- Golfer Benefits
By Steve Derderian
What was your tee time this past Friday? Were you out early to start the long weekend? Maybe you “worked” a half-day and snagged a prime early afternoon spot, or perhaps like the rest of us, you were out chasing daylight.
When was mine, you ask? I landed an 8:40 p.m. tee time. Yes, for the first time, I reserved a spot so I could try my hand at playing golf in the dark.
For the past few years, Unicorn Golf Course, a blue-collar, nine-hole track in Stoneham, has hosted a monthly Glow Ball Night Shotgun Scramble Tournament during summertime that is open to the public. The location for this latest first-time golf pursuit couldn’t have been more fitting. I started this series by running 18 holes of golf the week before this year’s Boston Marathon, and Unicorn was built in 1928 by the Boston Athletic Association, whose logo — I think you get the idea.
As I pulled off I-95 into the bustling suburb 10 miles north of Downtown Boston, I felt like I was about to join the dewsweepers for a round at dawn. Only it was getting darker, not lighter. Upon arrival, the parking lot was already nearing capacity, with the smell of open containers, cigar smoke, and bug spray permeating throughout. It was as if we were gathered at a Drive-In before the movie(s) began.
We meandered into the pro shop to pick up an egg crate-shaped container containing uniquely colored Night Flyer golf balls. These things were as rock solid as the original Top Flite balls and only illuminated upon contact. Some activated them by tapping them with a club, while others Gronk spiked them into the earth to ensure they worked. Though, as Unicorn’s general manager & head golf professional Dennis Maxfield explained, these balls can break from excessive force. He advised that those with a high ball speed should consider leaving driver in the bag.
To be clear, we weren’t playing under the lights. The only illuminations provided by the course came from the neon green and purple tee markers; the fairways, which looked like patriotic-themed runways flanked with red, white and blue glow-sticks indicating yardages into the greens and where hazards lurked; and the flagsticks affixed with green flashers on the top. Even the cups had lights, giving the greens a glow-in-the-dark miniature golf vibe.
Playing a course for the first time is difficult enough, but as I learned doing so in the dark can be a mind-bending experience. There’s only so much you can do to compensate for limited sight lines, not to mention we were playing at quite the atypical hour.
Thankfully I teamed up with Jameson Barber — known on social media as @ Boston_Golfer — who knew the course from prior experience. Joining up with his wife, Caroline, and coworker Greg, we all set out for our maiden voyage into late-night golf.
Here are some of the video highlights:
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Any golfer can appreciate a good ball flight, but seeing your ball soar in the night sky like a colorful shooting star brings back the juvenile awe of watching a fireworks show.
Even when a shot goes off line, as mine did off the first tee, finding the ball in the woods proved quite easy as all I had to do was look for the radioactive-looking light emitting from it.
However, establishing depth perception, especially on uneven lies, was far from easy. And forget about producing much, if any, spin on the ball. Getting a read from teammates’ putts is also critical as obtaining a precise line is close to impossible.
Greg, who ended up going through a few different golf balls, noted that he liked teeing off without the ball being lit. To his chagrin, he struck an excellent drive on the 3rd hole only for his illuminated ball to go dark upon it resting in the fairway.
We all couldn’t help but laugh at how this already absurd game became even more puzzling as we played through the night.
We ended up making bogey on the long, par-4 5th to start, but thanks to some excellent short-game execution from Jameson and Caroline, we managed par on most holes. My excitement built leading into our first par-3, the 8th, as the event offered a $10K prize for anybody who could ace it. Fortunately for the club, and unfortunately for us, we all missed the green, coming up short of making the shot of a lifetime.
Still, we each had our own highlights, mine being a 10-foot par save on our final attempt at the 9th. In the video above you can see me hitting a wedge into that green and then immediately ducking. That’s because somebody yelled fore in the distance, though thankfully it came from a group farther away.
As the round went on, the more I felt settled into the round and the familiar sensations came back. Even though a benefit of golf is indulging oneself in the surroundings, you can almost imagine you’re playing any course in the world. You don’t even have to close your eyes to pretend.
Finishing on the par-3 4th we were all hoping for a birdie to close out the night, but instead settled for par. Our 39 was far back from the winning score of 31, but to be on the golf course and enjoying ourselves past 11 p.m. was a treat itself.
The next Glow Golf is already set for July 14, taking place either at Unicorn or the neighboring Stoneham Oaks.
I know I’ll be back for one of these events. I want another shot at the jackpot.
If you go, here’s some advice from somebody who has played it:
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