Golf in the winter months? It’s no joke at one golf club in Byron, where a combination of new technologies and casual hangout are making for a prime, year-round destination that welcomes the hardcore player and the neophyte alike. Step inside PrairieFire and see the future of golf for yourself.
Imagine a place where you can work on your golf game during the winter months. It’s also a spot where you can golf well after the sun goes down and you can track your ball like the pros on TV.
There’s no need to imagine it at PrairieFire Golf & Grill, in Byron, which is nestled just behind the clubhouse at PrairieView Golf Club.
Eight private, temperature-controlled hitting bays host golfers year-round at a driving range littered with targets. Think of it not like a typical driving range, but more like a bowling alley for golf, where friends gather with chairs, tables and TV screens. It’s a golf experience that’s fun, new and exciting.
“This facility was built as an entertainment destination not only for golfers who want to play year-round, but also for the non-traditional golfers or people who are looking for something fun to do,” says Scott deOliveira, assistant general manager. “About 75 percent of our patrons could be considered non-golfers that come for the entertainment of a night out with friends or family.”
Since its debut this past June, PrairieFire has been introducing golfers to Toptracer Range technology, a system that integrates augmented reality into the world of golf. The technology tracks the ball’s apex, launch and speed in real-time, just like broadcasters follow PGA players on TV.
The system encourages friendly competition and provides immediate feedback on every shot.
“This technology uses cameras to trace the ball, and you’re using a real range ball that you’d hit on a regular driving range,” says Todd Tucker, executive director of the Byron Forest Preserve District, which owns PrairieView Golf Course. “If you’re a serious golfer, you can come out here and use a mode called ‘My Practice,’ and if you download the Toptracer app, it’ll give you all the analytics for each shot for each club that you have. So, when you come here and hit a few balls, it might say you’re hitting your 7-iron 12 percent lower than what your average shot is.”
Amazingly, the system even works if there’s snow on the driving range.
“If your ball stops in the snow, this technology will still calculate by the speed of the ball, and it’ll tell you what your run out will be,” Tucker says. “It’ll still be able to calculate the trajectory of your ball.”
Targets on the driving range glow at night, meaning it’s possible to play in the dark. Tucker says this is only the second course in the world to use Glow Gear LED targets.
“Those targets look pretty awesome when they’re lit up,” Tucker says.
Because the system works with augmented reality, it also has the ability to simulate world-renowned golf courses, such as Pebble Beach Golf Links, in California, or St. Andrews Links, in Scotland.
“You can hit a shot, and it’ll tell you how that hit would have played on St. Andrews’ fairway,” Tucker says. “It’s basically virtual golf, and you can play about a dozen courses around the world. You’re hitting a live ball, and you can even see your slice or fade.”
The experience encourages other entertaining games, like closest to the pin, long drive and an approach challenge. There’s even one designed for kids called “Go Fish.”
Golfers are encouraged to bring their own clubs, although loaners are available at the clubhouse for a small fee. And if you’re not into golfing, that’s OK, because PrairieFire ultimately encourages social interaction. Each golfing bay is covered from the elements and features lounge seating and fire pits.
Just inside the sliding doors, there’s a full bar and restaurant serving beer from local breweries as well as a full menu.
“The screens outside and the screens inside are the same, so if you hit a ball, and we’re inside, we can see what you did on the screen,” Tucker says.
The menu is loaded with shareables like cheese curds, beer-battered onion rings and chicken tenders. Other top choices include burgers, grilled pesto chicken and bison sliders, with seasoned bison patties, cheddar cheese, tomato and a special PrairieFire sauce.
This unique facility was the brainchild of Matt Henkel, general manager of PrairieView Golf Club. He was inspired when he saw a similar setup at a golf course in Canada. Tucker liked the idea because it offered one more way to bring people into the game of golf.
“He and I went out there to check out the facility,” Tucker says. “We took the best of what they did and we also looked at some other facilities that were just ranges.”
The result is a unique vision that comes to life at PrairieFire.
“We wanted to have a porch that allows people to stay out of the weather, and we have heated concrete for the wintertime,” Tucker says. “They didn’t have any heat outside, and we felt if we were going to be open year-round, we needed to make it comfortable for everyone year-round. There aren’t many places like this in the country.”
Of course, PrairieFire is just a taste of what’s hiding at PrairieView Golf Club, located inside the Byron Forest Preserve District. The 18-hole course sweeps through stunning vistas of prairie landscape and links-style fairways, then descends into lush, tree-lined fairways.
As the temperature drops and the courses close for the season, PrairieFire remains open for hardcore golfers and novices alike.
“There’s not a lot to do in the winter, and this is a place were you’ll still be able to get outside and enjoy golf,” Tucker says. “When golf goes away around Thanksgiving, instead of having to wait until a nice March or April day to play, you can come here and enjoy the sport all year.”