King Ranch Golf Course, remained ideal that day.
"It's one of our favorite courses," said Kathleen Clavin, of Dyer, who with Highland resident Tina Rogers, was trying to make par while playing a virtual version of King Ranch at Lost Marsh Golf Course.
"We took a free lesson while trying it out last year," Rogers said of the TruGolf simulator that is set up during the inclement months inside the golf course's First Tee of Hammond building. "We're new to the sport, but it's helped us with our club speed and tempo, and the insides and outsides of our swings.
"By spring, we'll be ready to play."
Clavin and Rogers took that first lesson from Pittsburgh native Dean Gabey, who was recently named head pro at Lost Marsh.
"Every Wednesday night through August, we hold free clinics," Gabey said. "For now, we utilize the simulator. This is the time of the year we have enough room in here for it.
"I often play it. It's fun. It has good entertainment value, and the added instruction it offers makes it a good teaching tool."
Like most golf pros, Gabey is trying to get more people enthusiastic about the sport.
"It has taking a little hit due to the economy," he said, "but it's a good sport to learn because it's a life-long sport."
Properly introducing golf to youths is one of the primary objectives of the First Tee of Hammond, which set up shop at Lost Marsh 14 years ago. Brandon White was one of the first students.
"It's more than just about golf," said White, who is now the program director for First Tee of Hammond, which caters to ages 4-17. "It's about life lessons. It's about how to introduce yourself to strangers. It's about treating people with respect. It's about being honest.
"A lot of times in golf, you have to make calls against yourself. Like you may be the only one to know when you double-hit. The game wouldn't be the game it is if there were no sportsmanship and honesty."
Sportsmanship and honesty are among the nine tenets that line the First Tee of Hammond's stationary. Other includes integrity, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and (proper) judgment.
In addition to the golf and life skills lessons, First Tee offers college readiness and ACT prep classes.
"A lot of players who go through the program come back as mentors," White said.
Chicago 19-year-old Kaitlyn Hayes is one of them.
"I started when I was 9 years old," said Hayes, who is studying sports medicine at Purdue University Calumet. "It's helped me a lot with my game, and it's helped open up some opportunities for me."